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Nod to history as The Clash comes back to Daytona
RELATED: Official news release NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway jointly announced Wednesday that the annual exhibition race to kick off 2017 Speedweeks will have a familiar format, a smaller field and a nostalgic name -- The Clash. The season-opening non-points event -- scheduled Saturday, Feb. 18 (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) -- will take a page from its earliest roots, when it began as the Busch Clash in 1979. The race, which has frequently served as an invitational for the previous season's pole winners, has also been known as the Bud Shootout and Sprint Unlimited in its history at the 2.5-mile track. "We're bringing back The Clash at Daytona," Daytona International Speedway president Chip Wile said in the news release. "The Clash was a race name that has always been popular among both the competitors and race fans. We're looking forward to bringing it back and building on the rich history of this thrilling and always unpredictable event that kicks off the NASCAR season." NASCAR and the speedway indicated that the race format would remain unchanged from last year -- 75 laps with a competition caution period scheduled for Lap 25. The method for assembling eligible drivers, however, carries some slight tweaks from 2016's edition. Drivers invited include last year's Coors Light Pole Award winners in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition (14 total), former Clash winners (2), former Daytona 500 pole winners who raced full-time last year (1) and drivers not otherwise eligible who qualified for the Chase postseason (3). Last season, the field reached its 25-car limit by inviting the remaining highest-finishing drivers in the previous year's standings to fill the starting grid. That criteria has been dropped for 2017, leaving 20 drivers eligible to compete. One of those positions is held by three-time champion Tony Stewart , who announced that he would end his full-time driving career last season. Stewart indicated in an appearance Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he is far from retired, planning to compete in sprint cars and even entertaining an offer to drive sports cars at Le Mans. Another starting berth is also held by Greg Biffle , who parted ways with his longtime team at Roush Fenway Racing last week and has no announced plans in place for 2017. Biffle won the Coors Light Pole at Daytona in July to secure a starting spot. The list of eligible drivers: 2016 Coors Light Pole Awards winners: Greg Biffle , Alex Bowman , Kurt Busch , Kyle Busch , Austin Dillon , Carl Edwards , Chase Elliott , Denny Hamlin , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Matt Kenseth , Brad Keselowski , Joey Logano , Martin Truex Jr . Former Clash Race Winners: Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Tony Stewart Former Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Award winners: Danica Patrick Remaining 2016 Chase drivers: Chris Buescher , Kyle Larson , Jamie McMurray The race's length and field size have grown steadily from its first running in 1979, which was exclusively reserved for the previous year's pole winners. In an era with far less parity, it meant a nine-car field vying for a $50,000 payday in a 20-lap (50-mile) shootout. Buddy Baker was the inaugural winner, leading 18 of the 20 laps in Harry Ranier's "Gray Ghost" No. 28 Oldsmobile. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who helped bring the "Gray Ghost" scheme back to life, threw his support behind The Clash. This is a great move to restore the identity of a historic event. Pole award winners and @NASCAR fans can rejoice! #TheClashIsBack https://t.co/hb5mYiU8Gj — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) November 30, 2016
Dale Jr. wins NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award
MORE: Junior through the years " Relive all of Dale Jr.'s win s DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Although he missed one half of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season due to injury, race fans still overwhelmingly selected Dale Earnhardt Jr . as the National Motorsports Press Association Sprint Most Popular Driver. Earnhardt's selection was announced Friday during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards program at the Wynn Las Vegas. A $10,000 donation to the charity of his choice will be made on behalf of the NMPA. It is the 14th consecutive season Earnhardt has been voted the series' MPD. The award is the only major NASCAR honor to be determined solely by fan vote. Only one other driver, Bill Elliott , has won the award more often. Elliott was named the series' most popular driver 16 times between 1984 and 2002. Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports , was sidelined at midseason after suffering concussion-like symptoms following on-track incidents at Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway . He is expected to return to competition for 2017. RELATED: Junior injury timeline "The Most Popular Driver Award is always very humbling to receive, even more so this year with my injury and time out of the car," Earnhardt Jr. said. "The fans continue to amaze me with their loyalty and the support they've shown throughout my career no matter the circumstance. "I try not to think about winning or losing the Most Popular Driver award; it's a bit of a gift, you know. Whether we win the award or not, we get a lot of great support from our fans all season long. I certainly got some extra support this year through the injury and all that stuff; it's unfortunate to be in that position but the fans were great. That