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An Alternative ‘Traditional’ Format for the Sprint Unlimited

An Alternative ‘Traditional’ Format for the Sprint Unlimited

by December 17, 2014 2 comments

Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

As announced by NASCAR on Monday, the Sprint Unlimited has received a change to the criteria required to participate in the preseason exhibition race held at Daytona International Speedway.

Traditionally being held as an exhibition race for pole award winners from the previous season and former winners of the race, the updated eligibility requirements for the 75-lap race now allow pole winners from the previous season, former Sprint Unlimited winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners, and drivers from the previous year’s Chase to enter the race.

Also mandated by NASCAR is a 25-driver minimum for the race.

If the number of pole winners, former Sprint Unlimited winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners, and Chase drivers eligible for the race is below the 25-driver minimum, the 25-driver mark will be met by allowing the highest in the points of non-Chase drivers to compete in the race.

As of the time of this post, the current Sprint Unlimited entry list looks like this…

2015 Sprint Unlimited Entry List

  1. 18 – Kyle Busch – Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing – 2014 Pole Winner
  2. 3 – Austin Dillon – Chevrolet – Richard Childress Racing – 2014 Pole Winner
  3. 24 – Jeff Gordon – Chevrolet – Hendrick Motorsports – 2014 Pole Winner
  4. 38 – David Gilliland – Ford – Front Row Motorpsorts – 2014 Pole Winner
  5. 11 – Denny Hamlin – Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing – 2014 Pole Winner
  6. 4 – Kevin Harvick – Chevrolet – Stewart-Haas Racing – 2014 Pole Winner
  7. 48 – Jimmie Johnson – Chevrolet – Hendrick Motorsports – 2014 Pole Winner
  8. 20 – Matt Kenseth – Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing – 2014 Pole Winner
  9. 2 – Brad Keselowski – Ford – Team Penske – 2014 Pole Winner
  10. 42 – Kyle Larson – Chevrolet – Chip Ganassi Racing – 2014 Pole Winner
  11. 22 – Joey Logano – Ford – Team Penske – 2014 Pole Winner
  12. 1 – Jamie McMurray – Chevrolet – Chip Ganassi Racing – 2014 Pole Winner
  13. 33 – Brian Scott – Chevrolet – Richard Childress Racing/Circle Sport – 2014 Pole Winner
  14. 14 – Tony Stewart – Chevrolet – Stewart-Haas Racing – 2014 Pole Winner
  15. 55 – Brian Vickers – Toyota – Michael Waltrip Racing* – 2014 Pole Winner
  16. 41 – Kurt Busch – Chevrolet – Stewart-Haas Racing – Former Unlimited Winner
  17. 88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Chevrolet – Hendrick Motorsports – Former Unlimited Winner
  18. 19 – Carl Edwards – Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing – Former Daytona 500 Pole Winner
  19. 10 – Danica Patrick – Chevrolet – Stewart-Haas Racing – Former Daytona 500 Pole Winner
  20. 16 – Greg Biffle – Ford – Roush-Fenway Racing – Former Daytona 500 Pole Winner
  21. 78 – Martin Truex Jr. – Chevrolet – Furniture Row Racing – Former Daytona 500 Pole Winner
  22. 31 – Ryan Newman – Chevrolet – Richard Childress Racing – 2014 Chase Driver
  23. 47 – A.J. Allmendinger – Chevrolet – JTG Daugherty Racing – 2014 Chase Driver
  24. 5 – Kasey Kahne – Chevrolet – Hendrick Motorsports – 2014 Chase Driver
  25. 43 – Aric Almirola – Ford – Richard Petty Motorsports – 2014 Chase Driver

* = Vickers and Michael Waltrip Racing announced on Monday that Vickers will miss several races at the beginning of the season to recover from a heart surgery this year’s GEICO 500 pole winner had over the weekend. In the event of the No. 55 entry being taken off of the entry list, Vickers’ teammate Clint Bowyer will become the 25th entrant for the 2015 Sprint Unlimited as he is next in line in terms if eligibility.

Seems like quite the hefty entry list, doesn’t it?

I don’t have any major gripes with the changes made to the eligibility requirements for the Unlimited, however, I do believe that the criteria to race in the Unlimited allows for too many participants for a non-points event.

If any changes were to be made regarding a driver’s eligibility regarding making the Unlimited, I would have went in a more ‘old school’ direction.

I would not have touched the eligibility requirements used from 2002 to 2008 and 2013 to 2014; in my version of the 2015 Sprint Unlimited, all pole winners from 2014 and former champions of the Unlimited will still be eligible to run in the race – but, I would go one step further.

