The 60th Daytona 500 is Sunday, and at Daytona 500 Media Day on Wednesday, there were storylines abound. From Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the future of NASCAR, here were some of the day’s more interesting points:
▪ Does the current era represent the most upheaval NASCAR has seen in decades? It’s a fair question, and one that 17-year veteran Jimmie Johnson was particularly vocal about. Johnson mentioned the turnover at Hendrick Motorsports, where Alex Bowman and William Byron replaced Kasey Kahne and Earnhardt as Johnson’s teammates, but also the overall departure of longtime drivers from the sport and multiple significant rule changes.
“From where I’m sitting, I’ve never seen so much change,” Johnson said. “Maybe the fans won’t have a great sense of that, but our environment has changed dramatically.”
▪ While many harped on the idea that Earnhardt, the 15-time winner of the sport’s Most Popular Driver award, isn’t racing anymore, Brad Keselowski took a step back to evaluate the situation. While he said Earnhardt will certainly be missed, he said the sport has to go on.
“This sport has always been bigger than one person,” Keselowski said. “He’s a big part of that group, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot of things going on in this sport every day. ... It may be a little bit harder with Dale not being around, but this sport will still go on and be OK.”
▪ NASCAR’s marketing executives have been criticized for promoting younger drivers instead of veterans, and the topic was still hot on Wednesday.
The consensus? Many older drivers, including Kevin Harvick, acknowledged that while younger drivers are the future of the sport and need to be groomed, there still needs to be a balance between younger drivers learning and older ones teaching them.
▪ ▪ Kyle Larson was a championship favorite for most of last season until an unexpected blow-up at Kansas cost him his season. So, does Larson still think about the way that all went down?
“I don’t think about it at all,” Larson said. “I’m pretty good at forgetting things, I guess, in a good way. I mean, honestly, I was bummed out after Kansas – still am, if I think about it, but I don’t think about it, so I don’t get too bummed out.”
▪ Reigning Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. has had his time stretched this offseason, but one of the highlights was attending his first Super Bowl earlier in February. He gets bonus points since his hometown team, the Philadelphia Eagles, won their first Super Bowl, too.
▪ Charlotte native William Byron, who will be racing in his first Daytona 500 on Sunday as a Cup Series rookie, said he’s still adjusting to the fame that comes with being a top-level driver. That starts with being recognized, like what happened to Byron Tuesday night on a trip to a Florida steakhouse.
“I went out to eat last night and I got stopped by four or five people in the restaurant,” Byron said. “That was so different, knowing that people were knowing what we were doing.”