Fifty-four drivers took to Daytona International Speedway on Saturday afternoon for Daytona 500 qualifying. While most of the field will be set by Gatorade Duel races on Thursday, at least five drivers had to come out of Saturday's qualifying session happy campers.
Of course, a couple of those happy drivers will occupy the two front row starting positions for next Sunday's Daytona 500. Mark Martin improved his starting position from a year ago by claiming the pole for this year's 500. The front row will be an all Hendrick Motorsports front row, as Martin's teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed the second starting position.
All four Hendrick cars posted laps in the top-10, as Jimmie Johson was sixth-fastest and Jeff Gordon was 10th.
Everyone else will have to wait until Thursday's qualifying races to see exactly where they'll be starting the 500, but three "go or go home" drivers at least locked themselves into next Sunday's race, event though they don't yet know exactly where they'll be starting.
Those three "go or go homers" included Bill Elliott, who was the highest qualifying Ford driver with the fourth-fastest lap. Elliott's No. 21 was the only non-Chevrolet among the top-six. Kurt Busch was the fastest Dodge driver with the seventh-fastest time, and his brother Kyle Busch posted the fastest time for Toyota with the ninth-fastest lap.
As a matter or fact, Elliott and the two Busch brothers were the only non-Chevrolet drivers to find their way into the top-10.
The next two fastest "go or go homers" were Scott Speed and Joe Nemechek.
Bobby Labonte is also locked into the Daytona 500, no matter what happens to him in Thursday's qualifiers. Being the most recent past champion not locked in by being in a car that finished the 2009 season in the top-35 or being one of the fastest three "go or go homers," Labonte will receive the past champion's provisional if he doesn't finish high enough in his qualifying race on Thursday.
Drivers who weren't already locked into the 2010 Daytona 500 field by being in cars that finished out 2009 in the top-35 in owners points or locked themselves in on Saturday, will get one last chance to make their way into the field with their runs in the Gatorade Duel 150-mile races on Thursday afternoon. The two "go or go homers" who didn't lock themselves in in Saturday that finish the highest in each of the Gatorade Duels on Thursday will also earn spots in the 500.
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