After a long winter, NASCAR fans will finally get their first racing fix of 2014 tonight, as the Sprint Unlimited field of 18 drivers takes the green flag at Daytona. Looking at past stats for the race, the field has varied from a low of seven drivers in 1981 to a high of 28 in 2009. Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart lead the way with three victories apiece. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each have two wins. Chevrolets have won 20 times in the Sprint Unlimited, Fords seven times, and Toyota once. Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and Pontiacs have gone to victory lane twice each, and Dodge once. But we won’t be seeing any of those models in tonight’s race.
Of course, the Sprint Unlimited is just the beginning of a week-long orgy of speed coming at you from Daytona. Sunday will see pole qualifying for next Sunday’s Daytona 500. Daytona qualifying is unique, in that only the front row is locked in during qualifying. The rest of the field will be set based on finishing positions in the Duel races on Thursday.
The Craftsman Truck series will race on Friday, the Nationwide cars kick off their season on Saturday, and the week culminates with the 500 on Sunday. The FOX team of Mike Joy, Larry Reynolds, and Darrell Waltrip will be back in the commentary booth. And don’t forget to tune in on Tuesday evening to watch Carson City’s own Mackena Bell compete in the UNOH Battle at the Beach for the K&N Pro Series East. The race will air on Fox Sports 2.
The 2014 season promises to be very interesting. There are a lot of drivers with new teams, lots of crew chief changes, and technical rules changes for the mile and a half tracks. Teams will be coming to grips with setups to accommodate those changes, and drivers will be challenged by the new qualifying procedures.
I am looking forward to the knockout-qualifying format. NASCAR promises to police the new qualifying procedure closely to prevent shenanigans such as blocking a driver’s fast lap.
NASCAR will be finding their way in this area, and you can bet there will be some controversial calls, at least early on.
The new Chase format will also be interesting to watch, although that’s a long way down the road. We have 26 races before we get to that point in the season, but the pressure will be on everyone to score a win in order to qualify for the Chase. Given all the changes, it is impossible to handicap the 2014 season. Will the Hendrick teams dominate? How about the expanded Stewart-Haas operation with Kevin Harvick and a hopefully rehabilitated Kurt Busch joining Tony and Danica? Will rookie Kyle Larson take the Ganassi Target car to victory lane? How about the Ford teams, Roush-Fenway, Penske, and Richard Petty Motorsports? Will they be able to match the Chevys? Look for Joe Gibbs’ Toyotas to run at the front and hopefully experience fewer mechanical issues his year. Michael Waltrip’s teams have shown strength the past couple of seasons, and 2014 could be their year.