Five things to watch for in tonight’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tonight’s Sprint Unlimited not only begins the NASCAR Sprint Cup season but marks the debut of the pit road camera system used to determine penalties.

No longer will NASCAR officials stand on pit road looking for penalties in Cup races. High-powered cameras will allow officials in a trailer to monitor each pit stop.

When NASCAR tested this system during last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, it found numerous infractions that were not called by officials on pit road – specifically, crew members leaving the wall too soon and drivers going through more than three pit stalls entering or exiting their stall.

NASCAR met with teams in December to go through the new technology and the penalties it was finding.

How teams react to the officiating changes will be among the things to watch in tonight’s race (8:35 p.m. ET green flag on Fox and MRN).

GET THROUGH THE FIELD

Watch how easy or difficult it is for drivers to work their way to the front. The rear of the field is stacked.

Defending Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts 24th in the 25-car field. Kyle Larson starts last. Tony Stewart is 22nd. Former Daytona 500 champions Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson start 21st and 17th, respectively.

With cars running similar speeds, passing becomes more difficult. Also, Daytona is more narrow than Talladega. A key will be how far back a driver can be late in the race and still make it toward the front to have a chance to win.

DEBUTS

Tonight marks the debut of seven new driver-crew chief pairings. With testing limited to tire tests, most have not worked together at the track until this weekend.

Those new combinations are:

  • Kasey Kahne and crew chief Keith Rodden
  • Kyle Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens
  • Denny Hamlin and crew chief Dave Rogers
  • Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn
  • Carl Edwards and crew chief Darian Grubb
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Greg Ives
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and crew chief Nick Sandler

SECOND CHANCES

Four eligible teams pulled out of this event, allowing those of Stenhouse, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, and Casey Mears to compete in the Sprint Unlimited. Can they take advantage and start the season with a strong performance?

A GOOD SIGN?

Although the Sprint Unlimited winner has not gone on to win the Daytona 500 since Dale Jarrett did it in 2000, five of the last seven Unlimited winners went on to finish in the top 10 in the 500 the following week. Last year’s winner, Denny Hamlin, placed second in the 500. Will this trend continue?