ThatsRacin

Saturday’s Unlimited race kicks off NASCAR season

Matt Kenseth won last year’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Matt Kenseth won last year’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The Sprint Unlimited might not have the cache of NASCAR’s other non-points race, the Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

And Saturday’s race at Daytona International Speedway in Florida will quickly be overshadowed by the official start of the season, next week’s Daytona 500.

But the Unlimited does signify one very important thing: NASCAR is back.

“Being a kid and growing up in Wisconsin, there was always about a foot of snow on the ground, and I always remember the Unlimited race being the kickoff to the racing season,” said Matt Kenseth, who won last year’s Unlimited. “So it was always fun to be able to come in and watch that race knowing that the next weekend was the Daytona 500.”

The goal of the Unlimited is to go out and win the race since there are no points consequences.

Matt Kenseth

At the recently renovated Daytona superspeedway, the Unlimited kicks off Speed Weeks, which includes qualifying on Sunday, Thursday’s Duel qualifying races and season-opening races for the Truck (Friday) and Xfinity (Saturday) series.

Then comes the big one, the 500.

The Unlimited – originally called he Busch Clash – started out as a race that included only the previous season’s pole winners. The 25-driver race has now been expanded to the previous season’s Chase field and pole winners, previous Unlimited winners and drivers who have started on the front row of the Daytona 500.

The 25-driver Unlimited will be divided into segments of 25 and 50 laps.

“The goal of the Unlimited is to go out and win the race since there are no points consequences,” said Kenseth. “So I feel like we typically take more risk as far as making a move that might or might not work, to try and get into position to get some folks to go with you in order to go for the win.”

The 2015 season ended on a controversial note for Kenseth. He was suspended for two Chase races after he wrecked Joey Logano at Martinsville. The move was seen as an apparent retaliation against Logano, who two weeks prior had taken out race-leader Kenseth at Kansas.

“Honestly, I’d never had a problem with Joey before that,” Kenseth said. “We’ve always raced well together and I’ve always had a lot of respect for him and felt like he raced me clean before all this stuff went down. Maybe it’s best to put it down and go back to racing each other the way we used to race each other.”

Notes

▪ Wood Brothers Racing, returning full-time to the Cup series for the first time since 2008, won’t have a “charter” for this season. Charters were granted to the 36 teams that have competed full-time since 2013.

The Woods’ No. 21 Ford, driven by Ryan Blaney, will compete for one of four open spots in qualifying for each race.

“If this change makes the sport better, then of course we are happy about it,” said Jon Wood, the Wood Brothers’ director of business development. “It will trickle down, no matter what position you are in, as long as you are still racing.”

▪ HScott Motorsports has leased a charter from Premium Motorsports, giving HScott a second guaranteed spot in all 36 Cup races. Michael Annett will drive the team’s No. 46 Chevy, joining teammate Clint Bowyer, who is driving for the team this season before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017.

▪ Credit One Bank will be a sponsor of Chip Ganassi Racing and NASCAR.

Sprint Unlimited

Daytona International Speedway

8:30 p.m, Saturday, Fox

Unlimited format

The Unlimited will be a two-segment, 75-lap race with a caution after 25 laps. Select fans will be paired with crew chiefs in a random drawing to determine starting and pit road selections.

Unlimited field

2015 pole winners: AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon*, Joey Logano.

Former Unlimited winners: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart**.

Former Daytona 500 pole winners: Greg Biffle, Austin Dillon, Danica Patrick, Martin Truex Jr.

2015 Chase drivers: Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman.

2015 drivers points qualifiers: Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson.

*--retired, car will be driven by Chase Elliott

**--injured, car will be driven by Brian Vickers

  Comments