was an incredible motivator for me during my recovery to get healthy. Not a lot of people that go through those types of support groups, but the fans really made a world of difference. "I was pretty open and transparent in sharing the process and they were certainly open and honest replying and wishing us well. It made the bad days better and once I started feeling good about coming back it gave me a lot of motivation, maybe a reminder I guess of why I want to be back in the car. You race to have fun and win races, but it wouldn't even be worth making the trip if the fans didn't show up. They're a huge reason why we want to get back in the car and be back at the track next year." Junior also tweeted a message to his fans after receiving the award. Thank you fans! You guys are such a huge part of our team and help motivate us in so many ways. pic.twitter.com/hvEek8hkux — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) December 3, 2016 Sprint has been the presenting sponsor of the Most Popular Driver Award program since 2014. Forty drivers received one or more votes from fans during this year's 12-week voting period. Aside from Earnhardt Jr., others finishing in the top 10 in vote totals were (in alphabetical order): Kyle Busch , Carl Edwards , Chase Elliott , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Matt Kenseth , Danica Patrick , Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr . The Most Popular Driver Award has been presented annually since 1953 and the recipient was originally determined by a poll of competitors. It became a fan-driven program in 1984 under the guidance of the NMPA. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Michael Phelps introduces Jimmie Johnson at Sprint Cup Awards
Two of sports' greatest collided Friday evening at the Sprint Cup Awards as Michael Phelps made a surprise appearance to introduce 2016's Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in his official coronation. "Seven-Time," the man of the hour, received congratulations the entire evening, from Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick to every Chase driver, but it was Phelps that took the driver by surprise. The most-decorated Olympian of all time took the stage to introduce Johnson -- from one champion to the next -- to the Las Vegas crowd. Once Johnson got to the mic for his highly-anticipated champion speech he was indeed shocked. "It's still sinking in," he confessed. "It's mind blowing." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Eligible drivers and format announced for 2016 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
MORE: Buy tickets for the Sprint Unlimited DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 11, 2016) -- NASCAR announced today the 25 eligible drivers and the format for the season-opening 75-lap Sprint Unlimited at the new Daytona International Speedway motorsports stadium on Saturday, Feb. 13. The event, which will be broadcast live on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM, marks the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race following the completion of DAYTONA Rising, the $400 million frontstretch redevelopment project that has transformed Daytona International Speedway into the first motorsports stadium in the world. "We're ready to go," said NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell. "The anticipation for this season, this event and this venue is unprecedented. We are excited how the new stadium will provide a state-of-the-art showcase for the brightest stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series." Once again, the non-points event will be split into two segments with a competition caution at lap 25 separating the segments. A popular element introduced before the 2015 event returns this year: select fans will be paired with each crew chief for a random drawing to determine starting and pit road positions. The drawings will take place on Friday, Feb. 12 at the Alert Today Florida Stage inside the Sprint FANZONE beginning at 3:30 p.m. The 25 eligible NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers include the 2015 Coors Light Pole Award winners, former Sprint Unlimited race winners and former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full time in 2015. All 16 drivers from the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup are also eligible for the race, and any remaining open positions are filled based on 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship driver points. Eligible drivers are: 2015 Coors Light Pole Awards winners · AJ Allmendinger , Kurt Busch , Kyle Busch , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Matt Kenseth , Brad Keselowski , Jeff Gordon , Joey Logano . Former Sprint Unlimited Race Winners · Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Tony Stewart. Former DAYTONA 500 Coors Light Pole Award winners · Greg Biffle , Austin Dillon , David Gilliland , Danica Patrick , Martin Truex Jr . 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers: · Clint Bowyer , Jamie McMurray , Paul Menard , Ryan Newman . 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship driver points: · Aric Almirola , Kyle Larson . If an eligible driver does not enter the race, the open position will be filled based on 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship driver points. The first five provisional drivers are Casey Mears , Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., Sam Hornish Jr ., David Ragan and Trevor Bayne . Tickets for the Sprint Unlimited are available online at DaytonaInternationalSpeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can follow @NASCAR and @MissSprintCup on Twitter to engage in the #SprintUnlimited conversation.
Johnson lands pole position for Sprint Unlimited
RELATED: At-track photos at Daytona " DIS through the years On-track action for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has begun. With drivers itching to get back inside their race cars, the lineup for the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway has arrived. Crew chiefs drew their drivers' starting positions for the race on Friday -- the Sprint Unlimited (75 laps, 187.5 miles) is set for the green flag Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET (FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Crew chief Chad Knaus landed the prime position for Jimmie Johnson , who will start from the pole position. Johnson has visited Victory Lane at the 2.5-mile track three times in his career. Joining Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the front row will be Brad Keselowski in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford. The No. 47 Chevrolet of AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top three. Kyle Larson will hit the grid in the fourth position in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman will line up in the fifth spot. And the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch is starting ninth. Complete lineup for Sprint Unlimited : 1. Jimmie Johnson 2. Brad Keselowski 3. AJ Allmendinger 4. Kyle Larson 5. Ryan Newman 6. Casey Mears 7. Martin Truex Jr . 8. Clint Bowyer 9. Kyle Busch 10. Austin Dillon 11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr . 12. Danica Patrick 13. Matt Kenseth 14. Paul Menard 15. Denny Hamlin 16. Greg Biffle 17. Aric Almirola 18. Brian Vickers 19. Carl Edwards 20. Kasey Kahne 21. Kurt Busch 22. Kevin Harvick 23. Dale Earnhardt Jr . 24. Jamie McMurray 25. Joey Logano
O'Donnell: No. 14 car eligible for Sprint Unlimited
RELATED: Sprint Unlimited entry list The Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet will be eligible to run in the Sprint Unlimited even without Tony Stewart in the seat, NASCAR Executive Vice President & Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Thursday. Stewart will miss the Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500 due to severe back injuries sustained in an all-terrain vehicle crash. The three-time series champion had automatically qualified for the Sprint Unlimited field as a previous event winner. Sources told NASCAR.com that Brian Vickers has emerged as SHR's top target to replace Stewart in the seat of the No. 14 at Daytona. Vickers, 32, competed in only two races last season for Michael Waltrip Racing after missing time due to a recurrence of blood clots.
Denny Hamlin wins Sprint Unlimited in overtime finish
RELATED: Full race results " Photos from Sprint Unlimited DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Saturday's Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway ended with a mere handful of cars undamaged -- and race winner Denny Hamlin 's Toyota wasn't one of them. But Hamlin got his wreck out of the way early in a two-car incident with Ricky Stenhouse Jr .'s Ford on Lap 12 and won the race in overtime with a large swatch of silver tape on the right side of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry. Hamlin triumphed in the season-opening non-points event for the second time in three years (and third time overall) and gave JGR its fourth Sprint Unlimited victory in the last five years. Under NASCAR's new overtime rules, which require the leader to reach an overtime line on the backstretch under green on the restart lap before the race is official, the event ended under caution for a six-car wreck in Turn 1. LEARN MORE: 'Overtime line' part of tweaked G-W-C procedure The overtime extended the race four laps past its scheduled distance, and, by then, Hamlin had a comfortable lead -- if any lead on a superspeedway can be considered comfortable. Joey Logano came home second, Paul Menard third and Kyle Larson fourth in a race that saw only four of the 25 cars avoid wrecks that collectively produced seven cautions for 25 laps. Hamlin chose the outside line for the final restart, abandoning help from JGR teammate Matt Kenseth , who restarted fourth in the outside line. "It was just such a dilemma for me to figure out what lane to start in," Hamlin said. "I had gotten good pushes from Matt all night long, and I hated leaving him in that top line, but I felt like I'd had success on the bottom all night, and I didn't want to leave it for that final restart." A wild seven-car crash on Lap 22 severely damaged the cars of several pre-race favorites, including the No. 88 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr . In his first competitive run as a substitute for injured Tony Stewart , Brian Vickers spun while barreling into Turn 1 after his right rear tire went flat. Vickers's spin ignited the wreck that also crippled the cars of Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick , Clint Bowyer and also involved the Ford of Greg Biffle and the Chevrolet of AJ Allmendinger . Vickers' Chevrolet took a hard hit against the outside SAFER barrier, but the driver of the No. 14 appeared unhurt in the incident. "I cut a right rear tire," Vickers said after exiting the infield care center. "It's unfortunate. I don't know how I cut the tire. I had a little contact. Everyone was racing hard. It's the Sprint Unlimited , right? That's what it's all about. The 18 ( Kyle Busch ) and I got together early on, going four-wide. Had a little rub but it went away so we thought everything was fine. RELATED: Vickers brings out the 'Big One' at Daytona "The 2 ( Brad Keselowski ) and I got together a little bit right there on the front stretch going into (Turn) 1. Maybe that was it. I just don't know. It was a cut of some kind. It's just unfortunate." Lap 43 marked the end of the race for Jimmie Johnson , who spun on the backstretch after contact with the No. 13 Chevy of Casey Mears and tore the front fascia of his No. 48 Chevrolet while sliding across the bus stop chicane used in the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car race. But Johnson had run near the front up to that point, and crew chief Chad Knaus was pleased with the effort. "We learned a little bit tonight," Knaus said, with a tone of voice that suggested he had actually learned quite a bit. "Thanks, everybody. Good dress rehearsal."
