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Friday 5: Racer shares his struggles with depression, anxiety

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The challenge to race hasn’t always been about sponsorship and equipment for Cody Ware.

The 23-year-old suffers from depression and anxiety.

He wrote in a Facebook post last year that when he took a hiatus from racing and went back to school in 2015, his struggles got “so bad that I actually tried to kill myself.”

As Ware prepares to start his first Daytona 500 on Sunday, starting 37th for his family’s team, he is speaking about the mental health struggles he’s faced..

“I think most of my day-to-day struggles come internally,” he said. “The biggest step for me making the plunge into full-time Cup racing was to make sure I could mentally and emotionally handle it. Being on medication every day, it’s a constant struggle between fears and doubts and uncertainty, always kind of wondering to myself if I could get through a full 36-race season in Cup. I feel like with friends and family on board … I think with all that, it will be a good experience.

“This isn’t my story, this is a story that needs to be talked about for everybody. This is an issue that I think is way more prevalent in the country that is not discussed at all. I think that the more people have a voice and use their voice to talk about mental health and the stigma around it, that will help more people than I can even imagine. Even if all I’m doing is starting a conversation, then I’m accomplishing what I want to do.”

Ware follows a number of athletes and former athletes who have spoken about mental health struggles. NBA player DeMar DeRozan opened up about his struggles with depression and anxiety in February 2017, telling the Toronto Star: “It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day.”

Shortly after that, NBA player Kevin Love wrote in The Players’ Tribune about a panic attack he had during a game in 2017 and how therapy sessions have helped him. “Everyone is going through something that we can’t see,” he wrote.

Last August during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech, Brian Dawkins detailed his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts he had early in his NFL career.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness — more than 40 million people. Young adults age 18-25 years have the highest prevalence of a mental illness compared to adults 26-49 years and those age 50 and older.

Ware says he was about 17 years old when he acknowledged “that I had a problem” but it wasn’t until a few years later that he said he “started actually trying to fix the problem.

“That’s kind of been the big part for me the last few years, making the conscious effort to keep fighting that fight,” he said. “It’s not something that I can just take some medication and be done with it. It’s a battle every morning when I wake up to really deal with those problems.”

He acknowledges setbacks he’s had.

“Back in 2017, I had a few issues on social media where I said and did some things that I should not have and that obviously, as it should, caused a lot of backlash on myself personally,” said Ware, who accused a fellow racer of infidelity after a disagreement over who was responsible for a crash.

“I think hitting rock bottom (after that) was the best thing that happened to me because that really gave me the wake-up call of ‘hey, this is only going to get worse, and you’re never going to come back from it unless you do something about it right now.’ That really set the stage where I’m still having to deal with a lot of that now. I own it, and I accept it and all I can do now is show that I’m making an effort to improve myself and also talk about my story.”

2. Dueling takeaways

With 21 cars per race and the inability for cars to build momentum in the bottom lane, much of the field ran single-file in both qualifying races Thursday night.

Competitors say they don’t anticipate that being as prevalent in Sunday’s Daytona 500 with a 40-car field (provided several cars are not eliminated by an accident or multiple accidents).

One driver who tried to do something in Thursday’s second qualifying race was Chase Elliott. In the final 10 laps, he often went to the bottom lane by himself and attempted to pass a car and move back to the high line. He climbed from 10th to sixth late but when he tried doing the same thing to take fifth, he lost momentum and fell back, finishing eighth.

“If they’re going to ride around the top all day long, I’ll be happy to try the bottom, at least make something for the great people that are watching up here in the stands,” Elliott said afterward.

The biggest move was Joey Logano’s maneuver from fourth to first on the final lap. He got a great push by teammate Ryan Blaney, giving Logano the momentum to go to the bottom. Blaney followed. The top three — Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola were not aligned as tight on the high line.

Logano side drafted Almirola, stalling him and still had the momentum with Blaney behind him to shoot into the lead.

“I knew I wanted to do it into (Turn 1), so I went for it,” Logano said of his winning move. “You kind of cross your fingers, hope it was good enough to break that plane where (Bowyer) couldn’t pull me back in the side draft. I was able to break that plane, come on up.

“That was a big moment once I was able to clear him. I didn’t want to get that far ahead, but I was. Being two‑wide didn’t give Bowyer a good enough run to get back to me.”

As for the single-file racing throughout the Duels, Logano said:

“It’s all driver mentality, right? It’s what everyone is thinking. I think what kind of leads the top to be strong is a few different things. 

“I think one of it is the side draft is more effective to the right side of a car. You’re able to slow down a car more from being on the right side than you can the left side. A lot of it is because of the shark fins. That’s just a theory in my mind. Seems like that is how that works.

