NASCAR Media Day Kicks Off Speedweeks 2014

Daytona Beach, FL – To kickoff Speedweeks at Daytona each year, NASCAR drivers meet with the media in a well-organized day-long session at the Daytona International Speedway.  Led by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, some five dozen drivers assembled in uniform to be interviewed by print, radio and television media during the fast-paced program.

One of the many highlights was the presence of the drivers vying for the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year crown.  Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon are considered the favorites but six others, including Parker Kligerman, Justin Allgaier, Alex Bowman, Cole Whitt, and Michael Annett, are in the running, making the field the largest in several years.  Adverse weather in North Carolina prevented Ryan Truex from attending.

A year ago, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick competed for the crown with the former readily taking the honors.

Fast forwarding to this year, Patrick once again was in the limelight due to the adverse comments made about her by Richard Petty.  While at the Canadian Motorsports Expo last weekend, Petty was asked if he thought Patrick would ever win a race, and he said, “(Only) if everybody else stayed home.”

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinions,” Patrick said without hesitating “People are going to judge what he said whether they judge it well or not, and I am just not going to.  It is what it is, and it is about my belief that everyone can have their own opinion.  It has nothing to do with where it comes from to me.  The people that matter to me are my team, my sponsors and those three-year old kids that want a big hug and say they want to grow up to be just like you.  That’s the stuff that I really focus on.”

She added she has no plans to meet with Petty.  “I will not seek him out.  It really doesn’t matter,” she said.  “It is interesting conversation, and I am fortunate to be in it.”

Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson garnered a crowd, as expected, and he expressed positive comments about changes in the Chase and thought more adjustments could be done, saying, “The way you win a championship is the same — you have to win races,” he said.  “(The revisions) build excitement and then there’s the elimination process.  I feel very good about it.  When we look around at sports, everything is changing.  The Olympics look far different than they used to.  The world is changing; our viewership is changing, so the sport has to change”

He also believes more changes could be done on the length and number of races.  “You can argue the first 26, and you can argue the overall premise that there’s a little too much NASCAR at times, maybe we race too many times and the races are long.  Also, there could be some format and procedure changes during the course of an event.”  He acknowledges there is a major time commitment for a race weekend, factoring in traffic and length of event, all of which affect fans.

He wondered whether there was the need to race twice a year at the same tracks, particularly when there are empty seats at each event.  He said he has friends that will come to a track once a year but not twice.

Johnson caught wind of the changes before they happened and thought other areas were going to be addressed, such as heat races preceding the main event on a given Sunday.  “I thought there was going to be a big shake-up, and I was shocked to hear the changes that were coming,” he said.

Tony Stewart looked refreshed and determined as he appeared before the media to discuss his comeback race, the Daytona 500. “I’m excited about it.  Until now, I’ve been thinking in terms of days and weeks, but now it is down to hours,” Stewart advised reporters.  “It has been a long time since August 5th (date of his sprint-car crash).”

The popular driver said he has no apprehensions about getting back into the car, indicating his team has worked tirelessly to install comfort into the car.  “We’ve tried to think of anything and everything that could be a problem in the car,” he stated, crediting the interior specialists for their work.  Also, the pedal angles in the car have been adjusted to accommodate him.  His biggest concern had been about getting in and out of the car, but that worry went away after doing so without difficulty.

New teammate Kevin Harvick had a set of knee-knockers installed in the car.  Knee-knockers are pads that hang off the steering column to keep a driver’s knees from moving around and hitting the column.  “Kevin told me it was not an option,” Stewart said.

Giving a boost to the rehab process, Stewart said his on-going therapy has been going very well.  “We have made huge gains in the last two weeks.  I don’t know how we could be prepared more than we are.”

According to Stewart, his injured leg is 65 per cent healed, and his strength and muscles are farther along.   It is projected the overall healing process will take a year to be complete.  “With the titanium rod in my leg, we have the strength needed, but the physical healing will take longer,” he stated.

While Stewart will concentrate on his Sprint Cup ride in the upcoming months, he does plan to return to sprint-car racing at some point.  “The Cup car is our priority, but as soon as it feels good enough to do the things I like to do, I am going to go do it,” he commented.  “We’ve made a lot of changes on the sprint car to make sure that never happens again.”

Lots of stories unfolded during the day-long proceedings, and to the man and woman, the drivers can’t wait for the action to start for the 2014 season.  And the motors will roar to life soon.


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