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Fastest Fortnight In Sports: Daytona Speedweeks Opens With Annual NASCAR Media Day

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By Paul Johnson

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. ( KMVT-TV / KTWT-TV ) – Hundreds of media members will flock to Daytona International Speedway early Thursday morning, with the first tap of the keyboard signaling the unofficial start of Speedweeks at Daytona. Between that point, and the checkered flag closing the Daytona 500, drivers from every level of NASCAR will compete.

And an offseason will mercifully end.

First up, NASCAR Media Day. More than 300 media members representing print, broadcast and online outlets will interview more than 50 drivers representing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Next program. The day-long event will be broken into morning and afternoon sessions. For a full schedule of driver availabilities at NASCAR Media Day, please visit NASCARMedia.com. Follow NASCAR.com throughout the day for live coverage.

Daytona Speedweeks’ first on-track action takes place on Friday evening with two practices in preparation for Saturday night’s annual non-points event, The Sprint Unlimited (8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The Sprint Unlimited features drivers who won a Coors Light Pole in 2013, or any driver who has previously won the event and ran at least one race last season. Eighteen such competitors fit those criteria, including three-time champion Tony Stewart, who will make his long-awaited return after a broken leg sidelined him for the second half of last season. Two drivers – Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – will make their Sprint Unlimited debut.

Fans can cast their votes to set the overall format and determine key racing elements of The Sprint Unlimited. Fans will again set the number of laps in each of the three segments, while also voting on how drivers will line up at the start of the race and how they will line up for the restart of the final segment. Fans can submit their votes within the official NASCAR app, NASCAR MOBILE, or at NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited. Voting is unlimited and all votes cast through NASCAR MOBILE will count twice.

On Sunday, NASCAR sets the front row for the Daytona 500 during Coors Light Pole Qualifying (1 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Last year, Danica Patrick became the first female driver to win a pole in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history, while also becoming only the fourth Sunoco Rookie of the Year to win the pole for the Daytona 500. Eight drivers are competing for rookie honors this season, and all are expected to qualify on Sunday.

On Sunday night, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will open its season at New Smyrna Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET with the running of the New Smyrna 150 presented by JEGS. FOX Sports 1 will broadcast the event on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 9 a.m. ET.

The K&N Pro Series drivers make a quick turnaround, competing again on Tuesday, this time at the World Center of Racing – Daytona International Speedway – for the second running of the UNOH Battle at the Beach. A non-points race featuring drivers from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour opens the evening of racing, followed by a points event for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. The stars of tomorrow will compete under the lights on the track’s famed backstretch starting at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 2. Motor Racing Network (MRN) will go on the air at 6:45 p.m. ET with its pre-show, and the broadcast will be streamed live at MRN.com and simulcast by SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Short-track fans will have more than a week of racing at New Smyrna as the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series headlines the track’s 48th Annual World Series of Stock Car Racing. Super Late Models are the top division at New Smyrna, which will hold racing every night between Feb. 14-22.

For the first time in the race’s history, the Duel at Daytona – twin 60-lap, 150-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500 – takes place in primetime. On Thursday, Feb. 20, the remainder of the 43-car Daytona 500 starting grid will be set, starting at 7 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Championship points racing begins Friday, Feb. 21 with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio; NCWTS SETUP with Krista Voda airs at 6:30 p.m. ET). The NASCAR Nationwide Series takes the spotlight Saturday, Feb. 22 in the DRIVE4COPD 300 (1:15 p.m. ET on ESPN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

And finally, on Sunday, Feb. 23, engines crank on the most prestigious race in NASCAR – the Daytona 500. FOX will broadcast the race live at 1 p.m. ET (FOX NASCAR SUNDAY starts at noon ET on FOX), with radio coverage on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Visit NASCAR.com for full coverage of Speedweeks.

Fans Call The Shots In The Sprint Unlimited … The 187.5-mile/75-lap Sprint Unlimited will be run in three segments. A NASCAR.com fan vote will decide how those segments break down. The choices: 30 laps, 35 laps and 10 laps; 30 laps, 30 laps and 15 laps; and 30 laps, 25 laps and 20 laps. Voting closes at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Fans also have the opportunity to vote on the starting lineup for the race. The nominees: Most Career Poles; 2013 Driver Points Standings; and Final Practice Speeds, with voting closing at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Finally, fans have through the drop of the green flag on the race’s second segment to vote on the restart order for the final segment. The ballot includes fastest lap, with drivers with the fastest lap in the first two segments starting first; Most Laps Led, with the driver with the most laps led in the first two segment starting first; and a Mandatory Pit Stop, with the final segment line up per the race off pit road.

A total of 18 drivers are entered in The Sprint Unlimited: Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Terry Labonte, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards.

Qualifying Sets Daytona 500 Front Row … Sunday’s Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole qualifying is unique in that only the top two positions will be guaranteed. Remaining qualifiers are seeded by qualifying speed into Thursday’s Duel.

The front-row qualifiers and the highest 15 finishers in each Duel – excluding the front row from qualifying – will earn a spot in the Daytona 500. The next four fastest Coors Light Pole qualifiers will make up positions 33-36. Six provisional starting positions (37 through 42) will be awarded to the highest eligible car owners in final 2013 standings not otherwise qualified for the race. The 43rd position will be filled by the most recent past champion participating in a 2013 event. Should no past champion be eligible, the final position goes to the next highest owner in 2013 points.

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