Once that is in a driver’s head that the bottom is not going to work, you have five guys that think that, when they get to the lead they move to the wall, at that point the wall is going to be the fastest way around. It’s the best way to defend the lead.  You see those cars go up there.

I personally don’t think the bottom is that bad. When you can only get two, three, maybe five cars with you, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to do it. You have to have six, seven cars that are really committed to each other.”

3. No change needed

A question that has come up this week is if NASCAR needs to do something to help the stability of the cars to give drivers more confidence at Daytona.

Denny Hamlin said nothing needs to be changed.

“I think the cars are plenty stable and really more stable than I’ve felt them, especially when I kind of think back 10 or 15 years ago,” he said after finishing fourth in the second qualifying race Thursday. “These cars drive way better. If there’s mistakes made, it’s usually drivers, not the air or the car that’s making those mistakes.”

4. Axe the All-Star Race also?

Kevin Harvick said this week that the Clash should be eliminated — possibly foreshadowing that the Daytona 500 might not open the season in the future.

Harvick notes the cars crashed in the Clash and the payout from the race and questions the value to teams. He’s right. The Clash should go. In the last eight years, 70 percent of the cars in that event were involved in a crash. Sunday, 17 of the 20 cars were involved in the last accident before the rain came.

But why stop with the Clash? As NASCAR looks to make changes to the schedule, why not get rid of the All-Star Race? It’s a non-points event like the Clash. Eliminate both and NASCAR can tighten the schedule.

Harvick, though, says the All-Star Race should say.

“I still think that we have to have a weekend where we can show off as a sport,” Harvick said of keeping the All-Star Race. “That is really, when you look at the All-Star events, it needs to be something to where we can go to a city and have them embrace the All-Star event so you have pit stop competitions and unique parties.

“You go to a place like Nashville and have an All-Star race, you don’t have to make up formats because you are going to have a heck of a race with a great atmosphere and a market that you can have all kinds of events and excitement and enthusiasm.

“I went to the Super Bowl this year. You look at the Super Bowl and it doesn’t look like our Daytona 500. There is not as much going on here as there was there. When you look at the All-Star race and the (NBA) All-Star event that will be in Charlotte this weekend, their All-Star events move around, the Super Bowl moves around. You get enthusiasm from not doing the same thing over and over and over.”

As for the idea of an event at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, Speedway Motorsports Inc. and the group that promotes racing at Nashville Fairgrounds are working on a proposal to present to the city to upgrade the track for future NASCAR events.

5. One that got away

For as much as drivers celebrate their wins, they remember the defeats as much, if not more.

For 2017 Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, he thinks back to the 2005 season-opening race as one that got away.

I wanted to make a move on Jeff Gordon on the back straightaway on the last lap,” Busch said. “As I went to look out to make the pass, because I had a good run from the guys behind me, it was a line of Chevys. I was in a Ford that year. It was Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. behind me and I think it was Jeff Burton and a line of guys were ready to go with Dale Jr. I was going to get hung out to dry.

“I came back to second. That one stayed with me for a while.”

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What Drivers Said after Daytona Qualifying Duels

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Duel No. 1

Kevin Harvick — winner: “It handled good when we were behind cars. Last week taught us that we needed to have track position. They did a good job on pit road and got on and off pit road and then we had a couple Ford Mustangs behind us as well. Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and Paul (Menard) worked with us and we were able to keep the track position and our cars were fast enough together to keep everyone else back there. I am really proud of everybody on our Busch Beer Ford Mustang. It is a great way to get Mustang into victory lane. I think that low line is going to come into play on Sunday just because when you get all the cars out there we won’t have as big a discrepancy in the speed of the lines. Once we get all the cars out there you will have a lot tougher time guarding the bottom.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 2nd: “That was a great start for the Mustang, finishing 1-2-3 there. I was just talking to Paul (Menard) and I spent the last 25 laps just trying to figure out how to time it right where I could get a run on Kevin (Harvick) and just couldn’t seem to time it. We didn’t have as many cars out here tonight as we will have come Sunday. All in all a really good strong night for us. We wanted to be in victory lane but we learned a lot and I think we can make our car better. It was handling a little bad there in the middle part of the race – a little loose. When I restarted on the bottom I felt I could be aggressive with it and that gives me confidence for Sunday.”

Paul Menard — finished: 3rd: “We really had a bunch of fast Fords up front, and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang was really good. Ricky [Stenhouse] and I had some fun at the end there. He came over after the race and we were trying to figure out if we should have gone earlier, later, whatever else might’ve worked. I was faster than him through the trioval, he had me by a bit down the back… at the end I had a little run and I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep tonight if I didn’t try at least something there.”

