The Sprint Unlimited, Is It Really Worth It?


The Sprint Unlimited is a happy time for race fans. The new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season kicks off with an exhibition race where drivers and teams get to take on the high banks at Daytona International Speedway for nothing but cold hard cash.

Since the idea started in 1979, it’s been a great show. However, recently the race makes me wonder, is the Sprint Unlimited really worth it?

The race started out as a great 20 lap event, where teams spent very little money on tires, engines, chassis and pit crews. Now the event has become much more than that. This year’s event will have two segments, a 50 lap segment then a 20 lap segment, forcing teams to make pit stops and take tires in-between both segments.

As the seasons have gone by it has become more and more expensive to run the Sprint Unlimited. Think of the ever growing costs of racecars, pit crew salaries, tires and gas and everything else that goes into a race. Not only that but the race also forces teams to get to Daytona a few days early for preparation for the race and adds costs to room and board across the board. Some reports have a cost of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racecar in 2015 at upwards of $200k. Denny Hamlin’s victory in the 2015 Sprint Unlimited earned him and his team just $201,809. Last place, paid just $30,580 the lowest of any race throughout the season.

The Sprint Unlimited pays similar to a race at Martinsville, which is not a premier event on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule and is a points paying race. If you compare the Sprint Unlimited to the other exhibition event on the schedule, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race the race doesn’t compare. The winner of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race received $1,035,734 nearly $834,000 more than the winner of the Sprint Unlimited in 2014. The cost to run the Sprint Unlimited has gone up substantially and the likelihood of tearing up a racecar is greater at a superspeedway track than it is at any other track on the circuit due to the nature of pack racing on the restrictor plate tracks. It makes you wonder if the Sprint Unlimited is really worth it?

Image Courtesy Getty Images for NASCAR

With NASCAR’s lucrative television contract that was just signed and put in place for the 2015 season a purse that pays that little to a field is utterly ridiculous. It just shouldn’t happen. Since 2005 the purse has seen very little growth at times and in 2014 the purse was $36,000 less than it was for the 2005 event. Yet the tv contract has gone up substantially. How can that be?

Meanwhile, the field for the race has expanded several times, including the 25 car field for this season’s race. While that expansion may not seem like a big deal to some people, it is a big deal as far as the purse payout goes. The original rules for the 2015 Sprint Unlimited had 18 cars eligible for the race, but the added seven cars means that it’s less money per entry for the race, making it less and less lucrative to run the Sprint Unlimited.

That’s why teams like JTG/Daugherty Racing and Front Row Motorsports are dropping out of the Sprint Unlimited. If you don’t have a multi-million dollar sponsorship willing to pay an extreme expense to be in the race, there’s no point to being in it. Who can blame these car owners for watching other teams tear up $200,000 racecars in a race that will see the last place car earn just over $30,000? It makes you wonder if the Sprint Unlimited is really worth it?

In the 2014 running of the Sprint Unlimited Go Fas Racing’s No.32 car with driver Terry Labonte started and park in the race. The decision made people scratch their heads and watch in frustration as Labonte pulled it behind the wall on lap two. After reading this I ask can you blame them?

While many people don’t consider the race an All-Star race, Daytona International Speedway certainly charges the fans like it’s one. If you go and try to buy a ticket for May’s NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star race you will see the price range of tickets between $10-$105 for a regular grandstand seat. The Sprint Unlimited you ask? Well they charge between…you guessed it $50-$105 for a regular grandstand seat.

Yet the purse of the two races are substantially different. Sure maybe Sprint pays more money to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the All-Star race, but does it really pay 1/10th of the money for the Sprint Unlimited that it does the All-Star race? I know the fans and the television networks don’t.

Daytona International Speedway is currently going through a $400,000,000 expansion program. You would think they would look harder at the purse for the Sprint Unlimited and ask themselves is the Sprint Unlimited really worth it? Is it worth it to drag the teams down to Daytona a week early to run a race they barely make any money in? Is it worth it for the fans to pay all this money for a preliminary event for the Daytona 500, when they can save money for the big race? Is the race worth all the hype that goes into it? Is the race event even worth running at all?

If the Sprint Unlimited really is worth it well then it’s time for NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway to start acting like it.