What was on NASCAR drivers’ minds mere hours before they hit the track for the start of the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season? Welcome to FOXSports.com’s Daytona 500 Media Day blog, where we update you on everything that is being said by the top stars in NASCAR on the eve of Speedweeks.
Here is what drivers had to say in their final media appearance before beginning the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season:
CHANGE UP: Kasey Kahne showed up for a media event once more sporting a new look. After drawing commentary for his haircut during the NASCAR Media Tour, Kahne changed it again for the 2013 Sprint Cup season.
For Thursday’s Media Day, he showed up with a much shorter look.
“I needed a haircut before I came down here, so I just trimmed it up," he said.
Asked why he didn’t stay with his previous cut — which featured a fair amount more hair on top — and what it was called, Kahne hinted at a return to the look.
“I don’t know what that was called, but I don’t know maybe I will bring it back later in the season," he said. "I liked it myself. About 65 percent of people didn’t; 35 did. I liked it maybe it will come back again some other time." — FOXSports.com
EASY DOES IT: Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin says that he has been fighting some back pain issues of late. As he prepares to get on the track for practices and racing at Daytona International Speedway, Hamlin says that in “this last week I’ve gotten to where I got over 80 percent better.”
So what does the driver think will make it better? Getting back on track, of course.
“I think that really being in a race car is really my therapy and the best thing for me, so I’m ready to get out there,” he said Thursday during NASCAR Media Day at Daytona. “The hits hurt a little bit more at this track." — FOXSports.com
TRASHING THE TANDEM: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was one of the most vocal critics of the tandem drafting that dominated races at Daytona and Talladega for a stretch. He hasn’t changed his mind. "I hope it’s gone," he said Thursday. "I hope we don’t do that anymore. I don’t enjoy doing that. I like taking care of myself, having to worry about what I have to do in a car instead of having to worry about me and somebody else." The front and rear sections of the Gen-6 car will make two-car hookups difficult, although not impossible. — Mike Hembree, SPEED.com
BEING SOCIAL: Jeff Gordon is among the drivers who have embraced social media. He said Thursday there are numerous advantages to the ever-changing platforms. "You got to laugh at yourself," he said. "Your fans — they’re very loyal. They want to be connected to you in a closer way. I think it’s a great way to connect with your fans. The sponsors, they enjoy it, as well. Knowing you have that kind of loyal following makes a big difference when you’re talking to sponsors, when you’re re-upping with sponsors or current sponsors. It’s great for everybody as far as I’m concerned. But it opens you up. You got to be a little careful." — Mike Hembree, SPEED.com
BRAD NOT IN UNLIMITED: Brad Keselowski won’t be in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited race, and he doesn’t like it. "I am disappointed," he said. "I think any driver not in a race is disappointed not to be in it. I think it limits some of your ability to win the 500. Not all of it, but some of it. This isn’t T-Ball, though. Not everybody plays. We didn’t earn our spot, and we don’t play. It is pretty simple. This is professional sports, and we need to earn our spot. We spend our time and energy working on what we could do to win the championship, not winning a pole. If I could choose being in the Shootout (the Unlimited) or winning the championship, I would take the damn championship 100 out of 100 days." — FOXSports.com
WANNA FIGHT?: Mark Martin, one of the most experienced drivers in NASCAR, said Thursday that fights in the sport have their value but that he hasn’t had the experience of being involved in one. "You need those," he said. "You’ve got to have it, and we’ve had a nice little dose of that the last few years. Gosh, it just seems like good times to me. I never have. I don’t know. I’ve been in it a long time, and I’m still a little confused. … If you feel like fighting, it don’t matter what NASCAR’s going to do to you. You’re still going to do it." — Mike Hembree, SPEED.com
MORE FOR MONTOYA?: Juan Pablo Montoya has not met expectations in his NASCAR adventures. He came into the sport carrying an impressive Formula One resume, scored a couple of road-course wins, but, along with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, has stalled. What’s next? "We know we have the right tools to make it work," he said. "I think this year we’ve done enough over the winter that it’s going to put us in a better situation." Is it humbling? "It’s not humbling. It sucks," Montoya said. — Mike Hembree, SPEED.com
CHAMP’S TAKE: Brad Keselowski is enjoying his role as NASCAR’s Sprint Cup champion.