Matt DiBenedetto — finished 4th: “I learned a ton, so that was good for us and finished fourth. A good way to start the year. We just raced hard and didn’t make any crazy moves – just smart, decisive moves and that’s kind of what picked up spots at the end and got us to fourth.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished 5th: “Just getting a feel for our Camry – you know what it does well, what it needs to do better. I feel like we have really good speed in it. I feel like we need to handle a little bit better, especially looking at Sunday, it’s going to be 80 degrees. Tonight, is a night race and we still could have handled better, so I think we learned plenty of things that we can work on the next two days and we’ll see what we can do with it. I’m thankful that we get to hopefully race this car Sunday. We really wanted to get through tonight unscathed and we did that. I feel like we probably should have finished third or fourth – a little bit undecisive on that last move when they got side-by-side going into (Turn) 3. I wasn’t sure which way to go and I probably picked the wrong lane, but like I said, we were just looking to get out of here clean and take this car on to Sunday.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 6th: “Got to do something. I hate riding around. I am not a fan of riding around the top. It’s like everybody knows if more cars go to the bottom we can race on the bottom, but it’s just where momentum takes us with the aero package we’ve got now. I was trying to just learn. Last year it was all just stay in line and ride and I’m not saying I’m over that, but I’ve got to learn at some point. I’ve got to have the guys, the veterans, behind me saying well he made that move in the duel so maybe he’s got a little bit more confidence. Just trying to build that. It’s always a learning game, it’s always a guessing game who is going to go, who is going to go where, but our AfterShokz Chevy was okay.”

Jimmie Johnson — finished 8th: “Yeah, I just got it wrong. Clearly. We got three wide and I just kind of misjudged that situation in being three wide and trying to tuck in behind Kyle. Unfortunately, just turned him around. Apologies to he and his team and I know that is not what they wanted with their 500 car, but I just got it wrong there.”

Ryan Newman — finished: 9th: “I thought we had a good Mustang. We need to work on it a little bit and get some more raw speed in it. Our Oscar Mayer Ford performed good strategy and executed well in the pits. We had a shot of maybe being in the top-five but I was conservative with it that last lap and didn’t feel the need to be crazy. It is a better start to the Daytona 500 than what we qualified with for the Duels. It is a good improvement and we will keep trying to improve on it.”

Ryan Preece — finished 10th: “I felt like I was patient the entire race. I just at the end… I could have been conservative. I wanted to win, but at the same time I just wanted to make a move. I was expecting… I kept trying to get that run and time it and going into (Turn) 1 I was kind of expecting and hoping that two or three more would have done it too and when I went no one went so I was the odd man out and that is what it is.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 11th: “I feel like our Mustang has good speed. It is a little different than our Clash car and we will work on it and try to tune up for Sunday. It was okay in traffic. I feel like we need to make a couple adjustments with the handling of the car to be able to be a little bit better. We just have to keep working on it. It was the very first time I have been in the draft with this race car, so we have to work on that a little bit.”

Parker Kligerman — finished 12th: “I mean, first of all I’ve got to thank Kyle Busch, a Toyota teammate. When he back out of the draft that is what it took. If we didn’t have him and all of that TRD power working together there’s no way I would’ve been able to pass Tyler Reddick. Ryan Truex, man I hate it for him. He put up a heck of a fight. It was so weird that we came out of pit lane together and we were drafting together, and I was like, ‘I mean, of all things.’ Us two just locked together. We have been our whole career. This is awesome. This is an amazing feeling for how hard everyone has worked to put this Toyota in the race, but its bittersweet knowing that he’s out. He’s a good friend of mine and I really think he’s one of the most underrated drivers in the sport so I really hope he can find a way in.”

Ryan Truex — finished 14th: “(Martin Truex Jr.)  just asked me what happened. He said when we came off pit road, he saw me and the No. 96 were with each other the entire race, me and Parker (Klingerman). Just yeah, we got on our own and when you are three cars riding around like that you can’t create a pass. The No. 96 was able to create a huge run by backing up to the No. 18 and that was that. There was not much I could do about it.”

William Byron — finished 16th: “We raced for a while there. I thought we learned a little something towards the beginning of the race with leading and how our car was going to be. And then we were able to make some moves that were pretty good. After that restart we got in a huge hornet’s nest and we were on the bottom of three- wide, so we just bailed on that. Overall, it was good. Pretty happy with it. It was mission accomplished for us so far.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 20th: “Looks like just a discrepancy over what the rules are and we got the bad end of it tonight. It is what it is. We will start the Daytona 500 from the back and have to go from there. The good news is that Daytona is a place where you can move up. It is just going to take us awhile to get there.”

