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
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.
Does Sprint Unlimited finish correlate to title?
A look at where you do -- and don't -- want your favorite driver to finish Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout. There are no points awarded for performance in the Sprint Unlimited , but there's still plenty at stake. History has proven that. Not only is it incredibly likely that the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is in Saturday night's field, but it's also likely that he or she will perform well in the 25-car, 75-lap exhibition at Daytona International Speedway that kicks off the season. Here's where you want your driver to finish on Feb. 14 (8 p.m. ET, FOX) if you want him or her to have the best chance to be standing on the championship podium in November. Oh, and where you don't want them to finish? We'll go over that, too. Keep this handy when you watch Saturday's action, and check back for an updated version of this story after the race ends. The Good 33 • There have been 36 Sprint Unlimited races, with the first one coming in 1979. In 33 of 36 races (91.7 percent), the eventual series champion for that year was in the field. 1st or 4th • The most common finishing position in a Sprint Unlimited for a driver who would go on to win the championship that same year? It's a tie between first and fourth -- there have been seven instances of each (19.4 percent each). Dale Earnhardt won the Sprint Unlimited (then called the Busch Clash) in four of his seven championship seasons. The most recent driver to accomplish this feat is Tony Stewart in 2002. The most recent driver to finish fourth in the Unlimited and then win the title that same year is Brad Keselowski in 2012. Editor's note: Matt Kenseth won Saturday night's race, and Casey Mears finished fourth. 5.8 • The average finish in the Sprint Unlimited for a driver who won the title that same year is 5.8. Editor's note: Kyle Larson finished fifth Saturday night, and Joey Logano finished sixth. The OK 5th place • A driver has finished fifth place in the Unlimited and then gone on to win the title in four different instances (11 percent). The most recent driver to do this was Kevin Harvick last year. 3rd, 11th, 14th • Future champions have finished third, 11th and 14th in the Sprint Unlimited three times apiece. The latest: Jimmie Johnson finished 14th in 2013, Tony Stewart finished 11th in 2011 and Johnson finished third in 2008. Editor's note: Carl Edwards finished third Saturday night; Kevin Harvick finished 11th and Greg Biffle was 14th. The Ugly DNF • Worried about your favorite driver possibly getting in a wreck or having car problems? The odds are long, but three times a driver did not complete the exhibition race but still won the title that year -- Bobby Allison in 1983, Jeff Gordon in 1998 and Johnson in 2013. Editor's note: Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski did not finish Saturday's race. No chance • Numbers to watch out for. A driver has never finished 16th or worse in the Unlimited and won the title. Other finishing positions that have never produced a future champion: seventh, 10th and 12th. Editor's note: Jeff Gordon finished seventh, Danica Patrick finished 10th and Ryan Newman finished 14th. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Snapshot: Sprint Unlimited
Get caught up before the non-points race at Daytona (8 p.m. ET, Sat., FOX) Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge What: 37th annual Sprint Unlimited . Where: Daytona International Speedway, 2.5-mile tri-oval in Daytona Beach, Florida. When: Saturday, Feb. 14; 8:15 p.m. ET. TV/Radio: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Distance: 75 laps; 187.5 miles (two segments -- 25 laps; 50 laps). Pit road speed: 55 mph Caution car speed: 70 mph Fuel window: 32 laps On the front row (no qualifying; drivers drew for starting position) " Starting lineup 1. Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet. 2. Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet. Fastest in practice First practice: Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet (200.749 mph). " Full results Final practice: Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet (196.764 mph). " Full results Driver rating (Best driver rating average in the Sprint Unlimited based in the past nine years, minimum 5 starts): Tony Stewart, 98.4 Jamie McMurray, 95.9 Last year's winner: Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota. Final Sprint : Saturday night's running of the annual season-opening exhibition race will likely be Jeff Gordon's final drive in the Sprint Unlimited . The four-time champion in NASCAR's premier series holds the record for most consecutive starts in the event -- 21. Pole predictors? Denny Hamlin stormed to victory in last year's Unlimited from the pole position, marking the fourth time in event history that the race winner has started from the No. 1 spot. The last time a race winner had the same pole-starting distinction was way back in 1989, when Ken Schrader landed his first win in the Daytona preliminary. History lesson: In its earliest years, the Sprint Unlimited field was solely filled by the previous season's pole winners. In those years when parity was not nearly as prevalent in stock-car racing, fewer drivers topped qualifying, meaning the earliest fields were far from unlimited . In 1981, Darrell Waltrip won the race -- then known as the Busch Clash, a brief 20-lap, 50-mile affair -- beating just six other cars to the checkered flag. They said it I: "It's just practice. I used to have the (XFINITY) race and things like that to get acclimated with your spotters and everything. I've been driving a tractor. It's been a long offseason and nobody has tested, nobody has been in a car and nobody has been acclimated to your guys and everything else. Just to show up cold turkey and not be ready is real for the Daytona 500, and I believe that. Having that race under our belt with all of us able to talk and (crew chief Brian) Pattie on the box, just to get in sync with one another before the big dance is what that race is all about." -- Clint Bowyer, on using the Sprint Unlimited to get in a rhythm for Speedweeks They said it II: "Daytona, Talladega, it's unique teaching people that don't know a lot about NASCAR and how different Daytona and Talladega really are, and yet so much preparation goes into these cars. I mean, they're beautiful cars with the most man-hours put into them, and some teams are electing not even to run the Unlimited because they know they're going to destroy a car. Wow, what do we do with restrictor plate racing? It's just that different, the way the racing is. There's strategy, there's drafting. A lot of it is luck, being in the right place at the right time." -- Kurt Busch They said it III: "This is my first Unlimited . But it's not a points race so I imagine it's a pretty relaxing race. It doesn't even have an effect on where you start in the (Daytona) 500. So, I think this whole weekend is pretty relaxing." -- Kyle Larson Former Sprint Unlimited winners in the field: Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick (3), Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin (2), Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson (1). FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule