Daytona Media Day: Junior wants people to ‘give the kid a break’


Jenna Fryer

AP Auto Racing Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Latest from Daytona 500 media day on Tuesday (all times local):

3 p.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants everyone to tone down expectations for rookie and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott.

Elliott, the son of two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott, qualified on the pole for his first “Great American Race.” All the publicity he’s received since caught Earnhardt’s attention.

“I saw something on Twitter yesterday … ‘Will Chase live up to the hype in the Daytona 500?’ I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I’ve read — that day at least,” Earnhardt said. “Give the kid a break.

“That would be a reason why I think he makes the comments he does because he wants to temper expectations, like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s be realistic about this. We’ve got a lot of work to do.’”

Elliott is the third rookie in the last three years to land the pole for the Daytona 500, following Danica Patrick (2013) and Austin Dillion (2014). Patrick led five laps and finished eighth; Dillion led one lap and finished ninth.

“I’ve got a lot to learn before Sunday,” Elliott said.

2 p.m.

AJ Allmendinger has ruled out driving in another Indianapolis 500, even the milestone 100th running this year.

Allmendinger, who finished seventh in 2013 in his lone Indy 500, said he won’t get behind the wheel against until IndyCar gets rid of open cockpits.

“The moment Justin Wilson passed away, I said, ‘Never again,’” said Allmendinger, referring to Wilson’s death at Pocono in 2015. “The only way I would do it is if they put in a closed cockpit over the car and tested it and they thought that was a good direction in safety, then I might think about doing it again.”

Not everyone was as quick to rule out running in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

NASCAR regulars Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick are at least intrigued, and fellow drivers Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson have expressed interest.

“When it’s mentioned that it’s the 100th 500, it is a little bit thought provoking,” Patrick said.

She was fourth as a rookie in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, and finished third four years later.

Busch was sixth in 2014 when he attempted to drive all 1,100 miles of the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. He finished sixth in the 500 driving for Michael Andretti and failed to finish the 600.

“I think once we get through Atlanta (next week) and that ‘NASCAR goes west’ tour, we’ll have a better indication if I’m going to run Indy this year,” Busch said.

1:30 p.m.

Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip is back for a 29th running of “The Great American Race,” but he doesn’t love his chances at an upset victory.

He was 29th in pole time trials, far off the pace of the leaders, and doesn’t think he’ll have a great sense until Thursday’s twin qualifying races if his car has gotten any better.

“You can’t be the hero the better part of a second off the pole,” Waltrip said. “That’d be a hard day’s work. But we’ll go out there Thursday, and maybe in the draft the car does things that I recognize, that I need to have to be able to win, then my optimism will go up a notch or two.”

Waltrip only runs at Daytona and Talladega, and would like to continue.

“I’m going to keep doing it if I get the opportunity,” he said.

1 p.m.

Danica Patrick spent Valentine’s Day at a dirt track.

The NASCAR star said she and boyfriend/fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. traveled to nearby Volusia Speedway Park to watch the Dirtcar Nationals on the romantic holiday.

“I mean, I couldn’t have thought of anything better,” she joked. “But, you know, part of being in a relationship is that you see somebody you love and care about doing something that they love so much and that they’re happy. Going to the dirt track makes him that happy.”

Stenhouse got involved in helping change an engine at the short track.

“He was grabbing wrenches, and I knew at that moment he was having the best Valentine’s Day ever because he loves working on cars. He knows what’s he doing with that stuff,” she said. “That’s where his heart his. He loves being hands on and being able to be involved and then also he thinks the racing’s great and cool.

“If it wasn’t so dirty, I’d probably love it a little more. I always have to shower afterward, always have to clean my shoes off. I can’t wear nice shoes to the track. Such a bummer.”

12:30 p.m.

Kyle Larson has settled into fatherhood, and his son Owen is a constant fixture with him at the race track.

But the baby, who turned 1 in December, is now up and walking and proving to be a handful.

“He figured out how to walk in the offseason, so he’s been pretty crazy to keep up with and is making race car noises all the time,” Larson said. “We couldn’t even get him to go to sleep last night. He was just lying in bed making race car noises. I was just like, ‘Dude, chill out and go to sleep.’

“He has been teething this week so his diapers haven’t been very fun, but other than that, he has been pretty good.”

Larson is going into his third full Sprint Cup season still seeking his first win. He has a new crew chief in Chad Johnston and is using Speedweeks to adjust to someone new calling his race.

11:25 a.m.

Greg Biffle is looking for a reworked contract.

Biffle said he has talked with Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark about his deal after the charter system was unveiled last week. Under the new system, the purses have been reallocated and owners are getting a larger cut. Drivers are now individually working with their team owners to account for the difference.

