The Sprint Unlimited at Daytona is an annual invitation-only NASCARSprint Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway in February, the weekend before the Daytona 500. It is the first competitive event of the season and serves as a kickoff event for the NASCAR portion of Speedweeks. As of the 2013 running of the event, the race primarily features all the drivers who qualified first for the 36 races of the previous Cup season. This has been the format for all but four editions of the event.
The event was originally known as the Busch Clash, and consisted of a 20-lap/50-mile, "all-out sprint" for the previous season's pole position winners (considered the de facto "fastest drivers on the circuit"). In its current format, it is made up of three segments, culminating in a 20-lap sprint to the finish. Like the All-Star Race held at Charlotte, the race awards no championship points but instead offers a large cash purse – circumstances which are supposed to encourage an all-out driving style not seen in regular-season races.
The invitation-only field consists of a maximum of 28 cars, as opposed to 43 starters in a standard event. The starting lineup is determined by fan vote, not by time trials as all other races are determined. The defending winner of the Unlimited is Denny Hamlin after winning all three segments in 2014.
The event was first known as the Busch Clash and was the brain child of Monty Roberts. Roberts was the brand manager of the newly formed Busch beer (which had formerly been Busch Bavarian Beer) to promote the new brand. Roberts had been successful introducing Mercury into racing while working at Ford, and had also been a part of Ontario Motor Speedway. His experiences led him to believe that racing fans were loyal brand followers. The initial format was set up as a 50-mile sprint race, with no pit stops, with a field consisting of the previous season's pole position winners. Inviting the fastest drivers from the previous season, headlined the event as the "fastest race" of the season. The race established an incentive for drivers to earn pole positions, which up to that time, offered small cash prizes, and at no time have pole winners earned bonus championship points.
The event was also seen as a way to expand the Speedweeks activities leading up to the Daytona 500. Previously, the weekend before the Daytona 500 featured only minor support events, and the Winston Cup competitors ordinarily would not have taken to the track until Wednesday.
The 1987 race, won by Bill Elliott was completed at an average speed of 197.802 mph. It stands as the fastest sanctioned race in the history of NASCAR (though it was not an official points-paying event).
The 2013 race (renamed the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona) introduced a new format incorporating the results of fan voting into certain aspects of the race.
1979-1990: The race consisted of a single twenty-lap (50-mile) green flag sprint with no pit stops required.
1991-1997: The race was broken into two ten-lap, green flag segments. The field was then inverted for the second ten-lap segment. Prize money was awarded for both segments for all positions. The race was broken up into two segments mainly because it had been lacking competitiveness since restrictor plates were introduced in 1988. The inversion rule added some needed excitement to the event, but its popularity continued to wane.
1998-2000: The event was renamed the Bud Shootout, and consisted of two 25-lap (62.5-mile) races, the Bud Shootout Qualifier at 11 am, and the Bud Shootout itself at 12 pm. One two-tire pit stop was required for each race. The winner of the qualifier advanced to the main event.
2001-2002: The event was renamed the Budweiser Shootout and expanded to a new distance, 70 laps (175 miles). Caution laps would be counted, but the finish had to be under green, with the Truck Seriesgreen-white-checker rule applying if necessary. A minimum of one two-tire green flag pit was required. The Bud Shootout Qualifier was discontinued because second round qualifying for Cup races was eliminated.
2003-2008: The race was broken up into two segments: a 20-lap segment, followed by a ten-minute intermission, concluding with a 50-lap second segment. While a pit stop was no longer required by rule, a reduction in fuel cell size (from 22 gallons to 13.5 gallons) made a fuel stop necessary. (In 2007, fuel cells were expanded to 18.5 gallons.) Many drivers also changed two tires during their fuel stop, as the time required to fuel the car allowed for a two-tire change without additional delay.
2009-2012: The first segment was expanded to 25 laps. Therefore the race was 75 laps instead of 70.
2013: The race was divided into three segments, with a certain number of drivers eliminated after the second segment. The lengths of these segments, requirements for a mandatory pit stop after the first segment, and the number of drivers eliminated after the second segment was decided by a series of polls on the NASCAR website. The 2013 Sprint Unlimited was set at 30-lap, 25-lap and 20-lap segments respectively, staying with the total of 75 laps that was used since 2009. A four tire pit stop was mandatory for each driver after the first segment, with the order of the drivers exiting pit road determining the starting order for the second segment. It was not mandatory, however, driver were allowed to pit in between segments two and three. No cars were eliminated after the second segment. The starting order for the third segment was the finishing order of the second segment.
