In the first real test with the new Generation 6 race car, the Sprint Unlimited has arrived. It has been a while since an exhibition race carried so much anticipation and buzz.
The sponsor change comes as Sprint takes over not only sponsorship and naming rights but also the format. After years of changes and alterations, the Sprint Unlimited will have 19 drivers which include 2012 pole winners and past Sprint Unlimited winners.
New this year is the fans input into the race. The fans have gotten to vote for the segment laps which will be 30, 25, and then 20 lap shootout.
Most were surprised by the 55 percent of the fans who chose a 20 lap shootout instead of a 10 lap sprint (no pun intended).
Still to be decided is a new elimination factor after the second segment, the pit stops following the first segment the starting lineups and the trophy color. I am only kidding on the trophy color vote but fans wanted to have a say and Sprint has listened.
This is a race unlike any other race we will run this season. The field is select; as it should be.
These drivers will have a slight advantage going into the Gatorade Duels next Thursday and even the Daytona 500, next Sunday.
We saw those who participated at the Daytona Preseason Thunder attempt to draft with these new style cars. It was successful and then it was not. Drivers got a decent feel how these cars will move around in the pack but you really weren’t racing. Then there was the 10 car wreck set off by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. which ended most drivers weekend on Friday.
Now this weekend with the Sprint Unlimited it is an opportunity for these drivers to be in race conditions and get a feel of what the car will do. Many teams will use their Daytona 500 setups or hybrids of it. This is like a free test session that will be an opportunity to really dial in these cars and setups.
During the media sessions on Thursday, defending Sprint Cup champion, Brad Keselowski acknowledge the advantage these drivers will have along with the disadvantage he will have going in the Daytona 500.
Keselowski said, “I am disappointed. I think any driver not in a race is disappointed not to be in it. I think it limits some of your ability to win the 500. Not all of it, but some of it. This isn’t t-ball though. Not everybody plays. We didn’t earn our spot and we don’t play. It is pretty simple. This is professional sports and we need to earn our spot.”
The starting lineups which will be decided and announced literally as the drivers are taking introductions could be lined up by number of career wins. This could put Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson on the front row.
HMS also could lead the field to green if the field is set based on last year’s points standings. With Keselowski and runner up Clint Bowyer not earning a pole in 2012, Johnson and his other teammate Kasey Kahne would lead the field to green.
The other option would be the order of which you earned your pole which would mean that Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards, would lead the field to green.
It doesn’t matter how you line them up on Saturday night because with restrictor plate racing there is only one thing you can expect, the unexpected.
You want to be the guy to win the big check and the trophy on Saturday night. Still, every driver who has an opportunity to run not only two extra practices but get in the race car under race conditions is a win.
This race is one big test session for these drivers. The conditions will be different from when they run the Daytona 500 but any track time will allow these drivers to see just how these cars run in a pack.
We might see a guy try the tandem drafting with the laps running down. We might see a driver or few drivers utilize this as a test session and focus on dialing in their setups.
The elimination factor should limit the first part of this race becoming a test session.
Still, no matter how many times you change the name, the format or the number of driver this weekend, the opportunity to get that first victory of the 2013 season and in the new car is out there for whoever wants it more.
The Sprint Unlimited coverage begins at 8 ET tomorrow night on FOX.