DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t be more excited that the Sprint Unlimited is returning to the true roots of the season-opening exhibition event. This year, the race will feature pole winners from the 2012 season and past event winners – with some slight, fan-inspired twists.
Fans already have selected the race format for the 75-lap event (30-25-20). There are a few categories left to determine, including the number of pit stops and number of cars eliminated. Additionally, the fans will choose how the starting grid will appear in a Saturday-only voting (click here to see what that means for your Hendrick Motorsports drivers). Voting will occur throughout the Saturday night race, and fans should visit NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited to vote.
“I love that the fans have the opportunity to create the race,” Earnhardt told HendrickMotorsports.com during a recent Sprint Unlimited video feature. “Everybody has an opinion on what the best format is, but we’re really out there racing in front of a lot of people who pay for the ticket and pay for the travel and everything - so let them decide.”
But before the decisions are made, here is a look at the Hendrick Motorsports drivers in this race by the numbers:
Zero: Hendrick Motorsports has yet to sweep the front-row when starting the exhibition event. However, the fan vote could change that statistic for the organization if the starting lineup is determined by wins. In that scenario, Jeff Gordon (87 wins) and Jimmie Johnson (60 wins) would start one-two.
Six: Number of wins that Hendrick Motorsports owns in the Sprint Unlimited. Ken Schrader gave the organization its first victory after winning the 1989 event from the pole position (the first and only time so far that has happened for Hendrick Motorsports). Most recently, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the exhibition event in 2008 after leading an event-best 47 laps.
8.1: Jimmie Johnson’s average finish during the last seven Sprint Unlimited races, during which the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS has tallied 885 green-flag passes (most among drivers in that timeframe).
11: Number of pole positions Hendrick Motorsports earned in 2012. Each driver contributed to the total and as a result qualifies for this Daytona exhibition event.
19: This deep starting spot didn’t bother Kasey Kahne in 2010 and he improved to finish second - his best result in this event. By the way, Earnhardt also started from this position in 2003 and ultimately led 13 laps on his way to Victory Lane.
87: Number of laps that Earnhardt has led during the last seven Sprint Unlimited events (87 laps of 523 total). That ranks as most among drivers during that time.
1997: The year in which Gordon last went to Victory Lane in the Sprint Unlimited. He started 14th and led nine laps on his way to his second win in the exhibition event, known then as the Busch Clash. In 1998, the event was renamed the Budweiser Shootout for the next 15 events, and Gordon has yet to return to Victory Lane. Now the race is called the Sprint Unlimited. Maybe the name change once again will be fortuitous for the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet?
Coverage of the Sprint Unlimited begins Saturday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX and MRN (Check local listings). For updates throughout Speedweeks and during the race, follow Hendrick Motorsports on Twitter (www.twitter.com/TeamHendrick).