Leavine Family Racing's starting spot in the DAYTONA 500 will likely depend on a top-15 finish in the first of Thursday's Budweiser Duel qualifying race. In the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, driver Michael McDowell does not have a guaranteed spot. However, if you ask the team, Leavine Family Racing is not worried.
Last year the fourth-year team finished 15th in the first Budweiser Duel, a finish that delivered them into the team's first DAYTONA 500. They are carrying this same optimism to this year's challenge.
The Great American Race has a qualifying format that is both unique as well as steeped in tradition, and is unlike any other race in motorsports. The lineup for Sunday's race is determined by a combination of time trials, car owner points, and the results of the famous Duels.
McDowell, driver of the No. 95 K-LOVE Ford Fusion for Leavine Family Racing, qualified 41st after posting a lap of 46.804 seconds at 192.291 mph. It was McDowell's fifth DAYTONA 500 qualifying effort. His best attempt was starting in the 34th-postion for the 2013 DAYTONA 500, where he finished a career-best ninth.
Forty-nine drivers made a qualifying attempt for the DAYTONA 500 this year, and while Sunday's time trials locked in only the front row, the remaining positions will be determined following Thursday's Budweiser Duel - a pair of 150-mile heat races that will establish the majority of the 43-car DAYTONA 500 field.
The cars earning odd-numbered positions from qualifying will be assigned to the first Duel race, with the cars qualifying in even-numbered positions will compete in the second Duel race. The starting positions for each Duel race will be based on qualifying times.
McDowell will compete in the first Budweiser Duel race and start 21st. His challenge will be to finish in the top-15.
Those top-15 finishes from each Duel race - excluding the already locked-in front row - will earn a spot in the DAYTONA 500 and fill positions 3-32. The top-15 of the first Duel race will line up in finishing order on the inside row, and will have odd-numbered starting positions. The top-15 of the second Duel race will do the same, on the outside row, and will have even-numbered starting positions.
The Budweiser Duel gets underway at 7:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, Feb. 20 with live coverage on Fox Sports 1. The green flag waves for the DAYTONA 500 at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23, with pre-race live coverage provided by FOX beginning at noon.