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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
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
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."
Predicting the Chase based on Sprint Unlimited
RELATED: Full Sprint Unlimited results " Speedweeks schedule If Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway is any indication, count Denny Hamlin , Joey Logano and Paul Menard in for the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- and one of them into the Championship Round. Since 2013, the top three finishers in the season-opening exhibition race at the World Center of Racing have all gone on to qualify for that year's Chase. Not only that -- but each of the past two seasons saw a driver from that trio reach the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway since that format debuted in 2014. 2015 1. Matt Kenseth 2. Martin Truex Jr . (Made Championship 4) 3. Carl Edwards 2014 1. Denny Hamlin (Made Championship 4) 2. Brad Keselowski 3. Kyle Busch 2013 1. Kevin Harvick 2. Greg Biffle 3. Joey Logano
'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.
Dillon on '17: 'Plan on being in the Sprint Cup Series'
NEWTON, Iowa -- The team is a question mark, the number is uncertain and the logistics are still behind closed doors. But one thing's for certain: If he has his way, Ty Dillon will be in a Sprint Cup Series ride next season. "I fully plan on being in the Sprint Cup Series next year full time," Dillon said Friday at Iowa Speedway. "We've got a lot of options on the table. A lot of chips still left to fall before we kind of get to that point, but hopefully we'll have something really close to getting done in a month or so." Dillon has made eight Sprint Cup starts this season, driving both the No. 95 Circle Sport -- Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet and filling in for then-injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing ride. He etched a season-best Cup result of 15th at Phoenix in the No. 14 Chevrolet. He also served as a relief driver for Stewart at Talladega. RELATED: Dillon subs for Stewart With No. 31 driver Ryan Newman's RCR contract up after this season, it looks to be seen whether or not Dillon will take his place as the driver of the team’s third car or if organization will add a fourth car. The possibility of driving for a different team also looms. "Talks have progressed a lot further than they have in past years," Dillon said. "I had talks with other teams in the past couple years and had opportunities, but it's always been my dream to drive for RCR and be teammates with my brother. "But now it seems like the time's more and more important. We've got some things going with RCR but we're still slowly working on other options. So, I have plenty of options and we're going to make sure it's the right decision because I want to be able to compete and win races and I want to be part of a team I know I can do that with." MORE: 'Hero' moment for Dillon as Richard Childress makes NASCAR Hall
Superspeedway cars will get safety enhancements in Sprint Cup and XFINITY series
NASCAR will implement structural enhancements to vehicles competing in the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series next season for races at its two biggest facilities, Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, in an effort to provide additional protection to its competitors. A rules bulletin to teams Thursday detailed the safety measures which affect the front firewall and foot box areas, rear roll cage area behind the driver as well as along the left side door area of the driver's compartment. Referred to as anti-intrusion panels, the thickness of the pieces has been increased for additional strength and to allow each to be welded more significantly, according to officials. The structural changes, part of NASCAR's on-going comprehensive safety initiative, strengthen the interior area of the car surrounding the driver. "We've been doing a very significant body of work over the last year and a half," Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development, said Thursday. "… We've done quite a bit of analysis, crash testing and we've come to the point now that we believe that the package is mature and we want to introduce it. The changes impact existing pieces already in use with one minor exception -- a new piece of material has been added behind the driver that extends from the existing anti-intrusion plating on the door bars into the rear sub frame. The changes are not expected to adversely affect the weight of the vehicle or change center of gravity, impacting balance. "Basically we are making the structure that encapsulates the driver more robust and susceptible to manage energy in a better way," Stefanyshyn said. "It's been implemented … with the teams so that it can be done in the most efficient, quickest and easiest way." By making the enhancements optional for 2016, they could be implemented for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega, the only remaining event to be held on a superspeedway. The new pieces will be mandatory on superspeedways for 2017 and likely for all events in '18. Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot in February of 2015 when his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota struck a wall front-end first during an XFINITY Series race at Daytona. Busch missed the first 11 points races of the season due to the injuries. The area of impact in the Busch crash was not protected by SAFER barrier at the time; it has since been added. SAFER barrier is a softer, energy-dissipating material mounted on the track wall. Earlier this year, driver Danica Patrick was involved in a similar crash at Talladega, however the wall was protected by SAFER barrier. Other than bruising and some soreness, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver was not injured. RELATED: Danica discusses Talladega wreck Even with the SAFER barrier, Patrick's impact bent the gas, brake and clutch pedals inside her No. 10 Chevrolet and according to Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition for SHR, "the steering column was moved a ton. "But it was intact," he said a week after the incident. "They've been talking about doing some work in the foot box (area); I think this is the perfect case of what happened. Would that help? I think it probably would have. I think she's lucky she has short legs. Her feet got banged up but once she got going in that direction, she said she just kind of picked her feet up." Patrick underwent x-rays in the infield care center at Talladega and told FOX Sports 1 a week later when the series was at Kansas Speedway that she felt "totally fine." "I've got a couple of bruises; my arm came across and bent the steering wheel," she said. "My foot went past the clutch pedal and came back on (after hitting the wall) … I've got a couple of bruises but I feel really good." Zipadelli said the sport "has come a long way" in the area of safety. "You think about what happened a bunch of years ago, compare these cars," he said. "We're going faster; these guys are hauling the mail every place we go now. When they do wreck, knock on wood, there aren't many complaints. I think they've done a really good job."
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.