Every year, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season kicks off with the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. But what everybody forgets is that there is a preseason race about one week before the real season begins.
Wait, you are telling me that NASCAR has a preseason?
YES, that is exactly what I’m saying! But this preseason is much different from stick-and-ball sports.
The MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL preseasons have multiple games, and one of the primary reasons for them is to see who the teams want to keep, who they want to cut and how they look overall as a team for the upcoming season.
But NASCAR is a complete 360 degree turnaround from that.
The Sprint Unlimited is a non-points paying race, meaning it will not count towards the Chase at the end of the season. But the winner does get a trophy, a fat paycheck, bragging rights and an invitation to this race for the remainder of their racing careers. Not too shabby if is you ask me.
The format for this year’s race is a little different as well. The race will be run similarly to the All-Star race, with two segments — one segment of 25 laps and one segment of 50 laps. There will be a competition caution on lap 25.
The starting and pit road positions will also be determined by a random drawing by the fans a mere few hours before the race goes green.
If you have won the race previously, won a Daytona 500 pole previously, won at least one pole in 2014 or qualified for the Chase in 2014, you’re you are in the race. That means that guys and gals like Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick, who thought they were not competing in the event this year, are now due to these new rules and the new format for the event.
The Unlimited is also a good indicator of who will be fast and competitive during the entirety of Speedweeks.
Take last season for example. Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited. About one week later, he won his respective Duel race and ended up finishing second in the big kahuna, the Daytona 500, to eventual winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Want another example? Take Jr. He won the Unlimited (then called the Budweiser Shootout) and his Duel race, but did not win the big race back in 2010.
Moral of the story: If you are fast in this race, you will be fast for the rest of Speedweeks in Daytona.
You can catch the race on FOX at 8:00 p.m. from Daytona International Speedway, with NASCAR RaceDay on Fox Sports 1 a couple of hours prior to the green flag dropping.
Now, let’s get to who I think will take home the aforementioned hardware, paycheck, bragging rights and lifetime invitation back to the race. I think that Carl Edwards will start off the new chapter of his career, with a new team in Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 19 car, with a win in this year’s Sprint Unlimited. The No. 88 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr. did it in 2010 in their first race together, so why can’t Edwards and company?
Regardless of who wins, NASCAR fans everywhere can rejoice, because it’s the most wonderful time of the year, NASCAR season! And it is coming down the frontstretch to take the green flag and get started up once again.
Davey Segal is the host of Victory Lane for Impact Sports