The Gatorade Duel, is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series preliminary event to the Daytona 500 held annually in February at Daytona International Speedway. It consists of two Template:Convert races, and serves as a qualifying race for the Daytona 500. The finishing order in the two Template:Convert races, held on Thursday, determine the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 held on Sunday.
Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is unique in NASCAR. Only the two front row starters (the pole position and "outside pole") are determined by the ordinary qualifying process of timed laps. After the top two positions are locked in, the rest of the starting grid is set by the finishing order of these two races. Drivers participate in one of the two races. Half the field entered for the Daytona 500 races in the first race, and the other half the second. The finishing order of the first race fills the odd positions of the starting grid (inside of each row), and the finishing order for the second race fills the even positions of the starting grid (outside of each row).
The event began as twin 100-mile (40-lap) races. From 1959-1971, the races were counted with points towards the Grand National championship. Purses awarded were counted separately from those awarded in the Daytona 500. For 1968, the races were scheduled for Template:Convert each, but were cancelled due to rain, and the starting lineup for the 1968 Daytona 500 fell back on the timed laps. In 1969, the races were extended to 125 miles (50 laps), which would require a fuel stop, and change the pit stop strategy.
For 1971, NASCAR's modern era commenced, and the races were dropped from the Grand National schedule as points-paying championship events. As part of Winston's changes to the series, races were required to be at least Template:Convert to be included as official points events. The races continued, however, held as a non-points event. CBS began covering the race by the early 1980s, airing them tape-delayed and edited the day before the Daytona 500.
With the introduction of restrictor plates in 1988, the resulting reduction in speed and fuel consumption again allowed drivers to possibly complete the race without a pit stop. Nine times from 1988-2004, one of the races went without a caution, and without a pit stop by the winner. In 2003, rules had been put in place requireing smaller fuel tanks on restrictor plate track (from 22-gallons down to 13), which effectively forced a pit stop.
Starting in 2001, the races were shown live on television, as the Daytona 500 would rotate between FOX/FX and NBC/TNT from 2001-2006.
In 2005, the races were lengthened to 150 miles (60-laps), given a new name, the Gatorade Duel, and a revised format. In deference to NASCAR's new Top 35 exemption, the grids changed from even-odd qualifiers to a combination of top 35 even-odd from the previous year's owner points and then the rest of the drivers' by speed.. A rain delay in 2006 saw the second race finish under the lights.
Starting in 2007, the Gatorade Duel is shown live on SPEED, under the new broadcast agreement. That same year, allegations of cheating came up.
- Coors Light Pole qualifying is currently held one week prior to the Daytona 500. Since 2003, it has been held the Sunday before. Prior to that it was held the Saturday before (except 1992), and prior to the 1980s, the Wednesday before. Each car, one at a time, makes a two-lap qualifying attempt, with the best single lap of the two counting as his qualifying speed. The fastest qualifier wins the pole position for the Daytona 500, and second fastest is considered the "outside pole." Both front row starters are locked in to those positions on the Daytona 500 starting grid.
- The two fastest qualifiers above (the Daytona 500 pole winner and the "outside" pole winner) are awarded the pole positions for the two Duel races respectively.
- The Top 35 entries from previous season's points, along with the two drivers who qualified for the front row - the pole position winner and the "outside pole" winner - (if not already from the Top 35) are locked into the Daytona 500 starting field, regardless of finishing position in the Duel races.
- The pole position winner is given the pole for the first Duel, and the "outside pole" winner is given the pole for the second Duel; regardless of their Top 35 status.
- The Top 35 entres (excluding the pole and "outside pole" winners) are split among the two Duels. Odd numbered points positions are entered into the first Duel, even-numbered points positions are entered into the second Duel.
- The remaining entries that were not part of the Top 35 in points, often referred to as the "Go or Go Home" cars, split among the two duel races. The odd ranked cars enter the first Duel, the even ranked cars enter the second Duel.
- After the participants are determined for the two Duels, the actual lineups for the two Duels revert back to overall time trial speed rank.
- The top two "Go or Go Home" finishers (excluding any that happened to qualify on the front row) from each Duel advance to the Daytona 500.
- Starting positions 3 through 39 are finalized by Duel finishes. Drivers from the first Duel start on the inside and drivers from the second Duel on the outside.
