The first race of the year for NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers started Speedweeks racing action at Daytona Saturday night. The Sprint Unlimited, a 75 lap tune-up for next Sunday’s Daytona 500, featured last year’s pole-winning drivers and a mix of other qualifiers rounding out a 25 car field. Ford Fusion drivers took 4 of the top 10 finishing positions with Joey Logano placing second. Logano took the green flag dead last on the
starting grid and worked his way up to second when a late caution flag sent the race into overtime. Unfortunately, a white flag lap caution prevented the number 22 car from making a run at the checkered flag and Denny Hamlin was declared the race winner. Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski looked strong in the early part of the race before overheating problems, caused by debris on the front grille, sent him to the pits during a scheduled race segment caution. Saturday’s performance bodes well for the Team Penske and solidifies their position as one of the favorites for the 500.
Saturday’s overtime session debuted NASCAR’s new green-white-checkers rule. After some controversy last year at the fall race in Talladega, NASCAR has dropped the limit on the number of overtime sessions they will run to conclude races interrupted by caution flags during the closing laps. However, the new unlimited green-white-checker procedure institutes an “overtime line” that will be used to determine a valid green-white-checker-attempt. Once the race leader crosses the overtime line on the green flag lap this signifies a clean restart and the next caution ends the race. If you are confused by that, join the rest of us. Previously the start-finish line acted as the spot at which an overtime restart became official. Now NASCAR will designate a point, different for each race track, that when crossed on the green flag lap signifies a “valid” restart attempt. This essentially shortens the racing action, likely cutting down on the number of potential restarts drivers will face. It remains to be seen if fans will embrace this new tweak to the overtime rules.
Sunday Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying saw Ford Drivers shut out from the front row for next Sunday’s 58th running of the Great American Race. Jeff Gordon’s replacement in the 24 Chevrolet, Chase Elliott, won the pole with Matt Kenseth taking the outside front row starting spot in a Toyota. Elliott, the son of longtime Ford racing icon Bill Elliott, became the youngest Daytona 500 pole sitter at just over 20 years of age. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the quickest Ford qualifier, the Roush Fenway Racing driver posted the 5th fastest time of the day.
With the new Charter/Franchise system, NASCAR has revised the qualifying rules for the 500. In addition to determining the front row, time trials also secured two spots in the 40 car field for the fastest non-charter teams. Ryan Blaney clinched one of the open slots for the Wood Brother’s in the number 21 Ford Fusion. With 36 starting positions guaranteed to the franchises, only two more openings remain unfilled. The highest finishing non-charter driver in each of Thursdays Can Am Duels will earn a place in the Daytona 500 field.
In another change, no-doubt prompted by the establishment of the charter teams, NASCAR will no longer release race purse totals and driver earnings will not be included in published race results. For the casual fan this change will largely go unnoticed. Avid NASCAR followers are eager to learn more about the financial arrangements of the charter teams, the extent to which NASCAR and the teams discuss the particulars of the agreement is a source of much speculation. Look to the Lasco Press for continuing coverage of this and future developments during the course of the 2016 Sprint Cup season.