From 1998 to 2000, the Sprint Unlimited (then known as the Budweiser Shootout) race day featured a preliminary qualifying race called the Bud Shootout Qualifier, which was a race amongst drivers who had not won a pole the previous season that had a transfer spot into the Unlimited up for grabs.

In my version of the Unlimited, every single team that attempted the full 2014 season that did not have a 2014 pole winner or a former Unlimited winner driving for them would be eligible to run in a 25-lap, single-segment qualifying race with one transfer spot on the line.

As for the actual Sprint Unlimited itself, I would do away with the fan vote options Sprint introduced in 2013 and keep the format of the race fairly simple – three 25-lap segments, no mandatory pit stops, and no driver eliminations.

New to the Unlimited would be an emphasis on the number of poles a driver scored the previous season.

The starting lineup for the race would be ordered by the number of pole awards a driver claimed in the year before with practice speeds being a tiebreaker for drivers with the same number of pole awards.

The Sprint Unlimited Qualifier winner would take the final grid position for the race while the previous Unlimited winners would grid in front of the Qualifier winner in order of their practice speeds.

Without accounting for practice speeds, the lineup for the 2015 Sprint Unlimited using my proposed format would look like this…

My Proposed 2015 Sprint Unlimited Lineup – Practice Speeds Not Accounted For

  1. 4 – Kevin Harvick – Chevrolet – Stewart-Haas Racing – Eight Poles in 2014
  2. 2 – Brad Keselowski – Ford – Team Penske – Five Poles in 2014
  3. 11 – Denny Hamlin – Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing – Three Poles in 2014
  4. 18 – Kyle Busch – Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing – Three Poles in 2014
  5. 24 – Jeff Gordon – Chevrolet – Hendrick Motorsports – Three Poles in 2014
  6. 1 – Jamie McMurray – Chevrolet – Chip Ganassi Racing – Two Poles in 2014
  7. 20 – Matt Kenseth – Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing – Two Poles in 2014
  8. 3 – Austin Dillon# – Chevrolet – Richard Childress Racing – One Pole in 2014
  9. 14 – Tony Stewart – Chevrolet – Stewart-Haas Racing – One Pole in 2014
  10. 22 – Joey Logano – Ford – Team Penske – One Pole in 2014
  11. 33 – Brian Scott(i) – Chevrolet – Richard Childress Racing – One Pole in 2014
  12. 38 – David Gilliland – Ford – Front Row Motorsports – One Pole in 2014
  13. 42 – Kyle Larson – Chevrolet – Chip Ganassi Racing – One Pole in 2014
  14. 48 – Jimmie Johnson – Chevrolet – Hendrick Motorsports – One Pole in 2014
  15. 41 – Kurt Busch – Chevrolet – Stewart-Haas Racing – Former Unlimited Winner
  16. 88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Chevrolet – Hendrick Motorsports – Former Unlimited Winner
  17. Sprint Unlimited Qualifier Winner

Do you have thoughts and comments on my proposed Sprint Unlimited format? Feel free to comment below!

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

2 Comments so far

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  1. Andy D
    #1 Andy D 18 December, 2014, 16:02

    Your rules sound a lot like the All-Star race, an event that has also gotten out of hand as far as the number of qualified entries. Since the two races are very similar, I would go in the opposite direction.

    In my world, the Unlimited would be for the bottom fifteen drivers in points who ran at least 2/3 of the total laps in the season. These guys are all but ignored and deserve some recognition. Their sponsors get no TV time. Except for restrictor plate races, they have no chance for glory. Since they can’t win, they ride around trying to preserve the equipment rather than having many chances to race.

    You may think that nobody cares about them but after waiting three months offseason, people are eager for racing in any form. The novelty of seeing these guys going for a win will bring some attention. To be honest, nobody really cares about this race anyway. You could put wives and girlfriends in these cars and get the same audience because it’s cold outside and people want to watch racing.

    If I couldn’t run the bottom 15, I’d use your guys but make them run the Daytona 24Hour course.

    Reply this comment
    • Kyle Pokrefky
      Kyle Pokrefky Author 18 December, 2014, 20:30

      Hello Andy, thank you for reading!

      I find your idea for the Sprint Unlimited to be quite intriguing. While I do agree that race fans will watch the race due to a built up anticipation for racing, I just can’t see an event without the big names of the sport like Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, etc. drawing as high TV ratings or attendance figures – which is what NASCAR’s trying to chase with their new format. Star power does wonders. Interesting idea though.

      For the record, I’m completely onboard with your idea on NASCAR doing something on Daytona’s road course with stock cars. I love my road course racing.

      -Kyle

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