- Starting positions 3 through 40 are finalized in this manner if one front row starter is a "Go or Go Home" entry.
- Starting positions 3 through 41 are finalized in this manner if both front row starters are "Go or Go Home" entries.
- Three additional positions are filled by "Go or Go Home" entries. The top three cars reverting back to original time trial speeds. This brings the field to 42 cars.
- Only two positions are filled in this manner if one of the front row starters happens to be a "Go or Go Home" entry.
- Only one position is filled in this manner if both of the front row starters happens to be "Go or Go Home" entries
- The 43rd starting position is filled by a "champion's provisional." The most recent former Sprint Cup champion who has not qualified is awarded the 43rd slot. It is not unusual for a "Go or Go Home" entry to seek out a former champion as their driver, as it provides an easier way to qualify.
- If there are no former champions remaining to use this method, the 43rd position is filled by the next fastest "Go or Go Home" entry, reverting back to original time trial speeds.
Prior to 2005Edit
- The top 14 finishers of each Twin 125 race (excluding the two front row qualifiers) advance to the Daytona 500 starting lineup. The top 14 from the first race (excluding the pole position winner) fill the insides of rows 2 through 15. The top 14 from the second race (excluding the outside pole winner) fill the outsides of rows 2-15.
- Starting positions 31-40 (until 1995) were filled by the fastest remaining cars going back to the original pole qualifying session. This rule was to protect fast qualifying cars that suffered an unfortunate accident or engine failure during the Twin 125 races. In 1995, it was changed to starting positions 31-38, and in 1998, 31-36. The rule reverted back in 2004 to 31-38.
- The final starting positions were reserved for provisionals, where the highest teams in owner (not driver) points from the previous year not making the race by speed making the field -- (two cars; four from 1995-1997, with a guarantee of four; seven guaranteed from 1998 until 2003; five guaranteed in 2004). From 1990 until 1997, the 43rd slot was reserved for the most recent Cup champion not in the field; since 1998, the position is guaranteed; if there is no Cup champion needing that 43rd slot, the next driver in points earns the position.
- In the early years of the Daytona 500, the rules for the qualifying races varied widely. In 1959, the first race comprised the Modified Convertible series, while the second comprised the Grand National series. The top 20 finishers in each race advanced to the Daytona 500, while a last-chance, Template:Convert consolation race was held on Saturday, to fill the field to a maximum of 65 cars.
- In early years, the qualifying races were held on the Friday prior to the Daytona 500, rather than the current Thursday.
- On rare occasions, a 75-mile "consolation race" was also held.
- In some early years, pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 was held on Wednesday, the day before the qualifying races. It was eventually moved up to the weekend before.
- Dale Earnhardt set a record by winning one of the Twin 125 races ten consecutive years, and twelve times overall.
- Jeff Gordon won a Twin 125 in 1993, his rookie season. It marked his first win in a NASCAR Winston Cup event, however, it did not count as an official points-paying victory.
- In 2007 Jeff Gordon won the race, but failed the post race inspection. He then "earned" the lowest starting spot for a race winner, starting in 42nd place. He was still given the victory.
- Since the race became a non-championship heat race in 1971, two drivers who did not win a Cup race, Clifton "Coo Coo" Marlin and Mike Skinner, have won the race.
- Four drivers have lost their lives in qualifying races. Talmadge "Tab" Prince was killed in 1970, Friday Hassler in 1972, Ricky Knotts in 1980 and Bruce Jacobi in 1987.
- Denny Hamlin won the second Gatorade Duel on February 14, 2008, making him the first ever Toyota driver to win a Sprint Cup race.
- A driver each from Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing have won the Duel races from 2007-2009.
- Randy LaJoie suffered a horrific crash in the 1984 UNO Twin 125 event when he spun out of turn 4, got airbourne and slammed hard into the wall, then performed two backflips and a barrel roll, in an identical position as Ricky Rudd's Busch Clash accident in the same year.
- ↑ 1961: Race shortened to 39 laps / 97.5 miles due to crash
- ↑ 2006: Both races were 64 laps / 160 miles due to green-white-checker finish
- ↑ 2007: First race was 63 laps / 157.5 miles due to green-white-checker finish.
- ↑ 2008: Second race was 64 laps / 160 miles due to green-white-checker finish