Many Debuts in Sprint Unlimited
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on February 12, 2016 | 3:00 P.M. EST
Furniture Row Racing will make its debut with Toyota in the Sprint Unlimited. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The Sprint Unlimited will not only be the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race since the completion of DAYTONA Rising, it will also mark the debut for a number of driver-crew chief combinations.
Saturday night's annual non-points race kicks off the season, and it will see 25 teams and drivers get track time under race conditions before the Daytona 500 on Feb 21.
Seven full-time drivers will have new crew chiefs in the Unlimited led by two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers who made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last season - Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.
Hamlin, a two-time winner of the Unlimited, will be reunited with Mike Wheeler after the two won three XFINITY races together last year.
"It’s a great opportunity to get back in the car and make some laps before the '500', especially having recovered from knee surgery in the off-season," Hamlin said. "It’s also a chance to get used to 'Wheels' calling practices and a race as the crew chief, and getting the team guys up to speed and working together."
Dave Rogers joins Edwards' No. 19 team after serving as Hamlin's crew chief last season.
"I’m encouraged by the quick bond we’ve developed. Now, it’s time to go racing," said Rogers, a 15-time race winner with JGR.
Other new driver-crew chief combinations are: Greg Biffle/Brian Pattie (Roush Fenway Racing), Danica Patrick/Billy Scott (Stewart-Haas Racing), Kyle Larson/Chad Johnston (Chip Ganassi Racing) and AJ Allmendinger/Randall Burnett (JTG Daugherty Racing).
Brian Vickers, who will replace the injured Tony Stewart, will be paired with new crew chief Mike Bugarewicz on the No. 14 Chevrolet.
Joe Gibbs Racing has won three of the last four Unlimiteds and swept both non-points races in 2015, with Matt Kenseth winning at Daytona and Hamlin in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin, Kevin Harvick (3 victories) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2) are the only multiple winners of the Unlimited among the drivers eligible for Saturday night's race.
HScott Motorsports is the only team making its Unlimited debut this year, with driver Clint Bowyer. Ford, which has not won this race since 2004, will introduce its new Fusion. Also, Furniture Row Racing will hit the track for the first time with Toyota during Speedweeks.
A number of drivers will have new paint schemes including defending series champion Kyle Busch, who will be sporting a paint scheme to mark M&M's 75th anniversary.
"The biggest thing you’ll see is that the racecar is back to yellow," Busch said. "I like the look of mixing the old with the new."
Harvick brings the Busch Beer brand back to NASCAR through sponsorship of his No. 4 Chevrolet in 12 races, starting with Saturday night's race. Busch, which was the long-time sponsor of what is now called the XFINITY Series from 1984-2007, last sponsored a driver in 1980 when they were on Cale Yarborough's No. 11.
Other new sponsors include Nature's Bakery with Danica Patrick and KFC with Greg Biffle. Fans in attendance will not only see all the action on the track, but will also be the first to enjoy the world’s first motor sports stadium for a Cup race.
"They've taken a place like Daytona, where we have so much history and everybody wants to visit already, and made it one of our premier tracks," said Austin Dillon, who will make his second start in the Unlimited. "It takes our sport to the next level."
Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of the Sprint Unlimited from Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) - with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App. The race will be split into two segments with a competition caution at Lap 25 separating the segments.