BUDWEISER DUEL RACE EXPERIENCE
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Location: Daytona Beach, FL
First Run: February 20, 1959
Previous Names: Gatorade Duel
The Daytona 500 is known as the biggest race on the NASCAR schedule, but there are certainly plenty of high-profile events that precede it that could factor into the race's outcome. Before the "Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing" kicks off, the Daytona 500 is precluded by a series of races at varying levels like the Nationwide and ARCA series, but also a handful of events that will play a direct role in determining the pole position for the main race. Unlike other NASCAR events that determine pole position simply by time trials, only the top two front row starters in the qualifying round will be determined by timed laps. For the rest of the pack, the Budweiser Duel was created to sort out the remaining field and determine the starting order when the Daytona 500 green flag is waved.
The Budweiser Duel has been a mainstay in the events leading up to the Daytona 500, and it has been run in various formats since 1959 when it began as the 100 Mile Qualifying Races. During this time period between 1959 and 1971, the dual races were counted toward a driver's points in the season championship, while still helping to determine the pole position of the races in the Daytona 500. After years of following this structure, NASCAR made a major change in 2005 when the races were extended to 150 miles and given a new name, the Gatorade Duel. In this new format, drivers would first run their timed laps at Daytona and the even- and odd-numbered participants were split up into separate grids for the qualifying races. The top 14 in each race form the inside and outside portions of the field along with the remaining top time trial finishers to set the top 30, and another handful of drivers may be added before the green flag flies.
Gatorade was the main sponsor of the Duels until 2013 when Budweiser took over, and the events have become increasingly popular races in the buildup toward the Daytona 500. The races were traditionally held on the Thursday before the big race on the following weekend during the afternoon, but NASCAR made the decision in 2013 to move the event to primetime. The Budweiser Duels will be under the lights for the first time in 2014 and will add even more drama to one of the sport's underappreciated events.
Over the years, the qualifying rounds have brought out the best in NASCAR drivers vying for their spot in the top of the Daytona 500 field. To date, the late great Dale Earnhardt Sr. still holds the most Duel wins with 12 over his illustrious career, while other NASCAR legends like Cale Yarborough posted six wins and Bobby Allison brought home five wins. As one of the first pulse-pounding events on the NASCAR schedule, the Budweiser Duels have transformed into must-see events for racing fans with major implications for the sport's biggest event.