Qualifying sets front row; '04 top 35 are locks

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The unique qualifying format for the
season-opening Daytona 500 has been given a facelift.

The front row for the race Feb. 20 will still be locked in after
qualifying. Other than that, it's an all-new procedure for setting
the starting lineup for the NASCAR Nextel Cup event.

Series director John Darby announced the changes Thursday,
noting that the top 35 in last year's owners' points are assured a
spot in the 43-car Daytona lineup. The order will be determined by
qualifying on Feb. 13 and by twin 150-mile qualifying races on Feb.

Darby said the starting order for those races, each extended by
25 miles and renamed the Gatorade Duel, will be set by qualifying.
The top 35 in points will be divided between the two, with the
teams finishing in odd-numbered positions in 2004 in the first race
and the even-numbered finishers in the second.

Teams that didn't finish in the top 35 will make the twin
lineups by virtue of their Daytona qualifying.

Starting positions in the 500-mile main event will be determined
by results of the 150-milers.

Filling out the lineup will be the top two non-top-35 finishers
from each of the twin events and the remaining fastest drivers from

NASCAR previously announced it has eliminated the use of
provisional starters in 2005 and will assure the current top 35 in
the car-owner points of making each race. The rest of the field at
events after Daytona will be filled through qualifying speeds.

The 43rd spot in the lineup will be held at each race for any
former series champion who is not among the top 35 or does not make
the field by through speed. At Daytona, that option probably will
not be needed because all the active past champs except Terry
Labonte and Bill Elliott, who are not entered, are among the top