DAYTONA BEACH — Sure, it will be cool to race under the lights at Daytona International Speedway. Of course everybody wants to rev up those engines. And there may even be a touch of adrenaline when the green flag drops Saturday night.
But to paraphrase Allen Iverson, we're talking about practice.
The Daytona 500 — the Big One — is next Sunday. The Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night is practice. Competitive but nonetheless practice, broken down into two segments during a non-points event.
"It's just practice," said Clint Bowyer, one of 25 drivers in the race. "I used to have the Nationwide race and things like that to get acclimated with your spotters and everything. I've been driving a tractor. It's been a long off-season and nobody has tested, nobody has been in a car and nobody has been acclimated to your guys and everything else. Just to show up cold turkey and not be ready is real for the Daytona 500, and I believe that.
"Having that race under our belt with all of us able to talk and [crew chief Brian] Pattie on the box, just to get in sync with one another before the big dance is what that race is all about."
The 75-lap race will be split into two segments, with a competition caution coming at Lap 25 to separate the segments.
This year's field was expanded to 25 drivers, with those eligible including all 2014 pole winners.
Jeff Gordon is prepped for lots of bells and whistles as he makes his final run as a full-time Cup driver in 2015.
"I don't want to be completely naïve," he said. "I know there's going to be a lot on my plate this year, so I'm going to put a lot of pressure on my team. Not just my race team, but [Gordon representatives] Jon Edwards and John Bickford and people around me, to try to plan in advance as much as possible.
"We have already reached out to all the tracks to talk to them about what we would like to see happen when we get to the tracks and what they would like to see and how we can just express to them how important it is to be competitive this year.
"It's definitely been very hectic leading into today, but it's going smooth."
Aric Almirola, a NASCAR Cup driver of Cuban descent, is still adjusting to the growing pains of moving from Tampa, a place that sizzles with plenty of Cuban cuisine options.
"What I miss the most is Cuban food," said Almirola, who once studied to be a mechanical engineer at the University of Central Florida. "It's very hard to get picadillo in Mooresville, N.C."
Singer/songwriter Phillip Phillips, will sing the national anthem prior to the 57th annual Daytona 500. Platinum recording artist Phillips released his sophomore album Behind The Light last May.
In addition, actor Vince Vaughn is set to serve as grand marshal.
"The Daytona 500 is one of the biggest events in all of sports, and I feel honored to be able to be a part of it in it in such a major way," Vaughn said in a statement.
Vaughn's duties for the day will include riding in a ceremonial pace car during pre-race laps, participating in ceremonial festivities, and delivering the iconic phrase, "Drivers, start your engines."