The Sprint Unlimited lineup left to fan vote
January 09, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Fans have a shot to pick from a handful of starting lineup formats
RELATED: Cast your vote today
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As the ultimate “fan” race, much is still be decided about NASCAR’s traditional Daytona SpeedWeeks 75-lap opener, The Sprint Unlimited.
Fans will decide the race lap segments, starting order and final restart through online voting at NASCAR.com and NASCAR Mobile. But the one known entity for the Feb. 15 night extravaganza is which 20 drivers have earned a position on the starting grid.
The 17 pole-winners in 2013 plus three past winners of the event are eligible to settle this year’s score.
Denny Hamlin (four poles) won the most poles last season and is joined by three-time pole-sitter Kyle Busch. Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards all qualified for The Sprint Unlimited after starting from pole twice.
Past winners of The Sprint Unlimited in the field include Terry Labonte (1985), Ken Schrader (1989-1990) and Tony Stewart (2001, 2002, 2007).
And here’s where the fun and gamesmanship starts. Fans will have until 7:30 p.m. the night of the race to decide how to set the grid order. And, depending on the fans’ decision it will be based on career poles, 2013 championship points or final practice speeds set the day before the race.
Should fans select career poles as the criteria to set the field, the lineup would look like this:
Gordon (74 career poles) and Newman (51) would start on the front row, followed by Johnson (32), retired two-time champ Labonte (27), Hamlin (17) and Kurt Busch (16).
Stewart (14), Kyle Busch, (13), Earnhardt Jr. (13) and Edwards (13) would round out the top-10.
Former Cup champ and last year’s title runner-up Kenseth (11) would start 11th followed by McMurray (9), Logano (7), Harvick (6), Keselowski (3), Ambrose (3) and Stenhouse Jr. (1) and Patrick (1).
If fans vote to base the start on 2013 championship points, obviously the grid looks much different.
Johnson and Kenseth would comprise the front row with Harvick and Kyle Busch on row two. Earnhardt, Gordon, Logano, Kurt Busch, Newman and Edwards would follow. And Keselowski and McMurray would move up dramatically -- starting ninth and 10th based on points instead of 12th and 15th based on career poles.
The final scenario for the starting order depends on the practice speeds, which would have put Hamlin on pole.
However in 2013, fans had an option not given this year and voted to start the field based on the order the drivers won their poles throughout the year, which gave Edwards the nod.
Leading up to last year’s inaugural The Sprint Unlimited, drivers throughout the garage were in favor of the unique format and fan interaction.
“It makes it different for us but adds a fan element and that’s kind of cool they have some say in what’s going on,’’ Kyle Busch said. “So that’s good.
“It is a fun race, just having the format and atmosphere that you get and just going for broke.’’