NASCAR: Kickoff event renamed Sprint Unlimited, Cup champion and runner-up not eligible to race image

Following Budweiser’s announcement that it won’t sponsor this year’s kickoff event, NASCAR’s exhibition race the week before the Daytona 500 will have a new sponsor and name.

However, it won’t have the new Sprint Cup champion and runner-up. Sprint announced it has partnered with Daytona International Speedway to sponsor The Sprint Unlimited at Daytona. The non-points event was formerly known as the Budweiser Shootout.

The event will kick off on February 16 at 8 p.m. but won’t feature Sprint Cup champion Brand Keselowski and runner-up Clint Bowyer, as they did not qualify for the select field of 22 that includes pole winners from 2012 and past winners of the event.

On the other hand, AJ Allmendinger, who was suspended last season for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy, is eligible for winning the pole at Kansas. This year’s exhibition race will be the first one without the reigning champion since 2004, when Matt Kenseth didn’t qualify.

“Thanks to the strength of our partnership with NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway, we have designed The Sprint Unlimited so that fans play a major role in all aspects of the event. It is the ideal way to start this milestone season, and we look forward to sharing all of the details later this month,” said Steve Gaffney, vice president of marketing for Sprint.

Named after Sprint Nextel’s data plan, the Sprint Unlimited will mark the debut of NASCAR’s new „Gen 6” car. Scroll down to see the complete list of drivers that will race at the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona:

2012 Pole Winners:
Greg Biffle
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Carl Edwards
Denny Hamlin
Kasey Kahne
Mark Martin
Jeff Gordon
Martin Truex Jr.
Tony Stewart
AJ Allmendinger
Aric Almirola
Joey Logano
Marcos Ambrose
Jimmie Johnson
Matt Kenseth
Kyle Busch
Juan Pablo Montoya

Past champions of The Sprint Unlimited:
Kurt Busch
Kevin Harvick
Bill Elliott
Terry Labonte
Ken Schrader