NASCAR kicks off its highly-awaited 2016 season Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway with the Sprint Unlimited. Well, kind of.
Although the Unlimited is technically an exhibition race, which means no points and no real value for the regular season, that doesn’t mean it lacks action. We’ve seen photo finishes, cars barrel-rolling, and fireworks off the track. All in the past two seasons!
The format for this race has been ever-changing, so let’s get you set on who will be competing, how long the race is, and everything else you need to know for Saturday.
Who’s competing in the race?
25 drivers are eligible to race in the Sprint Unlimited. If you won a pole in 2015, were in the Chase in 2015, are a past winner of the race, or have won a pole for the Daytona 500 in the past, you’re awarded a spot in the race. If that should fail to fill the 25-car minimum, then the remaining spots will go to drivers highest in points not already locked into the event (in this case, they went to Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson).
Due to Jeff Gordon’s retirement and David Gilliland’s lack of a car to drive (was released before the season), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Casey Mears are in this year’s event (Brian Vickers will drive the No. 14, filling in for Tony Stewart, as it was announced this week).
So, what’s the format for the race?
The race will be 75 laps in total (scheduled) distance, and split into two segments. The first segment will be 25 laps, and the second segment will be 50 laps. At the end of those 75 laps, one lucky driver will pull into victory lane as the winner of the 2016 Sprint Unlimited.
Who’s on the pole?
Jimmie Johnson will lead the field to the green flag. Qualifying for this race was done by a completely random draw, as well as pit stall selections. Brad Keselowski will start second and AJ Allmendinger third.Other notable starting positions include Kyle Busch ninth, Kevin Harvick 22nd and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 23rd. The drafting at superspeedways makes qualifying quite indifferent.
Where do I watch?
The race will be broadcasted live on FOX at 8:00 pm. Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon will be making his debut in the broadcast booth, and he will be a joy to listen to and watch. You can also listen on MRN radio if you’re on the go.
I think Kurt Busch will win the Sprint Unlimited. Restrictor plate racing is always such a crapshoot, so you never really know who is going to end up victorious. However, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been bad fast in every practice session, so he’s a safe bet, as always.
Keeping with the theme of NASCAR making big announcements this week at Daytona, they had “anotha one”, as they tweaked the overtime rules when it comes to green/white/checkered finishes at all tracks – not just superspeedways.
To put it in simply, NASCAR will paint a line on the track (it will vary in location by track), and when the field takes the green flag to start a GWC attempt, they will be racing. That’s nothing new. What’s new is if the field gets to the “overtime line” before the caution comes out, the race is official, stopped, and will end. If the caution comes out before the field gets to the “overtime line”, NASCAR will redo the restart, and will do it however many times it takes, as they will have unlimited attempts.
This rule was most likely put into place when Kevin Harvick tried to manipulate the restarts last season at Talladega Superspeedway. Now that this rule is in place, we can finish the race as fairly as possible without any outside forces manipulating the outcome of the race – we hope.
Kind of confusing, right? I know, I am too. But once it is put into action on the racetrack and we see it in action, I think we’ll understand it better and it’ll work just fine.
Daytona 500 Qualifying
Although qualifying for the 500 doesn’t really matter, it’ll take place Sunday at 1:00 pm on FOX. The top two drivers will be locked into their starting spots. However, everyone else will be placed in two “Duel” races later in the week, where the results from those two races will determine the remainder of the starting lineup for the Great American Race.