NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series opens up on Saturday, February 16th with the non-points-earning Sprint Unlimited, the newest name for the race formerly known as the Budweiser Shootout and the Busch clash. This year’s event draws from its roots, returning to a starting lineup made up of pole winners from the previous season – that, of course, means 2012 Cup Series champ Brad Keselowski and runner-up Clint Bowyer are nowhere to be found.
As exciting –and terrifying – as racing at Daytona International Speedway can be, this event ups the ante – it’s Saturday night short-track racing on a 2.5-mile superspeedway, and anything can happen – and often does: last year’s spectacle saw Kyle Busch drive out of two guaranteed wrecks to go on and win the race.
Five drivers to watch in the 2013 Sprint Unlimited:
- Tony Stewart – Daytona is to Stewart what Daytona was to Dale Earnhardt: he can win everything but the “big one.” Stewart has three wins in this event, the most of anyone in the field, and had a close-up view of Busch’s driving skills last year as the runner-up. In 13 previous races, Stewart’s worst finish is 15th – 11 of those 13 races ended in the top 10.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. – A perennial favorite at Daytona, and all over the NASCAR universe, Junior has two wins in the event (2003 and 2008). While recent finishes haven’t matched his early-career prowess at the track (his best finish in the past four seasons is 11th), he’s still a threat at Daytona every time.
- Jeff Gordon – Gordon, who will make his 20th consecutive start in the event, also has two wins, both of which came early in his career (his first race in 1994 and three years later in 1997). Last year, Gordon led 16 laps in the race, only to be involved in a late-race accident, relegating him to a 15th-place finish.
- Kevin Harvick – Winner of back-to-back races in 2009 and 2010, Harvick has four additional to 10 finishes in eight races. Last season saw him finish 22nd following an accident, but look for big things from the Richard Childress Racing bunch as Harvick begins his final season with the team.
- Dark Horse: Marcos Ambrose – Ambrose has just one start in the Sprint Unlimited, but it ended up being a good one – he finished third last season after starting 21st. Ambrose finished 13th in the 500 in 2012, and finished sixth in the July race back in 2009.
The Sprint Unlimited takes the green flag Saturday, February 16th at 8:10 p.m. ET – fans in attendance at Daytona International Speedway will get to choose the starting lineup among the 19 drivers entered. The next day, Sunday, February 17th, qualifying for the front row for the 2013 Daytona 500 will take place at 1:05 p.m.ET. Follow the action as the 2013 season gets underway at www.nascar.com.
Want to know who to watch in this weekend’s NHRA event? Check out the NHRA Examiner for NHRA previews, news and more.
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