But even Keselowski wasn’t immune to questions regarding the romance of fellow competitors Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“Well, we are a creative group so I am sure we will come up with some good jokes,” Keselowski said. “It stinks that the two-car tandem isn’t going to work ’cause it will kill a lot of our material. They should bring it back just for the jokes.”
Seriously, Keselowski finds the whole “Stenica” phenomena “a little hokey.” While it makes for good water-cooler fodder, he’s not convinced that the relationship won’t affect the two Cup rookies on the racetrack.
“You have to understand that as a race-car driver you make life decisions that put you in a position of danger all the time, 24-7,” Keselowski said. “That inherently makes you a unique person and the decisions you make and mental process to get there. Whatever outside influences you have to that are going to affect how you perform. It is just the reality of it. It makes it a story because there is no way for it to not affect their performance. So I think it ties in.
“It isn’t so much a story that they are dating as it would be if they were to break up. That would be incredible to watch, to be quite honest. There are so many different ways that could go. Imagine if they were to break up and then then wreck each other the next six races because they were mad? That would be way more compelling.” — Lee Spencer, FOXSports.com
TIME OF CHANGE: For Paul Menard, 2013 is all about change — and it involves more than just embracing the Generation 6 car. Menard, 32, married his long-time girlfriend Jennifer on Dec. 6. After a civil ceremony in North Carolina, the newlyweds repeated their vows at a ceremony in St. Lucia.
“We went to the justice of the peace to make it official because we went to St. Lucia after we were married,” Menard said. “We wanted it recognized in the US, so we officially got married at the courthouse.”
Menard, who races on the weekends but also serves on the board of his family’s home-improvement company — Menard’s — said he’s definitely looking to expand his brood. But he hopes to find an environment similar to one like where he grew up in Eau Claire, Wis.
“Kids are the next step obviously; we’re just trying to figure out when and where,” Menard said. “The place that we live in is a real nice community, but I’m not sure I want my kids to grow up there. I’d like them to grow up out in the woods like I did, a more rural community and instill a little different values in them.”
From a professional standpoint, Menard also must decide what path to take with his career. During his Sprint Cup tenure, Menard has driven for Dale Earnhardt Inc., Yates Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing. Currently, he is in the third and final year in the No. 27 Chevrolet for RCR with Slugger Labbe as his crew chief. Since the pair moved to RCR, Menard has improved each season. He finished a career-best 16th in the points standings last year. His most memorable moment, however, was when he won the Brickyard 400 in 2011.
“It is a contract year, and I hope by the middle of the summer that I’ll have an answer for everybody,” Menard said. “Honestly, I haven’t had any discussions yet with anybody. Slugger is a great friend and a hell of a crew chief.”
And how are the Menards spending their first Valentine’s Day as a newly married couple?
“I’m going to give her a phone call,” said Menard, who came to Daytona International Speedway early for media appearances. — Lee Spencer, FOXSports.com
REUTIMANN IS BACK: Sitting on the sidelines for 11 races last season, David Reutimann never wondered what his "Plan B" would be.
“My father always said if you have a Plan B then you’re figuring your Plan A isn’t going to work,” Reutimann said. “If you spend more time on Plan A, you won’t have to worry about Plan B. So I never had one.”
Reutimann, 42, signed to drive full time for BK Racing this season, but there were times last year when he wasn’t sure what his future would hold. In 2012, he split his time between BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. When a full-time gig opened up to race the No. 83 Toyota with crew chief Pat Tryson, Reutimann couldn’t turn it down.
The second-generation driver, who watched his father Buzzie dominate in Modifieds on dirt tracks, says he didn’t want to be Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt when he was growing up. Reutimann just wanted to “be my Dad.”
