In a few minutes here, the Daytona International Speedway once again "goes hot" as two 60 lap heat races are set to begin. They will settle positions 3 through 43 on the Daytona 500 grid, and more importantly give us an idea of what the racing will look like on Sunday, something we surprisingly still don't entirely know.
Busch wins. The two Chevrolets and two MWR Toyotas weren't able to surmount Busch's big blocks.
White flag, and sure enough 5 and 33 get working. They clear Kenseth but don't have the run on Busch yet.
Bowyer, Kahne and Dillon apparently considering making a move on white flag lap. 2 to go right now.
5 to go. 18, 20, 5, 33, 15 and 55 all in the lead pack.
Clint Bowyer dives below Busch to take the lead, but nobody goes with him and now Kenseth leads Busch.
8 cars in the top pack with 12 to go.
After pit stops cycle through, it's a TRD 1-2 with Busch leading Bowyer and Kenseth.
Stenhouse and Terry Labonte also get penalties.
Jeff Gordon, who lead every lap of the race to this point, has been given a drive through penalty. This will eliminate him from contention for this win, and since he's locked into starting P2, he might as well park it.
Green flag stops start on lap 40 as the leaders go in. Newman spins while trying to rejoin and uterly destroys his 39, but we stay green.
Busch dives to the outside from 5th, but nobody goes with him. a train of six is coming on the inside from about a second and a half back, and a few cars are lifting out of the main pack to join them. Halfway to the finish, this time by.
the four car breakaway slides up into the pack after Kenseth fails to join the pack, causes everyone to lift and forces everone back into line. Bowyer goes side by side with Menard, resulting in a small touch out of 4.
8 cars break away up front on the high side, but 4 cars behind them are working together much better on the bottom. Will be side by side soon, possibly.
Gordon has some debris on the grille, and his Chevrolet SS might start overheating soon. He could drop back to try to wipe his grille off on another car, but he'd have to lose his lead and probably fall to about 10th for that to happen.
Mike Bliss's window net has fallen off and he has been forced to pit for repairs. If his team is wise enough to put fuel in, he may be able to make it to the end without another stop, but it would still be very hard for him to make the Daytona 500. This means everyone else is safe unless they do not finish this event.
Returning from commercial, things are quite a bit different. The far outside line is now the only line for the top 12 cars, while all of the second group are two wide. Gordon leads Kahne, Dillon and Burton 15 laps in.
Stenhouse is slowly making moves, now up to third.
Just as last time, the outside is slowly starting to defeat the inside. slowly. Meanwhile, Gordon's rather brilliantly running halfway between both grooves and blocking both at once.
Gordon now clearly leads both Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch. Gordon isn't really running consistently in either line.
No clear advantage for either polesitter Gordon or second place starter Newman at the end of lap 1. Kasey Kahne ducks underneath Newman to take the lead of the bottom line. Newman then chooses to fall back to about 15th.
Lights are off on the pace car. We're going green for the second duel race.
Gordon chooses the outside to start. Patrick's crew chief Tony Gibson has said that the 10 team is considering doing the same for the main event.
Engines are fired. After that short intermission, time to start race 2.
Before race 2 starts, it's worth noting that Michael Waltrip thinks that the best line will be the line with the best cars.
Unofficial Race 1 Finishing Order
5. Kurt Busch
19. Truex (finished 6th, penalized for window infraction)
20. Hamlin (-1 lap)
21. Brian Keselowski (-1 lap)
22. Edwards (DNF)
23. Bayne (DNF)
Kevin Harvick wins! Brian Keselowski goes home and so will either Mike Bliss, Travis Kvapil or David Reutimann.
White flag. 29 and 16 are broken away, 3 wide behind.
Everyone is three wide behind Harvick with 2 to go. Can anyone catch that 29?
The green flag is back out and we've got a big battle for the lead. Biffle vs Harvick with Johnson pushing Harvick.
Bayne involved as well. Minor damage to the 11 and no damage to the 51, a scraped up right side on Montoya's 42 and a completely destroyed pair of Roush built Fords for Edwards and Bayne.
Wreck caused by Denny Hamlin's rear end slipping out entirely on it's own. He hits the 99 while recovering.
BIG WRECK with 8 to go. 11, 99, 51 among those involved. This changes everything.
10 to go. Almost no change up front.
Those four cars, none of which are team mates, are officially broken away. 15 to go.
The pack is officially broken up as Harvick leads Biffle, Truex, Johnson and about 4 other cars.
Nearly the entire pack pits at once! Bayne locks up into the pit lane and averts catastrophe by putting his splitter into the grass.
Leaders pitting now, starting with JPM and Keselowski.
Well it took almost the entirety of a tire and fuel run, but Kevin Harvick has just moved to the lead with the inside line! Leads the same group that was up front before, with Bayne in second. Pit stops are beginning and it's three wide from 6th on back, still single file up front.
An 18 car lead pack now, and Harvick has begun making moves on the bottom. Up to fifth now.
A lead pack of 8, then a half a second gap, then two and three wide behind. Lap 32.
Brian Keselowski has officially been lapped. He will almost certainly not make the Daytona 500.
A few big splits now but all 21 strong cars are more or less together on track. Considering how quickly Patrick rejoined this group, I think losing the draft isn't too big an issue right now, though David Gilliland has clearly lost it in 22nd. The issue is more how these drivers will pass.
Everyone complaining of tight cars as Patrick begins to lose the draft. Meanwhile, the 12 car breakaway has closed up and all 20 cars in front of Patrick are now in the same pack. lap 20.
There is now two clear packs, with the 12 lead cars breaking away in what was once the outside line. Nobody doing anything funny right now on lap 15.
Hamlin, Patrick, Edwards and Stewart all patiently fall to the back. Only Brian Keselowski has lost the draft, as his brother Brad rides in fourth. Bayne leads Mears.
Commercial breaks under green at Daytona certainly make you hold you breath... Looks like things are still single file up front though.
And, as I say that, the pack is here. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are the two pushing hard to make it three wide. Patrick is three wide on the inside, which is to put it lightly a bad idea.
The 3 wide pack is catching the inside line. Expect patrick to park the 10 pretty soon here.
The outside line is clearly stronger than the inside right now. Hamlin pulls out from second in the outside line to the lead of the inside line. Biffle, Johnson and Edwards 3 wide for 9th.
As the green falls, Trevor Bayne pulls to the front despite Patrick's great start. The outside was the lane to take. Bayne leads lap one.
Lights are off on the pace car and we're about to go green. Patrick, unsurprisingly, picks the inside line.
Engines are fired and we're headed towards the green flag. Danica Patrick was apparently asked to "Start and Park" by her team owner Gene Haas but refused. Expect her to run up front for as long as she can, then park it the first time things seem sketchy.
Race 1 is about to start, the lineup is here.
How Are Starting Positions Won Here?
Put simply, you have to finish and finish on the lead lap. Since there's a fairly small number of entries here, just 45 for the 43 spots, it won't be hard for anyone with a good car to make the show, and the strong cars not already locked in like Michael Waltrip and Austin Dillon aren't really at risk unless they wreck early.
Since positions 2-32 are the only ones decided directly by finishing order in this race, a driver would have to finish in the top 16 to make the race if they don't have a fast qualifying speed or didn't finish high in the 2012 championship. Positions 33-36 are decided by speeds in qualifying between drivers who didn't finish in the top 16 in their duel races, positions 37-42 are decided by last year's championship points between drivers who didn't finish in the top 16 in their duel races or lock in on speed, and position 43 is given to the most recent past champion who didn't make it in otherwise. That will be Terry Labonte.