DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Martin Truex Jr. was only half-joking when he said he was right where he wanted to be: leading the field to green in the second of Thursday night’s Budweiser Duel at Daytona 150-mile qualifying races.
That means, of course, that Truex was second-fastest in Sunday’s Daytona 500 time trials at 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, second to Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Dillon won the pole for NASCAR’s most prestigious Sprint Cup Series race, and he’ll start from the front in Thursday’s first Duel race. In this case, Truex is content to play second fiddle.
The Furniture Row Racing team that fields Truex’s cars gets its engines and chassis from RCR. So, forget the notion of Truex trying to upstage the monumental story of the No. 3’s triumphant return to Sprint Cup racing after a 13-year absence. After all, Truex wants to make sure he continues to get top-quality engines from RCR.
“Definitely glad I didn’t knock the 3 off the pole,” Truex said with a smile. “That’s all I’m going to say. We’ll wait until July to get ours.”
With strong qualifying efforts that represented substantial improvement over January’s Preseason Thunder testing, the Roush Fenway Racing Fords of Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards will start on the outside of the front rows of the first and second Duel races, respectively.
“We came down here [in testing] and just weren’t as fast as we wanted to be and went home, did our homework and worked really, really hard,” said Biffle, who qualified third.
Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start behind Dillon and Biffle in the first Duel event; Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon will line up on the second row for the second race.
Earnhardt was the first driver to make a qualifying run Sunday, and his lap speed of 195.211 mph stood up until Biffle, the 32nd driver to make a run, knocked him off the provisional pole.
“I scuffed the side skirt just a little bit on the apron in Turn 2, trying to run tight on the line there, and that’s never good when you’re dragging anything,” Earnhardt said. “So that cost us a little bit of time.”
With Dillon and Truex locked into the front row for the Daytona 500, the Duel races will determine positions 3-32 on the starting grid for the Great American Race. Starting spots 33-36 fall to the fastest four cars from time trials not otherwise qualified and the last seven positions go to provisional starters, based on 2013 owner points.
The seventh provisional spot, however, is reserved for the most recent past series champion, if needed.
All told, 49 drivers are competing for 43 positions on the grid. Morgan Shepherd, who at 72 is attempting to become the oldest driver to start the 500, must race his way into the field in Duel race No. 2.
Danica Patrick qualified 25th fastest but will start Duel race No. 1 from the rear of the field because of an unapproved engine change after Saturday’s practice. Tony Stewart (who qualified 35th) and Bobby Labonte (44th) also changed engines and will drop to the rear for the start of Duel races No. 1 and 2, respectively.
Those three drivers also must start from the rear in the Daytona 500, assuming they make the field.