NASCAR is polling fans to decide on the details of the format of the new curtain-raiser to the 2013 season, the Sprint Unlimited At Daytona International Speedway on February 16.
The non-championship exhibition race replaces the former Budweiser Shootout as the first race of the year for NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers who had succeeded in claiming a pole position during the previous season. It takes place at the start of Daytona Speedweek, the weekend before the Daytona 500 that kicks off the Sprint Cup championship proper.
The vote offers fans the chance to choose from several different options comprising the overall format of the event, and the teams and drivers won't know the outcome on some aspects until after the action gets underway.
The first part of the vote is to set the number of laps in each of the three parts of the event, with the options consisting of dividing up the 75-lap race distance into runs of either 40/20/15, 35/30/10 or 30/25/20. That vote will close on the Wednesday before the race weekend, so that teams and drivers will be able to prepare accordingly.
The other votes will be open right until the green flag flies at the start of the race, and offers fans the choice to set their preferred format for pit stops and the elimination process. Teams and drivers will be informed by radio during the first segment as to the outcomes of the poll.
The pit stop set will determine what teams can do with the mandatory first stop after the first segment of the race. The options are either two tyres or four tyres, or not having any pit stop at all.
The elimination options determine the number of cars eliminated and required to park after the second segment, meaning that they take no further part in the outcome of the race. Fans can opt to bench either the last two, four or six cars on track when the segment concludes.
Visitors to the voting site at NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited
and through the US-only Sprint mobile app will also be able to vote for the design of the fire suit worn by the Miss Sprint Cup trophy girl for the Victory Lane celebrations.
“Giving fans such a strong voice in the design of the race is a fitting way to launch our 10th season in the sport,” said Steve Gaffney, who is vice president of corporate marketing for the Sprint mobile telephone service provider. “We are giving them the ultimate access to the sport, the decision-making power to sculpt the type of race they want to see. With today's technology, they can make these decisions in real time as the race is happening.”
Other aspects of the event that will be open to fan input for those attending the race include the selection of the grand marshal, the honorary starter and trophy presenter, and fans also will have a role in driver introductions.
“Sprint has been a great partner for the sport and I applaud them for developing new and innovative ways to give the race fans an unprecedented role in The Sprint Unlimited,” added Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway. “We have some of the most passionate and knowledgeable fans in sports and I'm looking forward to seeing the choices they make and how it will impact this exciting star-studded event.”
Several big names will be missing from this year's line-up including the two drivers who finished in first and second place in the Sprint Cup championship last season, Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer. Neither driver claimed a pole position in 2012, and nor are they past winners of the old Budweiser Shootout.
Instead, the the Sprint Unlimited will see last year's race winner Kyle Busch defending his title against the likes of Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart, Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Juan Montoya.
AJ Allmendinger is also eligible to enter the race, but it seems unlikely that small independent team Phoenix Racing - with whom Allmendinger is expected to compete in several early Cup races in 2013 - will be able to provide a car for him to take up that spot.
Past winners of the event who are also still eligible to take a spot include Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte and Ken Schrader. In total, the field could consist of as many as 22 drivers on the night.