NASCAR expands Sprint Unlimited field to include Chase drivers

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NASCAR’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway is about to get bigger.

New eligibility requirements announced today by NASCAR has allowed all 16 Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers to enter the non-points exhibition race, which takes place one week before the Daytona 500.

“The 2015 Sprint Unlimited has potential to be one of the most competitive ever,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said in a release.

“With more drivers eligible, the intensity level increases for our fans and competitors, making for a compelling start to the 2015 season.”

The field will also include 2014 Cup pole winners, former Sprint Unlimited race winners, and former Daytona 500 pole winners who competed full-time in Cup in 2014.

Any remaining spots will be filled by drivers highest in 2014 Cup driver championship points who are not already eligible.

A minimum of 25 drivers are eligible to participate, including:

  • Kyle Busch (2014 pole winner)
  • Austin Dillon (2014 pole winner)
  • Jeff Gordon (2014 pole winner)
  • David Gilliland (2014 pole winner)
  • Denny Hamlin (2014 pole winner)
  • Kevin Harvick (2014 pole winner)
  • Jimmie Johnson (2014 pole winner)
  • Matt Kenseth (2014 pole winner)
  • Brad Keselowski (2014 pole winner)
  • Kyle Larson (2014 pole winner)
  • Joey Logano (2014 pole winner)
  • Jamie McMurray (2014 pole winner)
  • Brian Scott (2014 pole winner)
  • Tony Stewart (2014 pole winner)
  • Brian Vickers (2014 pole winner)
  • Kurt Busch (former Unlimited winner)
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (former Unlimited winner)
  • Carl Edwards (former D500 pole winner)
  • Danica Patrick (former D500 pole winner)
  • Greg Biffle (former D500 pole winner)
  • Martin Truex Jr. (former D500 pole winner)
  • Ryan Newman (2014 Chase driver)
  • AJ Allmendinger (2014 Chase driver)
  • Kasey Kahne (2014 Chase driver)
  • Aric Almirola (2014 Chase driver)

Vickers will not be able to compete in the event, however, due to health issues that have sidelined him for the early part of the 2015 season.

The 75-lap race will take place on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015. Denny Hamlin is the defending champion.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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