DAYTONA 500 Media Day Notebook

Kyle Busch discusses his odds in the DAYTONA 500


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kyle Busch’s star-crossed history in the DAYTONA 500 isn’t lost on the driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.


As Busch approached the dais Wednesday during DAYTONA 500 Media Day, he noticed a lottery ticket next to the microphone—a leftover item from the earlier announcement of PowerBall as an official NASCAR partner.


“Better chance of winning that than the DAYTONA 500,” Busch quipped, mindful of his 20.24 average finish in the Great American Race.


Busch got his best DAYTONA 500 result in 2019, when he finished second to former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin. In 17 starts in the season-opening race, Busch has recorded just three top fives and five top 10s. Many of the remaining races have been unmitigated disasters.


Between seasons, Busch switched teams from Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota to Childress and Chevrolet, and he hopes the move will bring a change of fortune where the DAYTONA 500 is concerned.


“Here, a lot of your result can be in the hands of the other drivers around you and the circumstances around you,” Busch said. “That’s just the nature of it, but we all have the same race to go out there and run in.


“As far as being positive about it, yeah, I would be positive about it. Having a new fresh look and outlook with my new team, and being with the No. 8, it’s exciting for me anyways. So, I would love nothing more than to win the DAYTONA 500 with RCR, Chevrolet, (sponsor) 3CHI and everybody to really put an exclamation point on the offseason and what this year will hopefully bring.”


Harvick’s Final DAYTONA 500


Kevin Harvick, the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion, begins his final season of NASCAR competition with this week’s season-opening DAYTONA 500. The 47-year-old California native concedes he is balancing a naturally sentimental reaction to his retirement with his famous highly-competitive spirit.


Asked if he may show less patience racing in his farewell season, the 2007 DAYTONA 500 winner grinned and shared some advice retired driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave him.


“Dale Jr. summed it up for me by saying it was my NFG tour,” Harvick said. “If we have to settle scores, we will settle them immediately. We aren’t waiting until next week.”


Of the sentimental side of his farewell, Harvick said, “I don’t know how good I’ll be at soaking it in because I get too competitive.”


Harvick, did remind, however, that he will be sharing stories of his 30 years of racing through his 2023 helmets and various special tribute paint schemes on the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford all season. He’s already got his next “job” settled. Recently, Harvick revealed he would move from the FOX Sports broadcast booth and call races alongside Mike Joy and fellow retired driver Clint Bowyer.


“For me, it is going to be a balance between taking all of that in and not being grumpy because you are in the competitive mindset,” he said. “I explain that to people all the time. There is a difference between a meet-and-greet at the car or one away from the race track. They are two different people. We have put a lot of things in place to just try to make it simple. As simple as possible.


“But I also understand that it is important. I feel like your last year is important.”


In 43 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Daytona, Harvick has 16 top-10 and 11 top-five finishes with wins in the 2007 DAYTONA 500 and 2010 summer 400-miler. He’s finished top five in two of the last Daytona 500s.


NASCAR’s Next Gen car is foreign territory for Jimmie Johnson


How can a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and two-time DAYTONA 500 winner make a rookie mistake?


Jimmie Johnson already has—on the simulator.


Johnson left NASCAR racing after the 2020 season and spent two years driving IndyCars. In his part-time return the Cup Series and his attempt to qualify for the 2023 DAYTONA 500, Johnson, as part owner of newly-branded Legacy Motor Club, will be driving a car almost as foreign to his stock car history as the IndyCar was.


Johnson got his first experience in NASCAR’s Next Gen car during a recent test at Phoenix, a one-mile track far different from 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, both in terms of configuration and speed. He spent additional time on a simulator to gain familiarity with the race car NASCAR introduced last year.


“The sim session that I had getting ready for here—although it’s kind of silly to do sim for Daytona running by yourself—I did notice the track was really rough,” Johnson said before time trials on Thursday night. “That was not the case my last time here…


“Then I’ve been advised many times that I need to remember that it’s a sequential (gear) box, and fourth gear is actually back here (behind third)—it’s not forward. I think some guys made that mistake last year and downshifted and blew engines.


“So, just trying to stay disciplined on that. I think the last thing I’ve got to be aware of and remember—there’s five gears, not four. On the simulator, I made that mistake and ran around in fourth gear for one of my qualifying laps.”


Johnson is one of six drivers who either have to qualify on time or race into the field in one of Thursday night’s Duel 150-mile qualifying races. The last time he faced that sort of situation was during his rookie year in 2002—and he won the pole.


“I’m sitting here with seven championships and 83 wins—yes, absolutely it would suck to not make the race,” Johnson said. “But the pressure I had on myself in 2002… life would have seemed like it ended if I didn’t make the race…


“We qualified on the pole in ’02. I don’t think that’s in the cards for us (Wednesday night), but who knows? Maybe lightning will strike twice.”


DAYTONA 500 winner’s reign


Defending Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric showed up for media day at Daytona International Speedway with some captivating stories to tell – none of them about a race, however.


Cindric started out his DAYTONA 500 week locked out of his motorcoach; literally climbing underneath and through it to try and retrieve the keys. A month ago, Cindric also revealed, he served on a jury in North Carolina; the result a guilty verdict for murder.


“Very guilty,” Cindric said with a straight face.


As for winning NASCAR’s most celebrated race last year, Cindric was philosophical.


“How does it change Austin Cindric?” Cindric said. “It doesn’t change Austin Cindric at all, but it does change how I’m introduced and perceived. Some people will only and forever know who Austin Cindric is because he won the DAYTONA 500 and I’m totally fine with that, but it does change, and it did change throughout the entire year last year. It’s not rookie Austin Cindric, it’s DAYTONA 500 winner.


