DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - This afternoon's Gatorade Twin 125-mile qualifying races at the Daytona International Speedway might become a matter of miles per gallon, not miles per hour.
Aerodynamic changes that add a lot more wind resistance, plus more lenient engine rules, likely will turn both qualifying races for the Daytona 500 into a matter of fuel economy. Any car that can cover all 125 miles on a tank of gas has the best chance of winning.
The race toward fuel efficiency starts at noon (Fox-54).
``I think we can make it,'' said driver Brett Bodine, whose Ford Taurus is 23rd on the starting grid for the first qualifier. ``I'm sure there are people who've been figuring out their fuel mileage all night. I hope it goes green the whole way because I think we can make it. I know there's guys out there who can't make it.''
New rules that require a metal strip across the roof, and a higher rear spoiler and front bumper will add enough drag to put greater strain on the engine.
NASCAR also increased the size of the restrictor plate to give the drivers a little more power - and enough throttle response to escape trouble.
The price tag is gasoline.
And if that wasn't enough, new gas tanks required by NASCAR make it tougher to get every drop to the engine. In fact, some teams report that about a gallon-and-a-half remains in the tank when the engine runs dry.
``In the past few years (mileage) hasn't been anything to worry about,'' driver Dale Jarrett said. ``We have a bigger restrictor plate, and we're using more fuel, so it's a concern.''
In the past, every car in the qualifying races has been able to cover the 50-lap heat race with one tank of gas. The new rules that make the cars more stable - and more racy - come at a cost.
``It's going to be awful tight,'' driver John Andretti said. ``I'll be up to where you're running and how hard you're running. You burn a lot of gas when you're the leader. You want to stay with the lead pack, but you don't want to push your car. It's going to be interesting.''
The Twins make up NASCAR's most unique qualifying process. The front row for Sunday's Daytona 500 was determined in time trials Saturday. Bill Elliott won the pole position, while Stacy Compton was second.
The next 28 spots will be determined in today's races. The top 14 cars from both races - excluding Elliott and Compton - automatically qualify for the starting lineup of the main event.
The next six positions will go to drivers with the fastest qualifying speeds who still aren't in the race, while the final seven spots will go to teams based on last year's owner points.
For many, the only sure way to make the Daytona 500 is to race their way to a top-14 finish today. And for some, that means cutting corners - and gas.
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