Daytona International Speedway, February 13, 2019
It’s Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. The Daytona 500 Club, just behind pit road at the start/finish line, plays host to 42 drivers and the press. Interview stations, camera spots, and television hosts line the walls. Everyone is eager to get the best quote or a perfect picture. Drivers cycle through in groups, here are some of the day’s highlights.
The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion. On carry-over from last year’s championship, “It’s over, time to concentrate on this year. One of my favorite Roger Penske quotes is ‘don’t trip on your press clippings,’ and that’s one of my favorite ones because that’s last year and we need to keep looking forward because right now we’re past champions in my eyes. As soon as we unloaded down here the championship fun is over and it’s back to trying to win another one. We’re back at zero with everybody else, so we’re gonna fight that.”
The 2018 Daytona 500 Champion. Last year it was the “magic penny” that proved to be the lucky charm. What will it be this year? “We took the family to Disney World, the Magic Kingdom, I’m hoping some of that magic rubbed off on me.”
In his first Daytona 500, Bubba Wallace finished 2nd to Austin Dillon. Driving for the “King” Richard Petty, Bubba is looking to improve on his 28th place finish in last year’s point standings. Staying out of trouble is the key to racing at Daytona according to Bubba, “I just want to have the same amount of luck as last year. We were very fortunate to miss out on the wrecks that we did. Three of them were just outside my car. It’s all about that and making the right moves.”
Ryan had maybe the best car at Daytona last year and did not win the race. He is listed as one of the favorites on Sunday. “This race has been good to us the last couple of years, running second a couple years ago and led a ton of laps last year and it just didn’t work out for us at the end. I think our speedway cars have always been pretty good. The Penske group and Wood Brothers group does a great job. It is a combination of cars, having a great spotter – Josh Williams is my spotter and he gets better every single year. Having great teammates. All four of us work great together, Paul Menard included. These tracks, more than others, strength in numbers is your friend and we do a great job trying to work together. All the Fords do really. Our group in particular. Hopefully, we can just finish one off here. If you can make it to the last 20-30 laps, you are going to be in a spot to try to win it. We have been fortunate to make it to the last 20 laps for the last couple years so hopefully, we can do that again and find ourselves in the spot we were in last year, do a couple things different and try to win the race.”
Byron, Michigan’s Erik Jones won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in July last year at Daytona. His first victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. To capture the 500 he will need a similar performance. Stay out of trouble, be close to the front at the end, and be aggressive at the finish.
In last Sunday’s Clash at Daytona, Paul Menard put the Wood Brothers Ford Mustang at the front of the field for most of the day. Jimmie Johnson bumped him on the last lap and created a 17 car pile-up. But, Menard is a contender for the win in the 500.
Clash winner Jimmie Johnson is riding a 59 race regular season winless streak. The victory in the non-points race is a momentum builder. It remains to be seen if the 7-time Champion can parley that into another Daytona 500 win.
During the off-season, Ryan Newman moved to Roush Fenway Racing. His Ford Mustang is as bright as his uniform with new sponsor Oscar Mayer. Coming off a down year Rousch Fenway needs some bright things to happen for them. Maybe Newman is the man to provide that.
One of last year’s “Big 3” Kyle Busch ran for the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Kyle has never won the 500.
Last year Austin Dillon wrecked Aric Almirola one-mile from the finish of the 500. Aric won on a superspeedway at Talladega in October and is a threat for the win on Sunday. “For me, last year being a mile away from winning the Daytona 500, that stands out for me. Being that close. I can literally feel it and see it and smell it and taste it. Everything you can imagine like it was there. It was right at my fingertips. Certainly, that is one that comes to mind when I think about the Daytona 500, just thinking about being that close.”
One of the most jovial guys at the track, Clint Bowyer is always good for a quote. Talking about the 17 car pile-up last Sunday. “Man, I hit the 21 car. I don’t know. I don’t even know how he got turned around. All I know is that I went to Disney World with 20 people. My God. That wreck was nothing compared to the hell I have been through the last two days.”
Another of last year’s “Big 3,” Harvick was the top producing Ford Fusion in 2018. His eight wins propelled him to Homestead-Miami Speedway with a shot at the Championship. “Well, the big three is irrelevant at this point. I think it’s a new year, new themes, a lot of new to everything that is going on. You have to be able to reset your mind and address the new challenges as they come forward because right now we have no clue what the races are going to look like next week going to Atlanta. You don’t know if you need a low downforce car or high downforce car. As teams, we have a ton to learn and really no clue what direction it is going to go in at this point.”
Martin Truex Jr.
The 3rd member of the “Big 3” has never won a Daytona 500.
The hottest driver at the end of last summer. Brad Keselowski won at Darlington and Indianapolis. He too has never won a Daytona 500. “I think a championship will always be bigger than the 500 and should always remain bigger than the 500. With that in mind, it would still be a huge accomplishment for me to win the 500. As to whether or not that would make me a Hall of Fame driver, I don’t know. It would feel really good though, I can tell you that. I am having a hard time quantifying it though.”
NASCAR’s most popular driver Chase Elliott finally broke into the win column last year. With the monkey off his back, this young gun is a contender to win every week.
Another young man with big expectations. Daniel Suarez is the newest member of the Ford contingent moving over to Stewart Haas Racing during the offseason. After two winless seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, the pressure will be on for him to respond. “The expectations for this year and the team has been very strong and I know what I’m capable of doing and everything looks extremely good. The reality is we have to be patient. We have to walk before we run and that’s something extremely important for myself. We know that the results are gonna get there, but we have to be patient and be smart in all of the decisions. Billy Scott, my crew chief, and the rest of the guys have been nothing but great working with me and bringing in the new fresh air and new fresh energy, and I can tell you that I’m extremely excited to what the future is holding for us.”
Continue to follow The Lasco Press for “Live Coverage” all week from Daytona. Tomorrow the Cup cars hit the track for the Duels at Daytona. Results of the two qualifying races will determine the field for this Sunday’s Daytona 500.