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Greetings from Daytona

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff  February 23, 2012 10:58 AM

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. --- Greetings from Daytona International Speedway, where the green flag will be unfurled this afternoon for the Gatorade Duel, a pair of 150-mile qualifying heats that will set the 43-car grid for the start of the 54th running of the Daytona 500.

Carl Edwards, who captured his first career Daytona 500 pole last Sunday with a fast lap of 194.738 miles per hour, will start the first Duel from the pole. Greg Biffle, Edward's teammate who won the outside pole to help Roush Fenway Racing sweep the front row, will start on the pole in the second Duel.

Danica Patrick, who will be making her Daytona 500 debut, will start in Row 9 in the 17th starting position in the first Duel.

While the top 35 drivers in the owners' points will have exempt status and be guaranteed starting spots in the Daytona 500, today's Duels will help set the starting grid, with positions 3-through-35 determined by the outcome. The top two finishers in each race among the non-exempt drivers will race their way into the field. The next three spots will go to the fastest three speed qualifiers among the ``go-or-go homers'' (as the non-exempt drivers are called).

Defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Tony Raines and David Stremme locked up those spots when they finished as the top three non-exempt qualifiers. The last will be a past champions provisional. Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott are both eligible, but Labonte would win it head-to-head over Elliott since he would ranks as the most recent champion (1996).

Including either Labonte or Elliott, it will leave 10 drivers to vie for four spots.

The other nine include: Kenny Wallace, who was narrowly edged out by Stremme for the third spot reserved for the fastest three non-exempt qualifiers, will drive the No. 09 Toyota; Dave Blaney, driver of the No.36 Chevrolet ; Michael Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner; in the No. 40 Toyota; Joe Nemechek; in the No. 87 Toyota; Michael McDowell in the No. 98 Ford; Mike Wallace in the No. 37 Ford; Robert Richardson Jr. in the 23 Toyota; Robby Gordon in the No. 7 Dodge; and J.J. Yeley in the No. 49 Toyota.

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