- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The qualifying procedure for the Daytona 500 is a unique and complicated process that began yesterday with Jimmie Johnson and Michael Waltrip locking in the front row starting positions in the 43-car field.

All 53 drivers who made qualifying attempts earned starting positions in one of two 150-mile qualifying races Thursday.

The top 35 in the final car owner points of 2007 are guaranteed starting spots for the first five races of 2008. Those drivers, plus the top two finishers in each qualifier not in the top 35, will fill positions three through 39 Sunday.

The fastest remaining drivers from yesterday’s time trials then will complete the field — with one possible exception.

The final spot in the field would go to a former Cup champion who doesn’t make the lineup on speed or in the qualifying races.

The only former champions not among the 35 already guaranteed for a starting spot are Bill Elliott (1988), Dale Jarrett (1999) and Kurt Busch (2004).

Each former champion can use that provisional up to six times during a season.

Elliott is running a part-time schedule, Jarrett plans to run only the first five races before retiring from driving and Busch gave up his 2007 points position to rookie teammate and former open-wheel champion Sam Hornish Jr.

That guarantees Hornish starting spots in the first five races and also assures Busch, as the more recent former champ, of being in the field for each race until the 2008 top 35 kicks in at the sixth race.

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