“It almost seems normal now, which is kind of weird because all of last year it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I did that, didn’t I.’”


As for this week, Cindric said, “I approach this weekend just like any other race because I think you need to mentally because it is the start of our season, but, otherwise, it’s certainly something fun to reflect on and kind of gives you perspective on big moments of your life and how you go about them and how you perceive yourself. Certainly, a lot more reflection than just any other race, for sure.”


Denny Hamlin has overcome the unpredictability of the DAYTONA 500


Only one active full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series garage has won the DAYTONA 500 more than once. In fact, Denny Hamlin has placed his name on the Harley J. Earl trophy three times—in 2016, 2019 and 2020.


Avoiding calamity and taking the checkered flag in the Great America Race requires some degree of good fortune. But Hamlin’s three victories also suggest that a certain amount of exceptional skill and knowledge also play a role.


“There are so many factors in it,” Hamlin said on Wednesday in the Daytona International Speedway media center. “Just because a lot of times you don’t decide your own fate. People talk about getting in a wreck here is a 50-50 chance—I think it is probably a little higher than that, and most times you don’t create the wreck; you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.


“It takes three facets to win at this—you’ve got that luck factor, that’s a part of it. Twenty percent, whatever it might be… 30 percent. Execution, and skill set. You’ve got to have all three to win this race, and it’s hard to get all three of those lined up on any given day, which is why probably the best driver ever here—Dale Earnhardt (Sr.)—won a billion races but didn’t win this one because on that day, he didn’t have all of those things line up for him.


“On any given (non-superspeedway) weekend, the fast cars make it to the front no matter what, there is less attrition, less luck when it comes to being involved in wrecks, so I just think that is part of it.”


Notes: Earnhardt finally won the Daytona in 1998, on his 20th attempt… Two-time DAYTONA 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, who hasn’t raced in the Cup Series full-time since 2020, will attempt to qualify for Sunday’s race.


DAYTONA 500 High Profile Rookies


Action sports star Travis Pastrana and IndyCar standout Conor Daly are among the group of six drivers from non-chartered teams qualifying for the last four available starting positions in the 40-car DAYTONA 500 field. Two of the Open qualifiers will make the race based on qualifying speed from Wednesday night’s pole qualifying session. The final two starting positions will be filled from Thursday night’s Duel qualifying races.


It would be the DAYTONA 500 debut for both Pastrana and Daly, should they qualify for the race.


Daly, 31, whose best IndyCar Series finish was runner-up in Belle Isle, Mich. in 2016, was all smiles speaking about his first attempt to the make the DAYTONA 500. Although he’s competed in two Rolex 24 at Daytona sportscar races, Daly’s very first laps on the 2.5-mile high-banked oval will be Wednesday night in pole qualifying.


He has spent a lot of time on simulators to get used to the car and the track. And he said he’s spoken with drivers A.J. Allmendinger, Chase Briscoe, Corey LaJoie, two-time DAYTONA 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and three-time DAYTONA 500 winner Denny Hamlin.


“I just love this sport,” said Daly, who will drive The Money Team’s No. 50 Chevrolet. “There are a lot of fan bases that are like, ‘we’re only NASCAR,’ or ‘we’re only IndyCar, we’re only F1.’ I like them all, so I don’t know why we can’t do more of that and hopefully there is a little bit more love spread to all of them as we try to do a little bit of both NASCAR and IndyCar at the same time.”


Pastrana, 39, who will drive the No. 67 23XI Racing Toyota, earned one of his four career top-10 NASCAR finishes at the Daytona International Speedway – a 10th place effort in the 2013 NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the high banks. As with Daly, he wished there was an opportunity to practice, but he also put time in on the simulators and does have the benefit of competing the full 2013 season in the Xfinity Series.


Pastrana, an X Games gold medalist and champion in a number of disciplines from supercross to rally racing, is entered in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race on Friday as well planning to run in his first DAYTONA 500 on Sunday.


“Every single driver has gone so far out of the way,” Pastrana said of the reaction to his Daytona participation. “Even when they say, ‘It’s the Good Ole Boy Club,’ no, it’s the opposite of that where these guys are truly excited to have someone new and assuming that I will do my job. Everyone is equally as excited to help me because they don’t want me to cause the big one. And I appreciate that.”


POWERBALL is New NASCAR Official Partner


Powerball will now be the official lottery game of NASCAR marking the brand’s first foray into major sports league sponsorship. The partnership not only includes its official partner status, but Powerball will also be joining forces with NASCAR in a season-long promotion that will ultimately award a single lottery player with a $1 million prize during the Nov. 3-5 NASCAR Championship Weekend at Phoenix.


Making the announcement alongside a giant Powerball lottery machine filled with numbered balls, Powerball Product Group Chairman Drew Svitko said he was proud of the partnership with NASCAR saying, “we are two brands used to creating thrilling moments and bringing people together.”


NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer Daryl Wolfe noted that the organizations are more similar than not – both making their business in high stakes, high energy avenues.


“NASCAR and Powerball have shared in the goal of providing exhilarating excitement for decades while also giving back to the communities we are a part of,” Wolfe said. “Powerball creates millionaires every year and we can’t wait to see the different winning opportunities this partnership will bring to our loyal fans throughout the country.”


Short Strokes…


NASCAR Cup Series drivers Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez are beneficiaries of contract extensions with their organizations—Hendrick Motorsports and Trackhouse Racing, respectively. Bowman, 29, and sponsor Ally inked a deal that will keep Bowman behind the wheel of the No. 48 Chevrolet through 2026.


Suarez, 31, signed a multiyear extension with Trackhouse, though the terms of the deal were not specified. The driver from Monterrey, Mexico, won his first Cup race last year at the Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway road course.