Duel No. 2

Joey Logano — winner: “You have the whole race to think about making a move and we were all out there just waiting. Everyone behind me really wanted to go and I just knew that I had to wait. The later you can do it, the less the risk if it doesn’t work. I got a good run from the 12 (Ryan Blaney) behind me and went to the bottom and got a good run. Was able to side draft the 10 (Aric Almirola) and pull him back and just barely get enough to break that plane in front of the 14 (Clint Bowyer) and clear him up. From there I was just blocking to the finish like. My spotter TJ (Majors) did a great job feeding me all the information I needed to make a decision.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 2nd: “I guess I could have gone down there and blocked a little bit but when you are leading the train like you can’t see the runs that are coming behind you. All you can do is hear your spotter telling you that they are coming but I can’t tell if he pulls out how fast they are coming or anything else. They came with a big run and by the time he got to me, I could have gone down there and blocked it and gotten myself wrecked. It was just one of those things. I thought we would still be able to connect and get back up through ‘em. It is what it is. We will start up front for the 500 which is the goal and the car is still in one piece. The Mustangs are fast. That is two Mustangs winning both Duels and we did all the right things.

Denny Hamlin — finished 4th: “I mean guys just don’t want to race until the end. There’s just nothing rewarding until the end. Short of giving us points every 10 laps, this is going to be a lot of what you see on superspeedway races simply because guys just want to get to the end. Knowing it’s 500 miles, there is no reward for running the first 150 miles aggressively.”

Kurt Busch — finished 5th: “We need heat, we need daytime and we need handling to come into play. Right now, everybody is just doing fuel only and the cars are driving pretty easy. With the handling, the draft is still very unstable, so we will see how it plays out.””

Ryan Blaney — finished 6th: “We were all just kind of hanging out, riding around. I got passed by a couple of cars on that pit stop. Riding in fifth behind Joey [Logano] and we were just waiting to make our move, didn’t really know what anyone else was going to do and I didn’t want to dump him. We waited until last lap entry to Turn 1 and I was able to push him from fourth all the way to the lead… bad thing was just that I had no one behind me. I almost got to third but the 11 (Denny Hamlin) stopped me… just so easy to stop cars to the right, at the top. If I would’ve had a push I probably could’ve gotten it done. People don’t want to just watch that train up at the top, so now that we’re through the Duels I’m hoping for some side-by-side racing in the 500.”

Chase Elliott — finished 8th: “Yeah it was hard (to make moves). Certainly, was very doable. Really hard to do, but you could make your way forward, I think, with it like that. Luckily, Joey (Logano) was far enough up where he could time it to get all the way to the lead. He did a really good job of that and yeah, I just couldn’t get far enough up to the front.”

Ty Dillon — finished 10th: “My GEICO Camaro ZL1 was dialed in tonight. It handles incredibly well in the draft, and I was able to move around pretty easily when I wanted to try the bottom lane. I love that handling is a thing we can talk about at Daytona now with this new package. It really fits my aggressive driving style. After tonight, I am more than ready to get to Sunday to show everyone what this machine can do.”

Alex Bowman — finished 13th: “I mean I would have liked to have raced a little more, but just kind of got in a bad box there. When we were going around those lap cars, I got stuck on the bottom of three-wide and I was going to be at the back of the group running anyway. The blue oval gang (Ford) did a little better job on and off of pit road than we did. That was frustrating because I think we were on both sides of the strategy between the first and second Duel and they did a better job both times. That is frustrating. We’ve got to get that part of it together if we are going to go beat them, but it’s good to have the car in one piece and the No. 88 Nationwide Camaro was pretty good.”

Brendan Gaughan — finished 15th: “I always come off as a class clown, but I haven’t been that nervous in a long time getting behind the wheel of a race car. The Beard family put so much into this and we come here to run very well; not run like that. You’ve got to have discretion of valor, you’ve got to make do with what you have to make do with. I had to change strategies on the fly. Darren Shaw, my crew chief, and Ron Lewis, my spotter did a great job. Thank you, Corey LaJoie. He just kind of stuck right in there with us on that pit stop and that’s what got us in this position; so, thank you, guys. We’ll see you at the Daytona 500!”

Joey Logano wins second Daytona 500 qualifying race with last-lap pass

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Joey Logano won Thursday’s second Daytona 500 qualifying duel after he passed three cars on the last lap.

Logano was fourth when the final lap began and passed leader Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin on the inside entering Turn 1.

