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The SportsXchange

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by the Sports Xchange

On Sunday, Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway, fans will witness the one and only single-car qualifying session in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year, as the top two starting spots in the Daytona 500 are set in their traditional way.

Beyond that, all three of NASCAR's national series will move to a more compact group qualifying format featuring three sessions on tracks 1.25 miles and longer and two sessions at tracks shorter than 1.25.

That change is emblematic of a broad transformation of stock car racing at its highest level. Instead of 12 drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, we'll have 16. Instead of a 10-race playoff with points accumulating throughout, we'll have eliminations after every third race and a battle for the championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami with four drivers starting even.

Yes, the new format has sparked considerable debate, but it also has drawn a much-needed bold line between the 26-race regular season and the playoff that follows.

And with the winners of each race all but assured of advancing to the Chase, the new system provides a balanced way both to reward victors and determine a champion at the end of the season.

@nascarcasm

--- If you haven't received your 2014 NASCAR rulebook, feel free to use your 2013 one, although be cautioned that it's no longer accurate after the following passage: "Welcome to the NASCAR rule book."

--- After this year's game, NASCAR requests you not refer to the Daytona 500 as "NASCAR's 'Super Bowl,'" as they don't want viewers thinking the race is pretty much over a quarter of the way through.

--- Don't forget, the drivers are throwing a farewell party for Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook this weekend. They're telling him that for his going-away present, he's getting a $100 gift card, but then at the party, they'll reduce the gift card to $10.

(Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter and also on FOXsports.com. His unique views on NASCAR are his own -- but chances are you already knew that.)

NASCAR Numbers

By Reid Spencer

18: The number of drivers entered for the Feb. 15 Sprint Unlimited. The group includes Coors Light Pole Award winners from 2013 plus past winners of the event who attempted to qualify for at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup race last year.

3: The number of drivers eligible for the Sprint Unlimited who did not win a pole in 2013. They are: 1985 race winner Terry Labonte, who ran five races last year with a best finish of 19th at Daytona in July; Ken Schrader, who has announced his retirement from Sprint Cup racing; and Tony Stewart, who will return to action for the first time after breaking his leg in a sprint car accident in August 2013.

196.434: In miles per hour, Danica Patrick's pole-winning speed for last year's Daytona 500. Patrick went on to finish eighth in the 500, the best result ever for a female driver. Thanks to her pole-winning run, Patrick also will be the first woman in the Sprint Unlimited.

2: Number of drivers who have swept The Sprint Unlimited, Daytona 500 pole and Daytona 500. It's a short, but stout, list: NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett (2000) and Bill Elliott (1987)

11: Number of consecutive different Daytona 500 pole winners. Here's the list, in chronological order: Jeff Green, Greg Biffle, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton, David Gilliland, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and Danica Patrick. This run was preceded by Johnson taking the pole in 2002 as an unheralded rookie.

NASCAR ETC.

With a start in Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited, Jeff Gordon will own the record for consecutive starts in the annual preseason non-points race - competing in 21 consecutively. He now shares the record with Mark Martin. ... Aside from becoming the first woman to win the Daytona 500 pole last year, Danica Patrick also became only the fourth Sunoco Rookie to accomplish the feat. There are scheduled to be at least eight rookies attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. ... Two drivers will make Sprint Unlimited debuts - Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Five have won the event in their first appearance: Buddy Baker (1979), Dale Earnhardt (1980), Jeff Gordon (1994), Dale Jarrett (1996) and Denny Hamlin (2006). ... Fans can vote on elements of the Sprint Unlimited on NASCAR.com: nas.cr/pw6j

NASCAR On Television, Week of Feb. 10-16

Monday, Feb. 10

4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

2 a.m. (Tues), NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Tuesday, Feb. 11

4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

2:30 a.m. (Wed), NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Wednesday, Feb. 12

4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

2 a.m. (Thu), NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Thursday, Feb. 13

Noon, NASCAR Media Day, ESPNews

4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub: Media Day Edition, FOX Sports 1

1:30 a.m. (Fri), NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Friday, Feb. 14

1 p.m., NSCS: 2013 Daytona 500 re-air, FOX Sports 1

4 p.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

5 p.m., Sprint Unlimited Practice

6 p.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

6:30 p.m., Final Sprint Unlimited Practice, FOX Sports 1

7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1-On-1, J. Johnson FOX Sports 1

8 p.m., The Day: Daytona Primetime, FOX Sports 1

9 p.m., Return of the 3, FOX Sports 1

10 p.m., The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt, FOX Sports 1

1 a.m. (Sat), NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Saturday, Feb. 15

10:30 a.m., Daytona 500 Practice, FOX Sports 1

12:30 p.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

1:30 p.m., Daytona 500 Practice, FOX Sports 1

3:30 p.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

6:30 p.m., NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1

8 p.m., Sprint Unlimited, FOX Sports 1 and FOX Deportes

Sunday, Feb. 16

Noon, NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

1 p.m., Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FOX

9 p.m., Daytona 500 Pole Day, FOX Sports 1

2 a.m. (Mon), Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Deportes

NOTE: ALL TIMES ET
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