And with Buzzie Reutimann still racing at 71, David knew he wasn’t ready to retire from racing. In the interim, Reutimann poured himself into his dirt cars just to keep his hands in racing.
“I knew this stuff wasn’t going to last forever,” Reutimann said. “But I wasn’t ready to step away from it either. There were some start-and-park situations, but I didn’t want to end up doing that. But I really, really thought there was a good chance that I wouldn’t be back full time and maybe not back at all.
“I never really did come to grips with that, actually. When you spend your entire life being one-track minded and focused on one thing and then that one thing is gone, you’re not exactly sure how to deal with it. I’m not really good at anything else, and some days I’m not good at this either but that being said, sometimes you just feel loss because your sole focus is being in a race car.”
After spending his entire life around racing, Reutimann knows how fleeting the sport can be. Despite him winning two Sprint Cup races with Michael Waltrip Racing, the company opted to move in a different direction last year. When Reutimann was asked what advice he would offer young racers, he offered the following suggestions.
“Don’t trust anybody — No. 1,” Reutimann said. “Don’t get an agent — unless it’s a family member. And No. 3, just treat every race like it’s your last one because again, this stuff isn’t forever. You have to look out for yourself. You have to be good. You have to be good to other people. But at the same time, you really need to concentrate on what’s going on around you and realize this deal can be gone. Just because you’re young and you have all these opportunities, all it takes is a couple of things in a chain that you can’t control to derail you for a little while and you may not be able to get back in the capacity you were." — Lee Spencer, FOXSports.com
SPRINT UNLIMITED SEGMENTS SET: NASCAR fans have spoken.
Fans are voting on a series of competition formats for the season-opening non-points NASCAR Sprint Unlimited (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on FOX). The first vote? The length of the race’s segments.
Voting for that segment ended just before midnight Wednesday, and officials have announced that the segments will be set at laps of 30, 25 and 20. Full story— FOXSports.com
BUSY WEEK: As if running a full season of Sprint Cup competition wasn’t enough, Danica Patrick now has plans in place to return to her roots … well, her NASCAR roots.
Patrick will pilot the Turner Scott Motorsports fourth entry in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway, it was announced Thursday. Patrick will be behind the wheel of the No. 34 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Camaro in the season-opening Drive4COPD 300. Veteran crew chief Mike Greci will be calling the shots for the team. Full story— FOXSports.com
TEN-GALLON?: For those wondering, it was a black cowboy hat (not white) for Austin Dillon on Thursday. And, no, he doesn’t hat shop with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Different labels, Dillon said. — Mike Hembree, SPEED.com
EXPANDING EMPIRE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expanding his interests by taking on a role in radio.
Earnhardt and JR Motorsports announced Thursday the birth of Dirty Mo Radio, an online home for radio-style podcasts themed around NASCAR’s 10-time most popular driver.
Dirty Mo Radio will be based at Earnhardt’s official site, www.DaleJr.com, but its podcasts also will be available for free on common podcasting outlets such as iTunes. Full story— FOXSports.com
IT WON’T BE FAST: Brad Keselowski said Thursday he remains on the hunt for a tank. "A man and a tank," he said. "It sounds right." Really, he wants one. Where would he keep it? "In the driveway." — Mike Hembree, SPEED.com
MILLER BRIGHT: Spiffiest new driver’s suit award for Media Day goes to Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, resplendent in blue and white. And no Miller. Yet.
IT’S BACK: Stewart-Haas Racing and sponsor Outback Steakhouse are bringing back Bloomin’ Monday for the 2013 Sprint Cup season.
Every time Ryan Newman finishes in the top 10 of a NASCAR Cup race, fans can get a free Bloomin’ Onion at an Outback Steakhouse on the Monday immediately following the race. Fans simply need to reference the promotion to their server to receive their Bloomin’ Onion.