2014: Like 2013, the Unlimited was set at 30 lap, 25 lap, and 20 lap segments based on a fan vote. The fan vote also determined that the starting lineup would be based on final practice speeds while the restart order following the second segment would be determined by mandatory pit stops and the race off pit road.
1979-1997: Pole position winners from the previous season clinched automatic berths. The drivers that were the fastest qualifiers for the previous year's races' during Busch Second Round Qualifying were eligible for one wild card spot. The wild card driver was selected by blind draw during the week of the NASCAR awards banquet or during the January media tour.
From 1995-1996, the winner of the most pole positions in the secondary NASCAR Busch Series won an entry into the Busch Clash, driving a Busch-sponsored car. David Green won the right both times.
1998-2000: Pole position winners from the previous season clinched automatic berths. Drivers eligible from Second Round Qualifying participated in the Bud Shootout Qualifier, with the winner advancing to the main event Bud Shootout.
2001: Pole position winners from the previous season clinched automatic berths. In addition, all former winners of the event not already qualified received automatic berths. NASCAR eliminated second round qualifying beginning in 2001 and the Shootout Qualifier was eliminated. For the 2001 Shootout only, the drivers eligible from second round qualifying of 2000 events were placed in a blind draw for the final wild card starting position, as had been done from 1979-1997.
2002-2008: Pole position winners from the previous season clinched automatic berths. All former winners of the event not already qualified received automatic berths.
2009: The field consists of 28 cars. The top six teams from each manufacturer (Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, and Toyota) based on owners' points from the previous season clinch berths, for a total of 24 cars. Previous season's pole position winners no longer were a qualifying factor. Unlike previous formats, the entry receives the berth, not the driver. In addition, each of the four manufacturers receive one "wild card" berth for a car/driver not already qualified, to bring the grand total to 28 cars. The other four "entries" were for previous champions and past Shootout winners. This system was discarded after only one year.
2010-2011: A new qualifying format was introduced, which expanded the field, with no size limitations:
2013-2014: The Unlimited format returned to the format used from 2002-2008, with all drivers who won pole positions via time trials (does not include winners of practice one, should qualifying not be held because of inclement weather) and previous Shootout winners that have attempted to qualify for any of the 36 points races in the previous season. Of note, the beer sticker mandate was eliminated by the track.
1979: The race debuted on Sunday, broadcast live on CBS. Pole position qualifying for the Daytona 500 would start Sunday at 10 am, followed by the ARCA 200. The Busch Clash would be held after the ARCA race at 3 pm.
1980: Heavy winds during Daytona 500 pole qualifying delayed the proceedings and the ARCA 200 began 90 minutes later than scheduled. As 3 pm approached, the ARCA race was red flagged and halted so that the Busch Clash could be held as scheduled and be shown on live television. After the Clash was finished, the ARCA race resumed.
1981: Morning rain washed out Daytona 500 pole qualifying, which was rescheduled for the following day. After the track dried Sunday, the ARCA race began at 2:30 pm The Busch Clash, scheduled for 3 pm, was held following the delayed ARCA race.
1983: Rain washed out all scheduled activities for Sunday. The Busch Clash was rescheduled and run the following day, Monday.
1984: Ricky Rudd was spun off the track at turn four at a very high speed, resulting in a blowover, then a series of violent flips. Ricky suffered a concussion, and his eyes were so swollen that he had to tape them open so he could race in that Thursday's UNO Twin 125 and subsequent races. This practice is now illegal as a result of the "Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Rule" effective the 2014 season, mandating drivers take a concussion test, and Rudd would never have been approved to participate in subsequent races for a few weeks under current rules.
1985: Track officials reorganized the schedule for track activities for the weekend. Daytona 500 pole qualifying was moved from Sunday to Saturday, and the Busch Clash was moved from 3 pm to 12 pm on Sunday. The ARCA 200 was then held after the Busch Clash rather than before.
1992: For one year, Daytona 500 pole qualifying and the Busch Clash swapped days. The Busch Clash was held Saturday, and qualifying was held Sunday. This move was made at the request of CBS, who wanted the additional time on Sunday for their coverage of the 1992 Winter Olympics.
1995: Morning rain delayed the start by 30 minutes.
2001: FOX broadcasts the race for the first time. It also marked the first race televised on Fox. The start time was shifted to 2 pm on Sunday afternoon.
2003: The race was run at night for the first time.
2004: A crash at the final lap resulted in controversy. A 2003 incident at Loudon involving Dale Jarrett and Casey Mears had resulted in the banning of racing back to the caution. In this case, NASCAR did not wave the caution at the end of the race despite a crash involving Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray, and allow the race to run to the finish, creating a potentially dangerous situation. Ironically, Dale Jarrett won the race.
