DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Stanton Barrett sat in the shade at the back of his team's hauler looking glum.
Barrett is an occasional Nextel Cup participant who did not benefit from NASCAR's new qualifying rule, which guarantees starting spots in the Daytona 500 to the top 35 teams in car owner points. Nor was he able to post a lap fast enough to be among the four drivers who secured spots in the 43-car field because of their qualifying speeds last Sunday.
The only way Barrett can earn a start in the biggest stock car race of the season is by racing in Thursday in one of two 150-mile qualifying races. There will be 18 drivers vying for the four remaining starting positions Sunday two from each race.
''It's going to be really, really tough,'' Barrett said Wednesday between practice sessions on the 2 1/2-mile Daytona International Speedway oval. ''We have a good sponsor, but the funding of other teams is so significant. There are some extremely powerful teams out of the top 35.''
Barrett smiled wanly, adding, ''It should be fun. It's going to be good experience, even if I don't make the race. It will be experience I can take with me to the Busch Series.''
Hermie Sadler, older brother of Cup star Elliott Sadler, also needs to finish first or second among the non-qualified drivers in his 150-miler.
''We definitely have to be aware of who we're racing,'' Sadler said. ''There are going to be eight or nine cars in our race going for two spots. That's the reality of it, so we've got to be really, really smart about getting where we need to get as far as track position.
''We need to get in front of the cars we're racing against.''
Making that even more difficult, Sadler's team had to change a transmission and he will have to start from the rear of the field.
And NASCAR has thrown another obstacle into the mix this year, adding 10 laps and 25 miles to each of the qualifying races. With smaller gas tanks already forcing everyone to make a pit stop at the shorter distance, the extended race could mean two pit stop strategies for some teams.
''We'll probably give the race 15 to 20 laps to settle out,'' Sadler said. ''We might have to take some chances, especially with that last pit stop. It's unlikely we're going to drive by everybody with where we're starting.''
The drivers already qualified for Sunday are in a completely different situation, although only three-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson, the two fastest drivers in time trials, have locked up starting positions.
The order for the rest of Sunday's lineup will be determined by Thursday's results.
Ricky Rudd said he expects some hard racing Thursday, but probably not a whole lot of crazy moves at least not from the drivers already in the big race.
''Now, the guys that are not in field, you'll see anything and everything from them,'' Rudd said. ''If they've got to make an aggressive move to make the cut, they'll do it.''
Joe Nemechek, another driver already in the lineup, wasn't too worried about the guys still trying to make the race.
''Half of those cars are junk,'' Nemechek said. ''They won't be in the way because they won't be able to hang on to the draft. A car's got to be running good and have a good engine, all those things, to get up there and mix it up.''
But Nemechek said he doesn't expect anybody to take it easy Thursday, even if they do have a guaranteed start on Sunday.
''I haven't heard anybody saying they're not going to race hard,'' he said. ''If they did, that would be foolish. There's so much to learn. Tomorrow is a learning day.
''We're not here to finish 15th,'' Nemechek added. ''We're here to win. I'm trying to get my car the way I need it to win on Sunday.''
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