To Duel or Not to Duel…by Kyle Pokrefky February 19, 2016 0 comments
Following the completion of the second Can-Am Duel last night, I started thinking about the existence of the two exhibition races traditionally held during Daytona Speedweeks.
Yes, the Duels have long been a part of the traditional schedule leading up to the Daytona 500, but in recent years have they really been necessary?
With the new charter system in place for the Sprint Cup Series, 36 teams are already guaranteed a spot on the grid for the 500 while four charter-less teams have the opportunity to lock their way into the 500 by way of the Duels.
Two of these teams, however, are able to punch their ticket into the season-opening event off of the strength of their qualifying times.
The best benefit teams are provided is the opportunity to flex their muscle three days ahead of the Great American Race as the purses have greatly paled in comparison to the purses for the Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500.
Starting positions have never mattered much at Daytona with four of the last 10 Daytona 500 winners coming from starting spots outside of the top-10.
With the power of the draft and with various strategy calls on pit road, it’s common to see drivers charge their way to the front – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin did just that this week with their respective wins in Can-Am Duel #1 and the Sprint Unlimited.
In short, many more teams have much more to lose compared to the teams that have something to gain out of the races.
At the conclusion of the second duel, a melee in Turn 1 collected the cars of Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr, in turn sending the three contenders to backup cars for the Daytona 500.
It’s not a death sentence for each driver’s hopes of collecting the Harley J. Earl trophy, but it’s certainly not something desired as their respective crews toil as team owners open their pocketbooks over destroyed bodywork.
Yes, it is mid-February and we’ve all been licking our chops over getting back to racing, but perhaps there’s a better way of setting the grid for the Daytona 500.
Perhaps NASCAR could take a page out of IndyCar’s qualifying methods for the Indianapolis 500 with the incorporation of a ‘Bump Day’ to help fully set the field.
With the way the world of the Sprint Cup Series stands nowadays, the importance of the Can-Am Duels just may be dwindling.
Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images