2005: The ARCA race was stopped for 45 minutes because of repairs to the catchfencing, and was stopped 15 laps short in order to prepare for the Budweiser Shootout.
2006: The event was postponed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon due to rain. This was also the first shootout to feature the green-white-checkered finish. Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the event in 2006 in his FedEx #11.
2009: Kevin Harvick, won the race for the first time on a last-lap pass reminiscent of his 2007 Daytona 500 last-lap pass on Mark Martin. This time however Harvick passed Jamie McMurray in Turn 3 for the win as an accident would occur behind Harvick, also the same scenario happened in the 500 for Harvick.
2010: All Daytona 500 qualifying weekend activity was moved to Saturday, as not to conflict with Super Bowl XLIV. Daytona 500 qualifying started at 12 noon, then the ARCA Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at 4:30 pm, and the Budweiser Shootout was held at 8 pm. Kevin Harvick won the race for the second time in a row, becoming the first driver to win it consecutively since Tony Stewart. A crash caused by Jeff Gordon during the one attempt at the green-white-checkered finish led the race to finish under caution.
2011: Kurt Busch won the race in a complicated finish. For the last few laps, a lead pack of 4 cars ran single file, with Ryan Newman in the lead, followed by Denny Hamlin, then Busch, and then Jamie McMurray. Coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap, Busch and McMurray pulled to the outside, while Denny Hamlin pulled to the inside. Hamlin took the lead from Newman under the yellow line, which is prohibited at Daytona and Talladega. Busch and McMurray couldn't get to the line quick enough, so at first it seemed that Hamlin had won with 2-4 being Busch, McMurray and Newman, but after reviewing the footage, Hamlin was dropped to the last car on the lead lap, in 13th, and all other drivers on the lead lap gained a position, giving Busch the win.
2012: Kyle Busch won the race after passing Tony Stewart at the finish line. It was the closest finish in Bud Shootout history. The race itself, being the first Sprint Cup event under a new rules package designed to break up the controversial two-car tandem drafting of the previous year, was marked by three multi-car crashes during the race caused by drivers getting into the left-rear quarter panel of another car. The first crash happened in the first 25 lap segment when Paul Menard got into David Ragan in turn 2, starting an eight car crash. The drivers involved were: Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton, David Ragan, Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Waltrip. The second one happened on lap 55, also in turn 2. This one started when Marcos Ambrose turned Joey Logano loose. Several other drivers were collected trying to avoid Logano, including Kenseth, Martin Truex, Jr., Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Harvick's brakes failed, and he ended up coasting down the apron with flames coming out from under his car, though they extinguished themselves before Harvick reached the garage. A third crash happened with two laps to go within regulation, when Jeff Gordon got into the back of eventual winner Kyle Busch on turn 4. While Kyle retained control of his car, Gordon shot up the banking and collected Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch, and turned sideways on the driver's side door. Gordon was pushed down the track on his side for several hundred feet before his car barrel-rolled three times and came to a rest on his roof.
2013: Kevin Harvick won for the third time in the race. This was the first time the event was named the Sprint Unlimited. This race also marked the debut of the Sixth Generation car.
2014:Denny Hamlin won his second Unlimited by overtaking Brad Keselowski with drafting help from Kyle Busch with two laps to go. The first race under a new rules package that included a slightly taller spoiler, there were numerous wrecks, including a frightening wreck on lap 35 when Matt Kenseth was turned by Joey Logano in the trioval, collecting Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., which saw Stenhouse's car first drive under Busch's rear wheels, lose its brakes and steering, before t-boning Patrick on the apron. The race also saw an incident during the break between the second and third segments in which the pace car managed to catch fire. There were 16 lead changes among seven drivers.
Though there have been drivers who have won all three of the Sprint Cup events of Speedweeks at Daytona - the Sprint Unlimited, the Budweiser Duel, and the Daytona 500 - there has not yet been a driver who won all three events in the same year. Twice, an Earnhardt won two of the events, but came up short by losing to Dale Jarrett in the third: in 2004, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the Budweiser Duel and the Daytona 500, but finished second to Jarrett in the Unlimited. In 1993, Dale Earnhardt won the Unlimited and the Budweiser Duel, but finished second to Jarrett in the Daytona 500. In 2014, Denny Hamlin joined this group, winning the Unlimited and the second Duel race, but losing to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the 500.
While it was still named the Busch Clash, on two occasions, the race had the year in its official title. The Busch Clash of '89 and the Busch Clash of '93 were the respective advertised titles.
From 1979 until 2008, the drivers themselves qualified as eligible for the Budweiser Shootout, not the teams. If an eligible driver for the upcoming Shootout switches teams in the off-season, the driver, not the team, is eligible for the race. That driver competes in the race with his new team.