'Overtime line' gets first use in Sprint Unlimited
MORE: Explaining the 'overtime line' " Full Sprint Unlimited results DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A partial field got a trial run at the NASCAR season in Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited . The sanctioning body's revised overtime rule got the same treatment. The exhibition marked the first use of the new overtime format, with a late caution period pushing the race four laps past the scheduled 75-lap distance. The crash-thinned field made it past the new overtime line painted on the backstretch after the green flag flew for the restart, meaning that a yellow flag anytime thereafter would have ended the race. The fateful caution flag didn't happen until after the white flag had unfurled, with a multicar tangle in Turn 1 ultimately stopping the action -- the same result had the former green-white-checkered overtime rule been in place. The net result: Not much difference in the final outcome. "The procedure is probably, it really wasn't any different at that point," said Danica Patrick , who finished 11th as one of six drivers snared by the race-ending wreck. "I mean, we took the white (flag) and then the accident happened, so nothing different would've happened if we were in the old situation. "I don't think it'll end up making a humongous difference. I mean, the likelihood of having a lot of accidents within the first corner, they're not super-high. I don't know. I think it'll be fine. I don't think we'll really notice a huge difference." NASCAR's competition department made the changes in the interest of safety, potentially reducing the chances of making multiple overtime restart attempts. Dale Earnhardt Jr . said on Twitter after the rules alterations were announced that the competition changes were the direct result of collaboration between NASCAR and the drivers' council that formed last season. RELATED: Reactions to qualifying, overtime changes But the new rule also strives to add some clarity to the ruffling of restart feathers from last October's Sprint Cup Series event at Talladega Superspeedway , where two crashes as cars were getting up to speed threw the finish into disarray. The crash notwithstanding, Saturday night's conclusion was far cleaner. "I think it was OK. I get what they're trying to do," said Greg Biffle , who wound up 10th after catching a piece of the final wreck. "They're trying to prevent people from changing the outcome of the race and make that mark back there, and that makes sense. It'll take us a little bit to get used to that, but I understand it." The balance of the 36-race season will tell the rules change's story. After one dry run in a non-points event, for some it remains an open-ended question. "I guess in this day and age, we always judge everything on the fans' reaction," said Martin Truex Jr ., another crash victim who ended his night in 13th place, "so I guess we'll wait and see what they say about it."
Hamlin battles through to win wild Sprint Unlimited
Jonathan Merryman breaks down a wild night at Daytona International Speedway, which led to Denny Hamlin capturing his third Sprint Unlimited victory.
