During a rainy Wednesday, NASCAR’s best drivers came to Daytona International Speedway for the annual Daytona 500 Media Day. Here are five quick takeaways from a very busy day at the World Center of Speed.
Clock is running for Junior
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will turn 43 in October and even if he manages to avoid another concussion, his driving career is definitely hitting its later stages. Asked if he’d retire if he won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, Earnhardt laughed.
“Hell yeah,” he said. “I would definitely not want to come back and try to race anymore if I won the championship. I would be outta here.”
Then, he got more serious.“This is the last year of my deal,” said Earnhardt. “I would like to race more. But if I win the championship, I'd have to consider going out on top. I mean, I don't know. It just really depends on a lot of different things. … The championship would definitely be the icing on the cake for my career.”
Mike DinovoMike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Last year Team Penske won three of the four restrictor-plate points races run at Daytona and Talladega and last Sunday, Penske’s Joey Logano won the Advance Auto Parts Clash. Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 winner, and Keselowski are two of the elite restrictor-plate racers in the sport, along with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt said the Penske cars will be tough to beat in Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX) and 2007 500 winner Kevin Harvick agreed. “If you’re going to look at the superspeedways, you obviously have to look at the Penske cars because they’ve won so many of the restrictor-plate races,” said Harvick.
Then Harvick added, “I think you’ve seen a pretty common trend of the Hendrick cars qualifying well and then really not being able to handle like they need to when they get to Sunday. … I would point to the Fords and Penske.”
“We feel great coming into the Daytona 500,” said Keselowski. “… I wish it was Sunday right now.”
Peter CaseyPeter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
The Duels will be critical...or not
Wednesday saw heavy rains fall in Daytona Beach, with more precipitation expected Thursday morning and afternoon before clearing at night. That means Thursday night’s Can-Am 150 Duels might be the first time the drivers get on track to draft with their Daytona 500 cars. And with a green track and no practice time, the Duels could be wild. Or not, as the case may be.
“Honestly, we raced the other day in the Clash,” said Martin Truex Jr., the runner-up in the 2016 Daytona 500. “I think that was better practice than any actual practice session we could have just because it was pretty warm, track was slicker than normal because we usually race that race at night.
“The Duels are supposed to be at night,” said Truex. “I think we learned more the other day (in the Clash) than we possibly could in the Duels anyway. So I don't think it's a big deal either way. We'll get some practice before the 500 eventually, and it'll be fine.”
“I don't think it's a big deal, not really,” added two-time Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth when asked about the possibility of Cup practice getting rained out tomorrow during the day.
If the Duels get rained out, they will be run on Friday. And the good news is that the weather forecast for Friday through Sunday looks sensational.
Jasen VinloveJasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
The friend zone
Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 in 2010 and is widely regarded as one of the better restrictor-plate racers in NASCAR. McMurray said his past success was largely attributable to being unselfish — he was content to push for much of the races until it was go-time at the end. But all of that has gone out the window now, said McMurray.
“I don’t feel like anyone is really friends anymore,” said McMurray. “I feel like you used to look in your mirror and we all have different relationships with different people in this garage. And if I looked in my mirror and saw Matt Kenseth or Elliott Sadler or somebody who I knew I’d worked with well at plate races, I knew they would help me.
“Well now, if somebody gets a run on you, you just know they’re going to pass you,” said McMurray. “And nobody really helps anyone. When you get a run, you just go for the pass and you see if it works out.”
Mike DinovoMike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Gone but not forgotten
Carl Edwards shocked the NASCAR community last month when he announced he wouldn’t race in 2017, but his replacement at Joe Gibbs Racing, Daniel Suarez, said he still expects to see Edwards around at some point this season.
“(Edwards) retired to have more time for himself, and he won't be able to travel every weekend with us, but he's going to be here some weekends, hopefully as many as he can to help the program out,” said Suarez.