Sprint Unlimited format again in fans' hands
January 09, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Cast your vote today
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- No points, no pressure. Just 75 laps of wide-open, foot-to-the-floor action -- with the fans setting the ground rules.
For the second consecutive year, NASCAR fans will have a voice in the first race of the season.
The Sprint Unlimited, scheduled for Saturday night, Feb. 15 at Daytona International Speedway, will get the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series off and running for 2014 as the field of last year's pole winners and previous winners of the event take to the high banks of the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
By visiting NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited and through use of the NASCAR Mobile application, fans have the ability to help determine three major elements of the 187.5-mile non-points event. Each vote cast through the NASCAR Mobile app will count twice.
Sprint officials announced the fan-related portion of this year's program Thursday at Daytona, where teams are on hand for Preseason Thunder testing.
Voting for each of the three components is now open and will close at different times on the day of the race.
The fan vote will be used to determine the following criteria:
1. Race format
Fans have three options for the breakdown of the race's three segments:
• 30 laps/35 laps/10 laps;
• 30 laps/30 laps/15 laps;
• 30 laps/25 laps/20 laps.
Voting for the race format portion will close at 6 p.m. on the day of the race.
Last year, the 30/25/20 breakdown was selected by fan vote.
2. Starting order
Because the race is a nod to the previous year's pole winners, should the starting field be set based on career poles won? That's one of three options available for fans. (Hint: If you want Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman on the front row, this is your pick.)
Other options are the use of the 2013 driver points standings (which would produce a Jimmie Johnson-Matt Kenseth front row) or this year's final Sprint Unlimited practice speeds (scheduled to be completed Friday) to determine the order in which this year's field will take the green flag.
Voting for the starting order portion will close at 7:30 p.m. on race day.
3. Final segment restart order
How will the field line up for the final push to the checkered flag? Fans have the following options to choose from:
• Fastest lap during the first two segments;
• Most laps led during the first two segments;
• To be determined by mandatory pit stop results.
Gordon, Johnson and Denny Hamlin spoke about this year’s fan options once the format choices were revealed.
Gordon and Johnson said they would vote for setting the lineup leading into the final segment based on how the cars returned to the track after a mandatory two-tire pit stop. Hamlin leaned toward putting the driver with the most laps led in the two previous segments out front.
"I would think as a fan I wouldn't want the guy that leads the most laps or has the fastest car or fastest lap to be starting on the front row," Gordon said.
As far as the starting lineup for the beginning of the race, Johnson said basing it on the '13 points standings would be "a great idea."
"I hate to say this Jimmie," Gordon responded, "but they’re not voting (for) that one. If that was 'the champion starts in the rear of the field,' that one would win."
Voting for the restart order element will end at the conclusion of the race's second segment.
Among the 20 drivers eligible to compete in the race are Tony Stewart, a three-time winner who will make his first start since breaking his right leg in a sprint car accident last August; Kevin Harvick, now a teammate of Stewart's at Stewart-Haas Racing and winner of last year's Sprint Unlimited; and two-time winner Gordon.
The race has been run annually since 1979, when it debuted as the Busch Clash. Sprint obtained sponsorship rights to the race in 2013, renaming it The Sprint Unlimited and adding the fan element to the program.