DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – So here's the situation: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the pole for the Daytona 500 but will start dead last because he's had to go to a backup car after a crash in practice on Wednesday. Meanwhile – Martin Truex Jr., involved in that same crash with Earnhardt – could start as high as third in the 500.
If this doesn't make sense, it's because, well, it doesn't. But such is life living within the NASCAR rulebook. Per Section 9-6-I: "Once qualifying has begun (whether completed or not) or the starting field has been determined, if a backup car is used, the car must start the Race at the rear of the field."
It's a good rule – on most race weekends. Just not this one.
To recognize why, it's imperative to understand the qualifying process for the Daytona 500, which is as confusing as an Ozzy Osbourne soliloquy. Qualifying is held every year on the Sunday before the Daytona 500, but only for the front row. The rest of the field is set the following Thursday in the Gatorade Duels.
This year, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon locked themselves in by finishing 1-2 in qualifying.
Fast-forward to Wednesday, when Earnhardt and Truex wrecked, forcing both to go to backup cars. Both will start at the rear of the field in their respective Gatorade Duels, as they should. But here's where the breakdown begins: Because he hasn't officially "qualified," Truex's starting spot in the Daytona 500 will be determined by where he finishes in his Duel. Regardless of where Junior finishes, he'll start last.
In essence, Earnhardt is being penalized for winning the pole.
This is why Junior was nervous prior to Wednesday's practice; he knew nothing good could come of it, only bad, and his worst fears were borne out. Now he has no recourse – not even the ability to race his way back up toward the front row. For him, Thursday's Duel is nothing more than a practice session. Is this what fans are paying to see?
Had he not won the pole on Sunday, he'd be better off today.
Does that make sense?