DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Don’t think for a minute that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers haven’t thought through the ramifications of the new 2013 qualifying rules — particularly as they apply to the Daytona 500.
NASCAR’s biggest mulligan, the rule that guaranteed starting spots in each race to the top 35 cars in the owner standings, is gone this year.
That alone will force such drivers as Joey Logano, who inherits a No. 22 Penske Racing Ford that’s 21st in owner points, to focus more on Sunday’s qualifying session than he has in the past.
“Quite a bit; quite a bit, for sure,” Logano told the NASCAR Wire Service on Thursday during NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. “We’ve got to go out there and qualify pretty good, to help ourselves in case something dumb happens in the Duel and make sure we’re in.”
After time trials on Sunday determine the two front-row starting positions, two Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday will cement the first 32 drivers in the Daytona 500 field. The second-through-sixth fastest cars from time trials that don’t transfer from the Duels occupy positions 33-36.
The final seven spots are provisionals based on owner points, with position 43 going to the most recent past champion not otherwise qualified, if needed.
So Logano knows that, if he doesn’t post a strong qualifying time, and a handful of cars ahead of his in the owner standings fall victim to major wrecks in either of the Duels and gobble up the provisionals, he could miss the Daytona 500.
Compounding the issue was a relative lack of speed in both Penske entries during Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona in January. Accordingly, Penske has invested in wind tunnel time and refinements to the building process for its new Gen-6 Ford, all in a quest for added speed.
“We’ve had the car in the tunnel working on that, trying make sure we can qualify up towards the front,” Logano said. “We’ve made a lot of adjustments on our cars since the test down here. We need quite a bit of speed.
“Obviously, we’ve got a different car, because that one got destroyed (in a pack-drafting wreck in January), but we planned on having a different car anyway. We feel like there are some pretty big gains there, but I’m sure everyone else is going to have some pretty big gains, too. I just hope our gains are better than theirs, and we go out there and run good.”
With the top-35 rule in effect, qualifying at restrictor-plate race tracks used to be a formality. Under the current format, a fast qualifying speed is an insurance policy against missing the race.
“Before, we didn’t really worry about qualifying,” Logano acknowledged. “When we came to superspeedways and didn’t really qualify that well, we were like, ‘It doesn’t matter — we’ll just go out there and race.’
“It does matter a little bit now, especially in my situation where the 22 car is in points. If the perfect storm was to brew, we could be in trouble, so we’ve just got to be aware of the situation and what’s going on. So we’re just dotting all our ‘I’s’ and crossing all our ‘T’s’ and making sure nothing dumb happens.”