It wouldn’t be a proper NASCAR weekend without some type of weather delay. Rain forced the Cup Series‘ practice on Saturday morning to be cut short after just three minutes, while its final practice scheduled for later in the day and the Xfinity Series‘ qualifying were cancelled altogether. As a result of the latter, the grid for the afternoon’s Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. 300 was set by 2020 owners’ points, which placed reigning champion Austin Cindric on the pole.
The morning Cup practice was the second of three scheduled in the buildup to the Daytona 500 (the first took place on Wednesday). With the session being called off three minutes in, only twenty-seven drivers were able to set a time, and Josh Bilicki was the lone one to get more than a single lap in. Brad Keselowski, who starts the 500 in twenty-fourth, was the fastest at 196.395 mph with a lap time of 45.826, the only driver to break the 45-second and 196-mph marks.
Keselowski’s Team Penske team-mate Cindric, who squeezed into the 500 via Bluegreen Vacations Duel result, was twentieth. David Ragan set the quickest non-chartered time as seventh overall, while Wednesday practice leader Bubba Wallace was third. Pole winner Alex Bowman and his Hendrick Motorsports team-mates did not set a time. Bowman’s starting position for Sunday’s race was in doubt after his engine failed during his Duel, but his team believes a misfire caused the breakdown and it will not need to be changed, allowing him to stay on the front row.
At the Xfinity level, the rainout means Cindric and Justin Allgaier, who finished first and second in the title battle, will lead the field to green. With no qualifying taking place, NASCAR expanded the field from thirty-six to forty cars; while this gives four more drivers a spot in the race, five others will still go home as they do not have the 2020 owner points needed to qualify: Chris Cockrum, Ronnie Bassett Jr., Mario Gosselin, Tyler Reddick, and Jordan Anderson.
Cockrum and his ACG Motorsports team usually exclusively attempt the superspeedways, with their last race not on such tracks coming in 2017 at Chicagoland; the team only ran the Daytona opener in 2020. Bassett (Bassett Racing), Gosselin (DGM Racing), Reddick (Our Motorsports), and Anderson (Jordan Anderson Racing) are all in brand-new cars with no owner points whatsoever. Bassett, Gosselin, and Anderson are owner/drivers, with Gosselin already having three other entries in the field with Alex Labbé (#36, nineteenth), Josh Williams (#92, starting seventeenth), and Caesar Bacarella (#90, thirty-eighth). Bassett and his brother Dillon set up a family team for the full 2021 schedule. For Anderson, who is racing full-time in the Xfinity Series in 2021, it is a disappointing way to end his weekend after coming close to winning the previous night’s Camping World Truck Series race. Reddick, a two-time series champion who currently races in the Cup Series, was supposed to début Our’s new full-time #03 as a partner to the #02 driven by Brett Moffitt; Moffitt will start fifteenth.
The DNQs also comes as a blow for these teams in the next weeks as qualifying will not be held for much of the upcoming events; barring any late rules changes, the next date with it will not be until late May at Circuit of the Americas. Due to COVID-19, NASCAR introduced a formula during the 2020 season in which the starting grid is set based on variables like finish in the previous race and owners’ points position. Should more than forty teams appear for qualifying-less races, those too low will once again be excluded from the lineup.
“Daytona qualifying is the determining factor for the next two races after Daytona,” explained Xfinity driver Tommy Joe Martins on the 3 February episode of his podcast The Drivers Meeting. Martins will start twenty-second for his family organisation Martins Motorsports. “The way this always worked traditionally in the Xfinity Series was that the first three races were run off the previous season’s owner points, which is why you heard of team’s buying and selling points. They were essentially buying a guaranteed ticket in owner points into those first few races run. That has kind of gone out the window.
“Esentially all the owner points are good for right now is positions for Provisionals at Daytona because we’re going to qualify. So they’re going to take the first thirty-one on speed: they’re locked in, doesn’t matter what their points position is. And then the next five are going to get in based on whoever’s not in that’s highest in the owner points that has all the attempts. That last part is very important. So even though the #54 car won a race last year, doesn’t matter. Technically, Carl Long‘s #66 car would be in the race ahead of that, so that is a very important wrinkle to this.
The #54 car in question is Joe Gibbs Racing‘s “all-star” car for their Cup drivers; in 2020, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin drove five and one race apiece, with the former winning a race at Charlotte. However, with only six total races run in the previous year, the #54 will start at the back in thirty-second for the Beef 300 with Ty Dillon despite leading practice on Friday. The MBM Motorsports #66 finished thirty-ninth in the 2020 owner points with multiple drivers behind the wheel, but ran all thirty-three races.
“But here’s the catch: only thirty-six cars get into Daytona,” Martins continued. “We’re not qualifying at the Daytona road course, so forty cars get in there. Well, that’s kind of strange, how are we going to set the other four cars that get in the Daytona road course, AND get in the following race at Homestead-Miami Speedway?
“Here’s how we’re going to do it: the top thirty in the points from last year are still going to be guaranteed that same ticket into those next two races. So if you’re in the top thirty in points which, thank god, Martins Motorsports is—we’re twenty-second in the owners standings—so we’ve got a guaranteed ticket for at least those two other races. We’ve got to qualify in at Daytona, but we’re guaranteed into the other two.