“Steve bugged me a couple of times that we have to sit down and go over this so we can get it (done),” Biffle said. “We haven’t had a chance to sit down yet. It’s a matter of economics or math. We’re all going to want to keep our same deal. It’s just going to be derived differently.”

NASCAR also removed the driver payouts on the box score from last weekend’s exhibition race and it’s unclear if totals will return.

“It was really a phantom number,” Biffle said. “I didn’t look at it to try and figure out what I was going to get out of it.”

10:30 a.m.

Ty Dillon says he is in talks with Stewart-Haas Racing about filling in for injured driver Tony Stewart after Daytona International Speedway.

“There has been conversation,” said Dillon, who drives full time in the second-tier Xfinity Series. “It’s a slow process. There are a lot of different things that are going on. Nothing is set in stone. I don’t like to say anything until pen hits paper.”

The 23-year-old Dillon stopped short of saying he expects to be in the No. 14 Chevrolet next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“I’m not going to jump the gun and say it’s a done deal. … If we get everything done and I’m in the car at Atlanta, it would be great,” he said.

Brian Vickers is replacing Stewart in the Daytona 500. The team has not announced plans beyond “The Great American Race,” but Dillon seems like an obvious choice because he shares one of Stewart’s main sponsors, Bass Pro Shops.

9:45 a.m.

Matt DiBenedetto can enjoy this week without worrying if he’ll race in the Daytona 500.

Wood Brothers Racing driver Ryan Blaney and DiBenedetto, driving for BK Racing, secured spots in the Daytona 500 as the two fastest open team drivers during front-row qualifying last weekend.

DiBenedetto’s parents and sponsors all waited to book a trip to Daytona until after he qualified.

“As soon as we made it in, they were like, ‘We’re coming! We’re excited! Now we don’t have to worry about it.’”

DiBenedetto’s big celebration? He played a few rounds of miniature golf with friends Sunday. So he says that all in all it was a great day: “We qualified in the 500 and I won at miniature golf.”

DiBenedetto still has to drive the No. 83 Toyota in one of Thursday night’s two qualifying races that sets the starting order.

He says he won’t take a “teddy bear” approach, with crew chief Gene Nead telling him, “You either go out and there and try and win the Duels or bring it back in a box.”

Blaney was seventh fastest and DiBenedetto 24th in single-car qualifying runs Sunday. Six drivers will vie for the two remaining spots in Sunday’s 40-car field.

9:30 a.m.

Regan Smith says he never considered trying to replace Tony Stewart, who is recovering from a fractured vertebra.

Smith lost his ride in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports at the end of last season, but in late January landed a Sprint Cup ride with Tommy Baldwin Racing. He replaces Alex Bowman, who learned via Twitter that he would not be driving the No. 7 Chevrolet this season.

Smith subbed for Stewart once before, at Watkins Glen in 2014. Stewart, who is retiring at the end of this season, will miss the start of the season while he recovers from surgery to repair his vertebra. He was injured when he crashed an all-terrain vehicle in the southern California desert.

“I’m in a full-time deal with a team that has a charter,” Smith said. “Tony could be out five weeks or 20 weeks. It wasn’t something I was interested in doing.”

9 a.m.

Daytona International Speedway has sold out all 101,500 seats for the season-opening Daytona 500.

All the seats are new as part of a $400 million “Daytona Rising” redevelopment project. Ticket holders will enjoy permanent and wider seats, five expanded and redesigned entrances, 40 escalators and upgraded amenities throughout the 11 football-field sized neighborhoods in the world’s first motorsports stadium.

Premium hospitality, infield admissions and FanZone access still remain for Sunday’s race.

8:30 a.m.

Daytona 500 media day has begun, with defending race winner Joey Logano starting the morning session talking about trying to repeat at NASCAR’s most famous track.

The last driver to win back-to-back Daytona 500s was Sterling Marlin in 1994-95.

Logano will try to break the 20-plus-year drought Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. But he has stopped short of trying to do everything the same this week as he did a year ago.

Says Logano: “I’ve tried that stuff before because you try anything to win a race. It doesn’t work. And it’s kind of disgusting if you start wearing the same underwear. It’s kind of gets nasty pretty quick.”

His main focus is on finding more speed. The Joe Gibbs Racing team was dominant in the Sprint Unlimited and stout in pole qualifying. JGR’s Denny Hamlin won the exhibition opener, and teammate Matt Kenseth qualified on the outside of the front row. Each of Gibbs’ four Toyotas qualified in the top 10.

Logano, who drives a Ford for Team Penske, says the Gibbs cars were impressive the other night.

He adds: “We were pretty good in the Unlimited as well. … But I thought there were certain scenarios that I thought the Toyotas could do some pretty remarkable moves that we couldn’t do, so we want to get better in those areas.”

Jenna Fryer

AP Auto Racing Writer

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