Two-time DAYTONA 500 champion Jimmie Johnson will start Speedweeks 2016 in style Saturday night: on the pole for the 38th annual Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Johnson, also a six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, was awarded the pole via a draw involving the respective crew chiefs – in Johnson’s case, that would be Chad Knaus – for the 25 drivers entered in the annual all-star, non-points event.
Eligibility for the Sprint Unlimited field is reserved for former Sprint Unlimited champions and former DAYTONA 500 pole winners who competed full time in 2015 and all 16 drivers from the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Any remaining open positions are filled based on 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship driver points. This year there also is a substitute driver, with Brian Vickers filling in for injured Tony Stewart, a two-time Sprint Unlimited champion. The various qualification criteria creates an elite field that also includes reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch (starting ninth), two-time DAYTONA 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. (23rd) and 2013 DAYTONA 500 pole winner Danica Patrick (12th).
In a vivid example of the “luck of the draw” concept, crew chief Todd Gordon drew the 25th and last starting spot for none other than the reigning DAYTONA 500 champion, Joey Logano.
The non-points event, starting at 8:15 p.m. (ET) will be divided into two segments with a competition caution at Lap 25 separating the segments.
There were two Sprint Unlimited practice sessions Friday. Kyle Larson (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) led the first, at 199.344 mph. The second session was led by Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota), at 198.930.
Prior to the Sprint Unlimited, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will open its season with the 53rd annual Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire. Cole Custer, driving for former Sprint Cup standout Ken Schrader, won the pole on Friday in the No. 54 Haas Automation Chevrolet (188.407 mph). The 18-year-old Custer became the series’ youngest pole winner at DIS.
Tickets for all Speedweeks 2016 events – including the 58th annual DAYTONA 500 on Feb. 21, the season-opening race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – can be purchased on-line at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.