“I’m happy that Outback Steakhouse is continuing the Bloomin’ Monday promotion for the 2013 season,” said Newman, driver of the No. 39 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet SS. “It was cool that the fans could get something from our team having a good finish. It gave them another reason to cheer us on.
“Believe me, I heard from fans who were disappointed when we didn’t get top-10s. We had 15 top-10 finishes last year, a number we’re planning to beat in 2013, which will make for a lot of happy Bloomin’ Onion fans.”
The restaurant will be Newman’s primary sponsor in three races this season — at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in April, Daytona International Speedway in July and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth in November. When not serving as a primary sponsor, Outback Steakhouse will be an associate sponsor with placement on the B-post of the No. 39 Chevrolet. — FOXSports.com
CHAMPIONSHIP QUEST: Ty Dillon knows that if he wants to break through from being a contender to Camping World Truck Series champion, he must deliver the wins. Dillon, who turns 21 at the end of the month, won his first and only race in the Truck series last year in Atlanta before finishing fourth in points.
“We got that rookie stripe off our back now and a whole notebook to go back and review on to fine-tune our setups a little bit,” Dillon said. “The second half of the season we started turning top 10s into top fives. Now that we have that notebook, we should be able to tune ourselves in to running up front and winning races. I think that’s all it takes is just a little more experience for us and a little more confidence now that we’ve run a full year.”
Dillon entered the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway third in the points standings, 12 behind eventual winner James Buescher, before getting caught up in a wreck with Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney in the final 10 laps of the race. Dillon has not yet spoken to either driver.
“There will come a time when we talk about it, but it’s still a little upsetting how it went down,” Dillon said. “But things happen for a reason. It made us want to work harder in the offseason to get better so we don’t have to worry about the last couple of laps (to determine the title).”
Dillon will run eight Nationwide Series this races and plans to run one Cup race as well. Although Richard Childress Racing has yet to decide at which track it will be, Dillon acknowledges he’s most comfortable on intermediate tracks.
As for where he’ll spend his 21st birthday on Feb. 27, Dillon says a Las Vegas celebration similar to brother Austin’s might have to wait.
“I’m not planning on doing much, maybe going to Orlando,” Dillon said. “I’m racing in a Nationwide car at Las Vegas, and that’s what I want to concentrate on. Maybe after that.” — Lee Spencer, FOXSports.com
AHH … TWITTERPATED: Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have taken their relationship to a new level — Twitter.
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, the fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup rookies tweeted about their plans — or lack thereof — for the special day.
Stenhouse tweeted a photo of guys lined up buying Valentine’s Day cards with the message: “Nothing like last minute….. sry @DanicaPatrick #guyproblems #procrastinator”
Patrick responded with “@StenhouseJr At least u remembered…..wait til u get on of my "home made cards" aka I forgot to get u one. …I am crafty though.”
Patrick has since deleted the tweet, though it still shows up on Stenhouse’s Twitter conversation for that post. The pair were speaking separately with the media on Thursday as part of the annual pre-Daytona 500 appearances. — FOXSports.com
NASCAR REINSTATES FREY: NASCAR has reinstated former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew member Jerome Frey upon his successful completion of NASCAR’s Substance Abuse Policy Road to Recovery Program. Frey had been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR on Aug. 10, 2011, for violating the sanctioning body’s substance-abuse policy. — Mike Hembree, SPEED.com
TOUGH SLEDDING: The Gen-6 car offers opportunities for adjustment and speed gains, Jimmie Johnson said, but he added that the “toolbox” is small. “We have far less tools today than at Homestead,” he said. “We still have opportunities to find things, but the reward is so small. You’re finding half a 10th (of a second) at best. You have to stack up four or five things to get an advantage.” — Mike Hembree, SPEED.com
PRETTY OBVIOUS? Asked if there were early indications that the Ricky Stenhouse Jr.-Danica Patrick romance was taking shape last year, Joey Logano said, “Yes. Ray Charles could see that one coming.” — Mike Hembree, SPEED.com