Our long national nightmare is over: The NASCAR offseason officially ends this week with the running of the Sprint Unlimited Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway (FOX, 8 p.m. ET).
Here are six things you need to know about the first race of the NASCAR season.
6. No points involved —This is what NASCAR calls an exhibition race — no points involved. The first points race will come with the Daytona 500 eight days later. With no points on the line, drivers can be more aggressive, because it doesn’t matter if they finish second or 25th. This one is checkers or wreckers. Expect to see a lot of accidents.
5. Not the Daytona 500 cars —The cars teams use in the Sprint Unlimited and Daytona 500 might look the same, but they aren’t the same. Teams will save their best cars for the 500. Many of the rides in the Unlimited will be backup superspeedway cars from last year. The Daytona 500 cars are simply too valuable to risk wadding up in the Unlimited.
4. Two segments —Saturday night’s race will feature two segments: Twenty-five laps followed by a mandatory caution and then a 50-lap final segment. When you think about it, a timed yellow flag in this race isn’t much different than the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series caution clock, except no one complains about this one.
3. First race at the new sports stadium —Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959. This will be the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race since the track underwent a $400 million renovation. Early reports are that the facility, which Daytona officials now refer to as a "sports stadium," is incredible.
2. No correlation —The odds of the Sprint Unlimited winner also winning the Daytona 500 are miniscule. It’s only happened five times since this race began in 1979; the last time was in 2000, when Dale Jarrett did it a second time. To put that in context, Joey Logano, the defending Daytona 500 winner, was 9 years old when Jarrett last swept the Unlimited and the Daytona 500. And the only driver to win the Unlimited, the Daytona 500 and the July Daytona race? Bobby Allison in 1982.
1. The field —When this race was launched as the Busch Clash in 1979, it was only for pole winners from the year before. Since then, the name has changed to first the Bud Shootout and now the Sprint Unlimited. It has gone through 13 format changes over the years, with fields ranging in size from seven cars in 1981 to 28 in 2009.