The opening two practice sessions for this year's Daytona 500, the first round of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell setting the pace.

In the first session, Roush Fenway Racing's Stenhouse posted what proved to be the best time of the entire day with a lap of 44.413s (202.643mph) on the 2.5-mile Daytona Internaitonal Speedway tri-oval to go top of the timesheets by just under one tenth of a second from Sam Hornish Jr., who has taken over the race seat of the #9 Richard Petty Motorsport car previously held by Marcos Ambrose.

"Our Ford is fast and feels really good on the track," said Stenhouse. "We'll keep working with it in the next session and see what we have for qualifying tomorrow."

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It was a repeat RFR/RPM line-up in third and fourth, with Stenhouse's new rookie team mate Trevor Bayne - himself a previous Daytona 500 winner - just seeing off Hornish's colleague Aric Almirola, making it an all-Ford top four for the maiden Cup session of the the year which proved to be mainly focused on drafting practice which accounted for why all of the top ten runners in the session managed speeds in excess of 200mph.

See practice 1 results

The second practice saw problems for Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. The former suffered an engine failure in the #31 Richard Childress Racing entry, while Truex was sidelined by a crack in the oil pan of the #78 Furniture Row Racing car although in his case the team was able to effect repairs without being forced to replace the Chevrolet engine.

"Something just happened in the bottom end of the motor going into turn 3," explained Newman. "Everything was going as planned until then ... We will change the motor, figure out what happened to this one and get ready for tonight with a different race car and qualifying tomorrow."

The honours in the times for the second session went to another Ford-powered entry, the #95 of Leavine Family Racing's Michael McDowell, but his time of 45.153s (199.322mph) was no match for those set during the first session. It was however a significant improvement on his own personal time of the day, and put him at the top of the timesheets by two thousandths of a second from Hendrick Motorsport's Jimmie Johnson.

See practice 2 results

Qualifying for the Daytona 500 continues to be unlike any other race on the Sprint Cup calendar. New changes to the procedure for 2015 mean that Sunday afternoon's session will now fall into line with those of the other races on the calendar in having groups of cars progressing through three elimination rounds rather than single car time trials.

However in this weekend's session the groups will be structured differently: the first round will see the field split into two groups (decided by a blind draw - see below), each of which will have five minutes to set a best time. After a ten minute break, the fastest 24 drivers will then progress to the second round where they will again have five minutes to set a new time. After another short intermission, the fastest 12 cars then go into the final round for one more qualifying run.

After all this, the only things that are locked down are the two cars on the front row. The grid itself is not set at this stage, with their qualifying performance instead only determining their starting position in one of the two 60-lap Duel qualifying races on Thursday night, the outcome of which will decide who makes it onto the 43-car grid and their actual starting positions for next weekend's Cup race. Anyone forced to change an engine like Newman will have to start their Duel race from the back.

Following Sunday's qualifying session, there will be two further practice sessions on Wednesday and another on Thursday before the Duel races, followed by two more on Friday and one final practice on Saturday dedicated to race set-up. The Daytona 500 itself gets the green flag shortly after 1pm local time on Sunday, February 22.

Round 1 - Group 1 draw
Brad Keselowski
Bobby Labonte
Kevin Harvick
JJ Yelled
Denny Hamlin
Brian Scott
Joey Logano
Sam Hornish Jr.
Kurt Busch
Michael Annett
Clint Bowyer
Trevor Bayne
Justin Allgaier
Greg Biffle
Mike Wallace
Cole Whitt
Casey Mears
David Gilliland
David Ragan
Jeb Burton
Ryan Blaney
Danica Patrick
Reed Sorenson
Tony Stewart
Austin Dillon

Round 1 - Group 2 draw
Paul Menard
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Matt Kenseth
Ron Hornaday Jr.
Ryan Newman
Alex Bowman
Jamie McMurray
AJ Allmendinger
Johnny Sauter
Jimmie Johnson
Josh Wise
Kasey Kahne
Ty Dillon
Michael Waltrip
Aric Almirola
Kyle Larson
Landon Cassill
Justin Marks
Kyle Busch
Jeff Gordon
Carl Edwards
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Martin Truex Jr.
Michael McDowell

See practice 1 results See practice 2 results