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Sprint Unlimited kicks off Speedweeks at Daytona

<p>By submitting their votes on NASCAR's mobile app, NASCAR MOBILE, or at NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited, fans will determine if the segments are broken down to 30 laps/35 laps/10 laps, 30/30/15 or 30/25/20.</p>

By submitting their votes on NASCAR's mobile app, NASCAR MOBILE, or at NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited, fans will determine if the segments are broken down to 30 laps/35 laps/10 laps, 30/30/15 or 30/25/20.

Fans will also determine the starting lineup. They will choose either most career poles, 2013 driver point standings or Friday's final practice speeds to decide the lineup for this race.

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 (drivers with the fastest lap in the first two segments starting first), most laps led, (the driver with the most laps led in the first two segments starting first) and a mandatory pit stop (the final segment lined up per the race off pit road).

"It's a fun race, and to get the fans involved and make them more a part of the actual format and everything, I like it," said Tony Stewart, who has won this event three times. "It's going to be pretty cool to see what they come up with.

"Daytona is one of those tracks where you can be at the front one minute and in the back the next, so I don't think it's going to change the outcome. But I think Sprint [title sponsor of the Cup Series] has provided a great asset by having the fans involved and letting them actually be a part of the event more than just watching as spectators. They're now essentially a race director and getting to decide the format. I think that's kind of cool."

Stewart is expected to compete in his first race since he suffered a broken right leg in an accident during a sprint car event last August in Iowa. His injury forced him to miss the final 15 Sprint Cup races of the season.

The Sprint Unlimited will serve as a dress rehearsal for the Daytona 500 and the Budweiser Duel (twin qualifying races for the 500). Eighteen drivers are entered in this year's race. Those qualified are the pole winners from last season or past champions of this event.

"Anytime you can get in the car in race conditions, it obviously helps you for future races at the track," said Denny Hamlin, who will make his ninth appearance in this race. "I'll be able to see how the cars handle in the draft, which gives us a little bit of a leg up on the guys that aren't in the race."

Hamlin scored the most pole wins in the series last year with five. He also won this race during his 2006 rookie season in Cup.

Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., both rookies last year, will make their first starts in this race. Patrick became eligible when she won the pole for the Daytona 500 one year ago, and Stenhouse earned a spot in the race when he claimed the pole at Atlanta.

"Being able to do the Sprint Unlimited race is a great bonus for me," Patrick said. "It helps us get warmed up for the year, helps us most importantly get warmed up for the Daytona 500."

Qualifying for the Daytona 500 -- NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season -- is a unique format. Just the first two starting positions for the Feb. 23 season-opening event will be determined during Sunday's time trials. The remainder of the 43-car field will be decided in the Feb. 20 twin-qualifying races (Budweiser Duel).

There are 49 drivers listed on the preliminary entry list for this year's Daytona 500.

The top-two finishers in time trials and the highest 15 finishers in each Budweiser Duel, excluding those who had already secured a spot on the front row, will earn a spot in the Daytona 500. The next four fastest in time trials that did not finish in the top-15 in either one of the twin qualifiers will make up positions 33-36. Six provisional starting positions (37 through 42) will be awarded to the highest eligible car owners in the final 2013 Sprint Cup standings, not otherwise qualified for the race. The 43rd position will be filled by the most recent past series champion who participated in a Sprint Cup race this past year. Should no past champion be eligible, the final position will go to the next highest owner in last year's points.

No driver has ever won all four major Speedweeks events at Daytona -- The Sprint Unlimited, Daytona 500 pole, Budweiser Duel and Daytona 500. Cale Yarborough (1984), Ken Schrader (1989) and Dale Jarrett (2000) have won three of the four events.

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, Feb. 15. Race: The Sprint Unlimited. Site: Daytona International Speedway. Track: 2.5-mile tri-oval. Start time: 8:15 p.m. ET. Laps: 75. Miles: 187.5. 2013 Winner: Kevin Harvick. Television: FOX Sports 1. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.

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