DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 13, 2008) -- Although Jimmie Johnson and Michael Waltrip have locked up their starting positions for the 50th running of the Daytona 500, other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will be battling for their own in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel at Daytona.
Johnson and Waltrip not only have front-row starting spots for the Daytona 500, but also the pole positions for the Gatorade Duel at Daytona, a pair of 150-mile qualifying races that will finalize the rest of the 43-car field for the Daytona 500 scheduled for Feb. 17.
Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet earned his second career Daytona 500 pole with a speed of 187.075 mph.
Even though he has his position locked in for Sunday’s Daytona 500, he plans on racing hard in Thursday’s qualifier.
We want to be careful and I think initially when we won the pole we thought let’s be smart, let’s not race,” Johnson said. “But then as a couple of days have gone by, we have an amazing back-up car. There is a trophy out there. We want to win the race. And we’re going to go race for it. If there is something that’s going on I don’t like, I’ll obviously find my way out. That’s no different than what I’d normally do.
“I think our starting position, and my teammates that are up there with me, hopefully we can stay up in the first few rows and be in a smart position. I think the crazy position is going to be wherever that cutoff point is for who is going to make the 500. We’ll be well-aware of that and who those cars are and what they’re doing and try to be smart with that too.”           
Johnson was among the many teams that experienced engine trouble during Gatorade Duel practice on Wednesday.
Among the teams that will have to change engines and start at the back of their respective Gatorade Duel include Johnson, Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Scott Riggs, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, J.J. Yeley and A.J. Allmendinger.
Darrell Waltrip, five-time winner of the Gatorade Duel At Daytona and 1989 Daytona 500 champion, will serve as the Honorary Starter and will wave the green flag for the first 150-mile Gatorade Duel at Daytona race, which kicks off at 2 p.m. Waltrip was also the first driver to wheel the famed green and white No. 88 Gatorade car for DiGard Racing.
The 2007 winners of the Gatorade Duel at Daytona were Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports and Tony Stewart in the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Tickets for the Gatorade Duel are available by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or at the gate.