Expect sparks to fly Saturday at Daytona, much like they did last year during the Budweiser Shootout (Now known as the Sprint Unlimited). Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
By: Toby Christie – Follow on Twitter @Tobalical
What began in 1979 as a simple 50 mile dash for the cash between pole winners from the previous season titled the “Busch Clash” had blossomed into an event you would hardly recognize, and couldn’t even really classify as a shootout — despite the race name being the Budweiser Shootout — in 2012. Last year’s running of the exhibition event in Daytona was a 205 mile full-blown race, that wasn’t waged between pole winners from the year before.
In other words the season-opening event had completely drifted away from it’s original concept, and all of a sudden the race was in the midst of an identity crisis. However in 2013 it’s time for the newly renamed Sprint Unlimited to get back to it’s roots.
The criteria for the starting grid is simple: If you won a pole in 2012, you’re eligible to run the race in 2013. Also included will be any previous winners of The Sprint Unlimited (Previously the Bud Shootout). That being said; who’s on the entry list?
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Smithfield Ford
Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Stanley Ford
Greg Biffle, No. 16 3M Ford
Kurt Busch, No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Busch, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet
Carl Edwards, No. 99 Fastenal Ford
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet
Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Dollar General Toyota
Joey Logano, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford
Mark Martin, No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota
Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Target Chevrolet
Ken Schrader, No. 32 Ford
Tony Stewart, No. 14 Mobil-1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet
Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 NAPA Toyota
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The top thing on everyone’s mind will obviously be the new Gen6 racecar. This will be the first actual in-race experience that any driver has had with the new Sprint Cup Series car. In preseason testing it appeared as though the two-car tandem drafting — which has been the way of the land lately in restrictor plate racing — had been eliminated due to the bumpers on the new car not lining up like they did on the C-O-T. This race however will be the first true test on whether or not tandem racing is gone for good.
Also The Sprint Unlimited will give us huge insight as to what team’s have the upper-hand on the new car heading into the biggest race of the year — The Daytona 500.
Of the drivers entered, none have won this event more than Tony Stewart. “Smoke’s” three victories are tops among active drivers, and he has always showcased an incredible ability at Daytona. Stewart is second on the all-time Daytona wins list — second only to Dale Earnhardt.
Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kevin Harvick have all won this race twice. Gordon however hasn’t won this event since his glory years back in 1997. Last year the four-time Sprint Cup champion ended up on his roof — for the first time in his career — in this race.
His teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second in the Daytona 500 last season, but he was swept up in a crash in the Sprint Unlimited, and don’t forget he hasn’t raced at a restrictor plate race since he suffered a concussion at Talladega in October. It’ll be interesting if he has any in-race jitters thinking about his prior injury, but his aggressive nature in the preseason test at Daytona would suggest that the most popular driver has put last year’s injury out of his mind.
Kevin Harvick of these three drivers has enjoyed the best recent success in the Sprint Unlimited. He won the race in back-to-back years (2009-2010) and he has finished seventh or better in four of the last five runnings of the Sprint Unlimited. Harvick will be driving chassis no. 387, which he drove to a seventh-place finish in last year’s Daytona 500 and he also took this car to an eleventh place effort at Talladega in October.
Both Busch brothers, Denny Hamlin and five-time Jimmie Johnson have also tasted victory in this race once in their careers.
Guys who haven’t been so fortunate in this race in the past include Greg Biffle. Biffle has just three top-ten finishes in seven-career Sprint Unlimited starts. He will be piloting chassis RK-794, which took him to a sixth-place finish in this race just last year.
Richard Petty Motorsports will have two cars in this event for the first time ever, and this will also mark the first time Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose (RPM’s two drivers) start in the Sprint Unlimited. The Australian-born Ambrose praised his team as a whole.
“Having both teams in the event really shows how far RPM has come over the past few years,” Ambrose continued. “Being a part of this special event will give us some good momentum to start the 2013 season.”
The rules for the Sprint Unlimited are unique, and more interactive than any race in NASCAR history.
As of now we actually aren’t truly sure what the rules will be for The Sprint Unlimited, as it all rests in the hands of the fans. The race will be split into three segments, but the amount of laps for each segment still has to be decided by the fans. The fans will also vote on what kind (two-tire, four-tire, ect.) — if any — pit stop drivers will be required to make, whether drivers will be eliminated following segments, and of course what firesuit Miss Sprint Cup will wear in victory lane. All of these options can still be voted on at NASCAR.com or via the NASCAR Mobile ’13 smart phone app.
Unlike most races where drivers are lined up by fastest speed following a qualifying session, the Sprint Unlimited spices things up a bit. Fans attending the race on Saturday will actually vote on the starting order for the race. The fans will have three choices on how to set the grid:
 number of career wins (most to least) — under this format Jeff Gordon would be on the pole.
 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup final driver point standings — under this format Jimmie Johnson would be on the pole, as champion Brad Keselowski and second-place man Clint Bowyer aren’t eligible to run the race.
 order of when drivers earned their pole positions in 2012 — under this format Carl Edwards would be on the pole, as he captured the pole in last year’s season-opening Daytona 500.
Fans in attendance will be able to cast their vote at one of four Daytona Rewards Stations at the track or by way of texting.
Closest Margin of Victory: 0.013 second, Kyle Busch over Tony Stewart in 2012
Least amount of laps led by winner: 1 – Rusty Wallace (1998), Neil Bonnett (1983-84), Dale Earnhardt (1980), Dale Jarrett (2000 and 2004), and Kevin Harvick (2009).
Best Sprint Unlimited Average Finish: Dale Earnhardt — 2.75
Most Sprint Unlimited Wins: Dale Earnhardt — 6
Most Leaders in a Sprint Unlimited: 14 in 2009
Most Lead Changes in a Sprint Unlimited: 28 in 2011
Lowest starting spot for a winner: 27th — Kevin Harvick in 2009
Most Laps Led in a Sprint Unlimited: 47 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2008
Fastest Sprint Unlimited race average: 197.802 mph — won by Bill Elliott in 1987