The top five was completed by Logano, Bowyer, Almirola, Hamlin and Kurt Busch.

“You have the whole race to think about a move when we’re all out there just waiting, waiting and waiting,” Logano told Fox Sports 1. “There’s a lot of anxiousness behind me, everyone was really wanting to go. I just thought, ‘Man, I just gotta wait, gotta wait.’ The later you do it the less the risk if it doesn’t work.”

Bowyer led 41 of 60 laps in the caution-free race that was mostly ran single file in the outside lane.

“At the end of the day when you’re leading that chain like that you can’t see the runs that are coming behind you,” Bowyer told FS1. “I can’t tell until he pulls out how fast they’re coming or anything else.”

Brendan Gaughan raced his way into the Daytona 500.

Kevin Harvick won the first qualifying duel.

Click here for result for Duel No. 2

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Aric Almirola (third) earned his best result in a Daytona 500 qualifying race in his ninth start.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Erik Jones finished 14th after he was penalized for speeding on pit road … Joey Gase failed to qualify for the Daytona 500.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “I haven’t been this nervous since I was a rookie in the Winston West Series.” – Brendan Gaughan after he raced his way into the Daytona 500.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 2: “I was leading the race and I didn’t like that.” – Clint Bowyer on the single-file racing for most of the race.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Daytona 500 at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday on Fox.

Kyle Busch opens season atop NBC Sports Power Rankings

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NBC Sports kicks off a new weekly feature today with Power Rankings. The NASCAR Talk staff has come together to give its take on who’s hot, warm and even lukewarm.

Power Rankings will appear each Wednesday morning. Also on Wednesdays, the NASCAR America analysts will dissect the rankings and give their own takes.

Any driver in the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series is eligible for these rankings.

Kyle Busch is at the top of the first edition of Power Rankings, just in time for Sunday’s Daytona 500:

1. Kyle Busch: Comes into the season with the most Cup wins in the last four years

2. Jimmie Johnson: Speedweeks 2019 couldn’t have started any better.

3. Brad Keselowski (tie): He was dicing with Menard for a while in the Clash and remains an odds-on favorite for Sunday

3. Joey Logano (tie): His title defense started without a major crash, which is more than can be said for many contenders

5. Kurt Busch: Among the strongest Chevrolets and seems to be blending well into Chip Ganassi Racing

6. Kevin Harvick: Should have most Cup wins last four years, but has left several wins on the table

7. Paul Menard: The Clash didn’t end the way he wanted, but Wood Brothers Racing can now be considered a Daytona 500 favorite

8. Martin Truex Jr. (tie): New team, same results. See ya in Victory Lane several times in 2019

8. William Byron (tie): Chad Knaus got him the Daytona 500 pole. Can he now get Byron the win on Sunday?

10. Chase Elliott: Can he and Johnson lead a Hendrick juggernaut in the 500 like they did in qualifying?

Others receiving votes: Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin and Brett Moffitt.

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Jimmie Johnson wins rain-shortened Clash after contact with Paul Menard

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Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash wound up being more of a crash, as a massive wreck occurred on Lap 55 of the scheduled 75-lap race at Daytona International Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson, who was one of the original cars involved in the crash, was awarded the win after heavy rain came down four laps later while the race was put under caution, and then prompted NASCAR officials to end the race 16 laps short of the scheduled 75 laps.

More than half of the 20 cars in the field were involved.

Among other cars involved were Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.

The wreck began when race leader Paul Menard appeared to slightly move down the track and into the car of Johnson, who was running second at the time.

The two made contact, with Johnson tagging the left rear of Menard’s car, sending Menard hard to the right and toward the outside retaining wall, with numerous cars being collected in the resulting mayhem.

MORE: What drivers said after the Clash at Daytona.

“I moved down a little bit and the next thing I knew, I was getting turned in the left rear,” Menard told Fox Sports 1. “We tore up the car for no good reason. … It sucks that aggressive side drafting caused that big old crash.”

Johnson told FS1, “We could see (the rain) coming, I got below him before he blocked. I think he came down a little bit to defend and block. I moved inside of him … and he just came over. I feel sorry for Paul and other teams that lost race cars, but I’m here to win races.”

At the time of the incident, Menard had led 51 of the first 55 laps.

“It feels good to be back in victory lane,” Johnson said. “I’m extremely excited to win. It’s not a points race, but it’s a good start.”

Ironically, Johnson won with new crew chief Kevin Meendering, while Johnson’s former crew chief, Chad Knaus, led William Byron earlier in the day to win the pole position for next Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Click here for the Clash race results.

The race was delayed three times due to rain, with the third time bringing about the end of the event.

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