Hamlin, Larson top Sprint Unlimited practices
RELATED: Full field for Sprint Unlimited PRACTICE 2 Denny Hamlin was lightning fast, his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota topping the speed charts early and staying there in Friday's final Sprint Unlimited practice at Daytona International Speedway . Hamlin's top speed of 198.930 mph was more than 3 mph faster than second-place Clint Bowyer , whose No. 15 HScott Motorsports Chevrolet clocked in at 195.253 mph. Aric Almirola was next on the leaderboard in the final of two sessions, wheeling the iconic No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports at 194.885 mph. Brian Vickers -- who was announced as the substitute for injured Tony Stewart at Daytona -- was fourth-fastest in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet (194.805 mph), while fellow SHR wheelman Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five with a fast lap of 194.763 mph. After finishing 11th in the opening practice, last season's Sprint Unlimited winner Matt Kenseth elected not to hit the track in the final practice. Martin Truex Jr ., Casey Mears and Greg Biffle also did not make runs in the second session. Kyle Larson , who topped practice earlier on Friday, came up 19th in the final session, his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet reaching a top speed of 190.456 mph. Friday's practices marked Larson's first on-track action with new crew chief Chad Johnston, who called the shots for Tony Stewart last season. Several drivers -- including Larson, Carl Edwards and AJ Allmendinger -- elected to run outside of the pack, bringing down their speeds from the rest of the field. The Sprint Cup Series is back on track Saturday at 10:30 a.m. ET for practice (FS1). FULL PRACTICE RESULTS Pos Car Driver Speed 1 11 Denny Hamlin 198.930 2 15 Clint Bowyer 195.253 3 43 Aric Almirola 194.885 4 14 Brian Vickers 194.805 5 4 Kevin Harvick 194.763 6 41 Kurt Busch 194.611 7 10 Danica Patrick 194.527 8 27 Paul Menard 194.342 9 3 Austin Dillon 194.280 10 2 Brad Keselowski 193.665 11 22 Joey Logano 193.320 12 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr . 192.316 13 5 Kasey Kahne 192.258 14 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr . 191.881 15 48 Jimmie Johnson 191.873 16 18 Kyle Busch 191.160 17 1 Jamie McMurray 190.690 18 31 Ryan Newman 190.517 19 42 Kyle Larson 190.456 20 47 AJ Allmendinger 189.155 21 19 Carl Edwards 75.517 PRACTICE 1 Kyle Larson wheeled his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet at 199.344 mph around a sunny Daytona International Speedway on Friday, topping the first practice of the Sprint Unlimited and the 2016 season. Hendrick Motorsports ' Kasey Kahne was next on the leaderboard, clocking in at 199.159 mph in his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, while Joe Gibbs Racing 's Denny Hamlin came up third on the charts (199.067 mph). Richard Childress Racing 's Paul Menard and Joe Gibbs Racing 's Carl Edwards rounded out the top five with top speeds of 198.979 mph and 198.715 mph, respectively. Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch wheeled his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing machine around the track at 198.623 mph to earn the sixth-fastest speed in the 25-car field. Filling in for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, Brian Vickers was seventh-fastest in practice, earning a top speed of 198.295 mph. Jimmie Johnson , who won the pole position during the random drawing earlier in the day, was 23rd-fastest, clocking in at 190.892 mph after staying out of the drafting pack. Aric Almirola 's No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford rolled off the grid at 5 p.m. ET, signaling the first car on track of the 2016 season. He ultimately came up 15th on the leaderboard. Per crew chief Cole Pearn's instructions not to run in the pack, Martin Truex Jr . was the final driver to make his way onto the track, rolling off the grid with about 10 minutes remaining in the 55-minute session. He finished 22nd in the session (192.020 mph) in his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota. FULL PRACTICE RESULTS Pos Car Driver Speed 1 42 Kyle Larson 199.344 2 5 Kasey Kahne 199.159 3 11 Denny Hamlin 199.067 4 27 Paul Menard 198.979 5 19 Carl Edwards 198.715 6 18 Kyle Busch 198.623 7 14 Brian Vickers 198.295 8 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr . 198.085 9 47 AJ Allmendinger 197.807 10 10 Danica Patrick 197.785 11 20 Matt Kenseth 197.754 12 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr . 197.529 13 16 Greg Biffle 197.451 14 2 Brad Keselowski 197.286 15 43 Aric Almirola 197.234 16 1 Jamie McMurray 197.191 17 13 Casey Mears 197.096 18 22 Joey Logano 197.092 19 4 Kevin Harvick 196.911 20 15 Clint Bowyer 196.777 21 3 Austin Dillon 196.592 22 78 Martin Truex Jr . 192.020 23 48 Jimmie Johnson 190.892 24 31 Ryan Newman 190.375 25 41 Kurt Busch 190.026