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.

Five things to watch for in Bommarito Auto Group 500 at Gateway

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There have been five different winners in the last five weeks of the NTT IndyCar season and driver that kicked off that streak in Elkhart Lake is in desperate need of a victory to help close the points gap to the leader. After being involved in the Lap 1 accident at Pocono Raceway last week, Alexander Rossi sits 35 points behind Josef Newgarden. Rossi’s two victories this season have come on road courses.

This week’s Bommarito Auto Group 500 the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway is the third race on this track since IndyCar first revisited it in 2017. Newgarden took the checkers in 2017; Will Power grabbed the glory last year. Gateway also hosted races from 2001-2003.

Here are some of the storylines to watch this Sunday:

  1. For most of the drivers in the field, this will mark only their third time to race at Gateway, but two drivers were around in 2003 when IndyCar visited this track previously. Scott Dixon finished 15th in that race. He found the handle when Indy returned in 2017 to finish second and then third last year. Tony Kanaan was second in 2003; unfortunately he went the other direction and has not scored a top-10 at Gateway since.
  2. If one is looking for perfection on this track type, Simon Pagenaud is the only driver to sweep the top 10 on ovals in the past two years. In his last 10 starts on them, he has garnered an average finish of 5.2; his last five attempts have been sixth or better including a win in this year’s Indy 500. Pagenaud finished third at Gateway in 2017 and was fourth last year.
  3. The top two drivers in the points standings should also challenge for a top-five this week. Rossi was perfect alongside Pagenaud on ovals until his accident last week at Pocono with a sweep of the top 10 and seven top-fives in his last nine races. Newgarden also has nine top-10s and a worst of 13th on ovals in the past two years.
  4. Don’t count Dixon out of the points battle yet. While he currently sits 52 points out of first, Dixon is the hottest driver on the circuit with a current streak of five top-fives to his credit including his victory at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago. His oval record is a little spottier with two runner-up finishes and two 17th-place finishes in the last four races.
  5. Last week’s first-lap carnage ended Rossi’s top-10 streak at seven, but one other driver was able to sneak through and extend his. Graham Rahal will vie for his ninth consecutive top-10 this week, but that success is questionable in light of his Gateway record. Rahal finished 12th in 2017 and was barely able to crack the top 10 in 10th last year.

See More: IndyCar championship contenders seeing fortunes rise and drop

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