Until 2008, drivers who win the pole award at a race must have had an Anheuser-Busch decal (the Busch brand from 1979–1997, and the Budweiser brand 1998-2007), or the corporate logo affixed to their car (for drivers under 21 years of age) at the time in order to earn the berth for the Budweiser Shootout. If the car does not carry the sticker, the Budweiser Pole Award goes to the next car eligible, but the driver which wins the Budweiser Pole Award does not earn a Shootout spot.
In 1998, John Andretti was eligible to race in the Bud Shootout for having won a pole position in 1997 racing for Cale Yarborough. In the off-season, Andretti switched to Petty Enterprises, which was not allowed to participate, since they chose not affix the proper decals to their cars - it was Petty family tradition to not permit alcohol decals or sponsorship on their cars. Andretti participated in the race in a one-off ride with Hendrick Motorsports. (Ricky Craven, the regular driver for Hendrick's Budweiser-sponsored Chevrolet, did not qualify for the race; Andretti drove the Hendrick car, which carried the usual No. 25 instead of the No. 50 used by the team for NASCAR's 50-year celebration.)
Bobby Hamilton won the pole position for the 1997 Miller 400 racing for Petty Enterprises, but was not eligible for the 1998 Bud Shootout since the team chose not to affix the proper decal.
John Andretti won the pole position for the 1998 Primestar 500 racing for Petty Enterprises, but was not eligible for the 1999 Bud Shootout since the team chose not to affix the proper decal. Todd Bodine was the official winner of the Bud Pole Award by NASCAR rule, but not awarded a Budweiser Shootout position.
Jeff Green won the pole position for the 2003 Daytona 500 racing Richard Childress Racing's No. 30 AOL Chevrolet, but did not participate in the 2004 Budweiser Shootout. Green changed teams twice in 2003 ending up in the No. 43 Petty Enterprises Dodge (which he also signed to drive in 2004). As usual, since the team chose not to affix the proper decal the No. 43 was ineligible for the Shootout. Green could have driven for another team, but chose not to do so.
Aric Almirola drove the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43, which does not have the (since 2008) Molson Coors Brewing Company-provided Pole Award sticker (Coors Light or Coors Brewing 21 Means 21), per Petty policy. With InBev withdrawing sponsorship of the Shootout, the 2013 Shootout does not have an alcohol sticker mandate, the circuit he will be in the first race of the new 2013 format.
Drivers must carry a special decal without the alcohol brand if they are under 21 years of age, but could race in the Shootout. Drivers must be 21 or older to wear alcohol decals, and those under 21 must wear a special sticker, which during Anheuser-Busch era was a corporate logo Pole Award sticker, without any brand indication, and since Molson's Coors Light took over in 2008, a "Coors Brewing Company 21 Means 21" sticker. Special stickers are made to cover up alcohol for such drivers, which has happened four times recently.
Until the end of the 2012 season, drivers under 21 were not permitted to participate in formal activities relating to the race, such as the draw for position and other activities such as conferences related to the race because of the alcohol sponsorship. In those cases, the crew chief will participate in such activities. The abolition of the alcohol sponsorship eliminates the rule.
In the 2005 Shootout (Vickers under age), Lance McGrew, who was the new crew chief for Vickers that season, participated in the Shootout draw.
In the 2006 Shootout (Busch under age), Alan Gustafson participated in the Shootout draw.
Beginning in the 2009 Shootout (Joey Logano under age), Greg Zipadelli participated in the Shootout draw. Presumably, he will continue to do so until Logano turns 21; Logano himself can participate in the draw beginning in 2012.
Dale Jarrett (2000) and Tony Stewart (2002, 2007) are the only drivers to win the Budweiser Shootout without having won a pole position the previous year. Jarrett advanced to the Shootout by winning the Bud Shootout Qualifier, and Stewart was eligible for the Shootout via the 2001 rule change adding a lifetime exemption for former winners.
2006 Shootout winner Denny Hamlin was the first rookie to win the event. He had won the pole at Phoenix in a seven-race tryout for Joe Gibbs Racing to find a driver for the FedEx No. 11 car late in the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season. A driver can make up to five (until 2000) or seven (since 2001) starts in a season, or run portions of a season and not be declared in that series (since 2011), without giving up their eligibility to be a rookie in that series.
Due to the nature of qualifying for the event (see above), several top NASCAR drivers were often excluded from the field in it first two decades. During its tenure on CBS, the Busch Clash telecast sometimes included a special guest color commentator(s), who was an active driver(s) on the circuit, but did not win a pole position the previous year, and thus was not in the field.