Daytona 500 – Who’s Locked In And Who Has Work To Do?

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the drivers in the Sprint Cup Series will compete in the Budweiser Duels to decide the starting grid for the Daytona 500. Heading into the races tonight only Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are safe when it comes to starting positions. Regardless of where Gordon and Johnson finish they will start the Daytona 500 1st and 2nd respectively. The rest of the field doesn’t have that luxury as where they finish in the duel races will decide where they start the Daytona 500.

If the pressure wasn’t already high enough, drivers are also dealing with the possibility of missing the Daytona 500 if they don’t fare well in the duel races. Below is a quick look at the drivers who are already locked into the race based on their speeds in pole qualifying or points from last season. These drivers aren’t locked into a certain starting spot (aside from Gordon and Johnson) but even if they run into trouble early they will still be in the race on Sunday.

  • Jeff Gordon (pole)
  • Jimmie Johnson (outside pole)
  • Aric Almirola (speed)
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (speed)
  • Carl Edwards (speed)
  • Jamie McMurray (speed)
  • Kevin Harvick (points – 1st)
  • Ryan Newman (points – 2nd)
  • Denny Hamlin (points – 3rd)
  • Joey Logano (points – 4th)
  • Brad Keselowski (points – 5th)
  • Matt Kenseth (points – 7th)
  • Tony Stewart (past champion’s provisional)

Here are the next 10 drivers who have the fastest speeds after the four who are already locked in by speed.

  • Michael Waltrip
  • Kyle Busch
  • Austin Dillon
  • Kasey Kahne
  • Ty Dillon
  • Matt Kenseth (already in)
  • Martin Truex Jr.
  • Johnny Sauter
  • JJ Yeley
  • Sam Hornish Jr.

Here are the next 10 drivers who are highest in the points but are (not locked in by speed) after the six who are locked in with points.

  • Trevor Bayne
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Kyle Busch
  • AJ Allmendinger
  • Greg Biffle
  • Kurt Busch
  • Kasey Kahne
  • Kyle Larson
  • Clint Bowyer
  • Austin Dillon

The only other drivers beside Tony Stewart who can use the past-champion’s provisional is Kurt Busch and Bobby Labonte. All of the other past champions are already locked in. The below drivers have to race into the field or fall back on speed because they do not have enough points to earn a provisional.

  • Ryan Blaney
  • Michael Annett
  • Reed Sorenson
  • Justin Marks
  • David Ragan
  • Ron Hornaday Jr.

These drivers cannot use their speeds to get into the Daytona 500 and must either race their way in our use a point’s provisional.

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Denny Hamlin
  • Mike Wallace
  • Ron Hornaday Jr.

The above information might seem like a lot to digest and believe me it is. If your favorite drivers isn’t locked into the Daytona 500 the easiest way for them to do that is by finishing their duel race in the top-15. Any driver that finishes in the top-15 of their duel race will earn a spot in the Daytona 500, end of discussion. If your favorite driver finishes outside of the top-15 it will come down to who finished ahead of them and where they stand when it comes to speed and points from 2014.

Be sure to follow our live coverage of the duel races tonight beginning at 7:00 PM ET.

Christopher Olmstead is the Editor of BeyondTheFlag.com on the FanSided Network. Follow us on Twitter @Beyond_The_Flag and “Like” us on Facebook.