“But for everybody thirty-first and back in the points: tough, hate it for you. Because what they’re going to do is revert to the current season points starting at the second race of the year. So basically those cars that get in at Daytona are then basically guaranteed entry into the next two because they’re going to have points over everybody else.
“But what about those four open spots? That still doesn’t get us the four open spots, that gets us thirty-six cars but that doesn’t give us the extra four. They’re going to base it off of your qualifying time at Daytona International Speedway. So qualifying, even though you may have not made the race for Daytona, that’s the crazier part about this right? So your qualifying time wasn’t good enough to get you into the race at Daytona, but it actually WAS good enough to get you in at the Daytona Road Course and at Homestead-Miami Speedway as one of those four open spots, which is […] you’re not getting the full paycheck here, but you are getting entry into the race and a chance to earn points. Some people might turn that down, they might just go, ‘You know what? We’re not getting paid enough to even go down there,’ and if they do, then it would kind of move back to the next person that would.
“So a lot on the line, not just for (Daytona) and that’s the crazier part about this […]. Everything on the line and not just for the people that make it in, or don’t make it. In a way, not making it still gets you into the next two races, and it’s kind of crazy. In NASCAR’s defense here, I don’t really see how they do it any other way. What’s the other fair way of doing it?”
Second Cup practice results
|Position||Number||Driver||Team||Manufacturer||Best Time||Best Speed (mph)||Laps|
|1||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||45.826||196.395||1|
|2||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||46.051||195.435||1|
|3||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||46.080||195.313||1|
|4||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||46.081||195.308||1|
|5||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||46.083||195.300||1|
|6||77||Jamie McMurray||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||46.276||194.485||1|
|7||36||David Ragan||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||46.301||194.380||1|
|8||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||46.328||194.267||1|
|9||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||46.487||193.603||1|
|10||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||46.853||192.090||1|
|11||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||46.993||191.518||1|
|12||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||46.994||191.514||1|
|13||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||47.226||190.573||1|
|14||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||47.275||190.375||1|
|15||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||47.295||190.295||1|
|16||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||47.315||190.215||1|
|17||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||47.321||190.190||1|
|18||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||47.341||190.110||1|
|19||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||47.350||190.074||1|
|20||33||Austin Cindric*||Team Penske||Ford||47.370||189.994||1|
|21||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||47.384||189.938||1|
|22||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||47.417||189.805||1|
|23||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||47.690||188.719||1|
|24||53||Joey Gase||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||47.712||188.632||1|
|25||15||Derrike Cope||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||47.715||188.620||1|
|26||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||49.434||182.061||1|
|27||52||Josh Bilicki||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||50.349||178.752||2|
* – Ineligible for Cup points
Xfinity starting lineup
|1||22||Austin Cindric||Team Penske||Ford|
|2||7||Justin Allgaier||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|3||11||Justin Haley||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet|
|4||98||Riley Herbst||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford|
|5||9||Noah Gragson||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|6||19||Brandon Jones||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|7||10||Jeb Burton||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet|
|8||20||Harrison Burton||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|9||8||Josh Berry||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|10||1||Michael Annett||JR Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|11||2||Myatt Snider||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet|
|12||18||Daniel Hemric||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|13||39||Ryan Sieg||RSS Racing||Ford|
|14||68||Brandon Brown||Brandonbilt Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|15||02||Brett Moffitt*||Our Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|16||51||Jeremy Clements||Jeremy Clements Racing||Chevrolet|
|17||92||Josh Williams||DGM Racing||Chevrolet|
|18||07||Joe Graf Jr.||SS-Green Light Racing||Chevrolet|
|19||36||Alex Labbé||DGM Racing||Chevrolet|
|20||15||Colby Howard||JD Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|21||6||Ryan Vargas||JD Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|22||44||Tommy Joe Martins||Martins Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|23||61||Robby Lyons||MBM Motorsports||Toyota|
|24||78||Jesse Little||B.J. McLeod Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|25||0||Jeffrey Earnhardt||JD Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|26||13||Chad Finchum||MBM Motorsports||Ford|
|27||5||Matt Mills||B.J. McLeod Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|28||48||Danny Bohn*||Big Machine Racing||Chevrolet|
|29||17||Cody Ware*||SS-Green Light Racing||Chevrolet|
|30||74||Bayley Currey*||Mike Harmon Racing||Chevrolet|
|31||16||A.J. Allmendinger||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet|
|32||54||Ty Dillon||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota|
|33||4||Landon Cassill||JD Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|34||47||Kyle Weatherman||Mike Harmon Racing||Chevrolet|
|35||52||Gray Gaulding||Jimmy Means Racing||Chevrolet|
|36||99||Stefan Parsons||B.J. McLeod Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|37||66||Timmy Hill||MBM Motorsports||Ford|
|38||90||Caesar Bacarella||DGM Racing||Chevrolet|
|39||26||Brandon Gdovic||Sam Hunt Racing||Toyota|
|40||23||Jason White||RSS Racing||Ford|
|DNQ||25||Chris Cockrum||ACG Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|DNQ||77||Ronnie Bassett Jr.||Bassett Racing||Chevrolet|
|DNQ||91||Mario Gosselin||DGM Racing||Chevrolet|
|DNQ||03||Tyler Reddick*||Our Motorsports||Chevrolet|
|DNQ||31||Jordan Anderson||Jordan Anderson Racing||Chevrolet|
* – Ineligible for Xfinity points