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.
MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Ending in 20th was Sage Karam, who generated a lot of headlines despite missing a handful of races in his first full season in the big leagues.
Sage Karam, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
- 2014: 9th place at Indianapolis 500; several starts in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
- 2015: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 14.5 Avg. Start, 15.8 Avg. Finish
Few drivers generated as much ink as Karam did during what as an ultimately race-by-race rookie season that saw him active in 12 of 16 races. It was an overall rocky campaign that featured any combination of brilliance, controversy and heartache depending on the weekend.
Karam was on the back foot to begin with anyway with limited preseason testing, following a wrist injury sustained in a crash at Barber Motorsports Park. The fact he was out of a car for Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis owed to financial reasons but also served as a wakeup call that he needed to improve off the back of several ragged races to open the season. The speed was there for the Indianapolis 500 but the result wasn’t, with a first-lap crash and the following debacle of a doubleheader weekend at Detroit a week later ultimately Karam’s nadir.
Luckily for the 20-year-old, he had Dario Franchitti as a tutor, mentor and coach, and a post-Detroit “come to Jesus” meeting might have been the biggest impetus for change. Karam then surged in the second half of the year – primarily on ovals – and worked his way into the headlines courtesy of his driving and take-no-prisoners aggressive approach, particularly with Ed Carpenter at Iowa. In a single sentence, he was worth the price of admission almost on his own while also putting himself in contention for series “black hat” status.
Karam was on track for what would have been a dream weekend at home in Pocono, leading with 20 laps to go, when he lost control and crashed out – the debris from the car ultimately striking Justin Wilson’s helmet. It was a tragic end to the race but it was no fault of Karam’s that what happened, happened.
For as much as the community is rallying around Wilson’s family, it needs to do the same for Karam. At 20, he’s a talented driver with a bright future ahead of him, who continued to mature over the course of the season. You just don’t want Pocono to be the race that affects him psychologically, and prevents him from fully realizing his undoubted potential.
MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the second-ranked rookie this season, was KV Racing Technology’s Stefano Coletti.
Stefano Coletti, No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet
- 2014: GP2
- 2015: 19th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 8th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 18.9 Avg. Start, 18.6 Avg. Finish
Coletti struggled in his rookie season, which was a bit surprising after an impressive preseason testing period that helped him secure the second KV Racing Technology car alongside KVSH Racing lead driver Sebastien Bourdais.
The GP2 graduate produced early season excitement where he was a passing star, but that only seemed to deceive for the rest of the year. The only time he started ahead of Bourdais was at Iowa, when Bourdais crashed in qualifying.
Similar to other drivers KV has had in previous years Coletti was often hard on equipment, with a frequent number of either full-on accidents or less damaging spins, although not all were his fault. A trouble-free weekend for him rarely occurred, and eighth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked his only top-10 result of the year.
It was a year that paled in comparison to Sebastian Saavedra’s difficult 2014, which paled in comparison to Simona de Silvestro in 2013, which… well you get the point. The lack of consistency for the team’s second car probably doesn’t help, but Coletti offered few moments of brilliance in a deep field where he needed to stand out.
Given the resources at his disposal, ending 78 points behind rookie-of-the-year Gabby Chaves seemed a fairly substantial margin. If he returns for 2016, he has a big jump to make.