A field of 18 cars is expected for this Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway, the non-points race which gets the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2014 season officially underway.
Sixteen 2013 pole winners and two past Sprint Unlimited champions – Tony Stewart and Terry Labonte – make up the lineup. Stewart, of course, is making his heralded return to the cockpit for the first time since his accident last year.
Additionally, this race will be the first time Stewart’s two new teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch race under the same roof at Stewart-Haas Racing, and will also be former SHR driver Ryan Newman’s first race for Richard Childress Racing. With Austin Dillon and Paul Menard ineligible, Newman will be RCR’s only flag-bearer in the “Unlimited.”
The rest of the field: Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose, Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards.
They’ll be racing at the mercy of what the fans decide. A full breakdown is available on the Sprint Unlimited section of NASCAR’s website, but here are the options fans can vote on through Saturday.
- Race format: 75 laps, three segments. But it could be 30-35-10, 30-30-15, or 30-25-20.
- Starting order: Most career poles, 2013 driver points standings, or final Sprint Unlimited practice speeds.
- Restart order for final segment: Fastest lap over first two segments, most laps led during first two segments, or mandatory pit stops determine the lineup.
With this being a non-points race, it does afford the flexibility and ability for NASCAR to get fans directly involved in the race. But half the battle Saturday night will just be keeping track of the votes.
Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.
The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.
“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.
Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”
Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.
“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.
Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.