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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.

Ryan: What we learned about the 2020 schedule, Drivers Council and dirt racing on Daytona 500 Media Day

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The moods were pleasant. The quotes were incisive. The topics were lively.

On the hypothetical Richter scale that monitors “How is NASCAR doing entering a pivotal 2019 season?”, Daytona 500 Media Day registers barely a tremor for its tenor and ultimate significance.

It’s intriguing to absorb the musings of every driver in the Cup Series on myriad subjects, but the reverberations are inherently limited.

The overarching storylines of Speedweeks 2019 will be determined by the quality of racing over the next four days – and after a lackluster Clash, there is a desperately gaping void in the action at Daytona International Speedway and many questions about whether the swan song for the restrictor-plate package can fill it.

Yet during seven hours of nonstop interviews in the Daytona 500 Club, NASCAR Nation still seemed in a good place Wednesday.

Before the green flag falls on tonight’s qualifying races, here are five takeaways from Daytona 500 Media Day.

–Schedule speculation: Aside from Clint Bowyer’s controversial hot take on the family dynamics of Disney World, one of Wednesday’s biggest social media firestorms emerged from Denny Hamlin’s pointed comments on whether NASCAR should consider shorter races.

Hamlin is one of many drivers willing to discuss it, which says that NASCAR likely is moving down that road as it hashes out the 2020 schedule that is expected to look much different than 2019.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps shed more light on it during a SiriusXM interview Wednesday morning, suggesting the ’21 schedule will have more impact as far as new tracks, but next year will bring some significant changes (namely, that the Daytona 500 might not open the season, which is probably why the proposed elimination of the Clash is being floated more publicly).

“We’re not going to make everyone happy, but we’re looking at what (fans) want,” Phelps said. “We’ve heard from the fans, ‘Hey it would be great to have more short tracks, more road courses.’ Those types of racetracks, they believe they’re seeing the best racing. When we look at ’21 and beyond, those are things we’re taking into consideration. I try to tease this a little bit, but I think we’ll have meaningful changes even in ’20 and then more meaningful changes in ’21.”

NASCAR is limited on switching up venues in ’20 because it marks the end of the five-year sanction agreements with all tracks on the Cup circuit. “So we are going to be running the same places,” Phelps said. “The question is, are we going to have them in the same order? When we start, when we finish the season. Those are all things we’re looking at.”

–A new car: The chatter is growing about the Gen 7 car in recent weeks with manufacturers and NASCAR confident of putting the new model on track by the 2021 season.

That timeline seems ambitious to Kyle Busch, who revealed why with another nugget: The Gen 7 might have an independent rear suspension, which is common to many motorsports series but would mark a radical departure for NASCAR. “That would be a complete overhaul of anything we’ve ever done in our sport,” Busch said. “I’m not sure where all that lands.”

Neither does Brad Keselowski, who has elected to refrain from getting involved even though it seems right up his alley. “It is going to require a lot of creative thinking,” the Team Penske driver said. “When it comes to those things, I can pie-in-the-sky dream about it all I want, but at the end of the day I don’t have the knobs. There is one group holding the controls and it is all up to them at the end of the day which way they want to twist and turn them. I made a concerted effort going forward that I am not going to put that much thought into that stuff and let them figure it out.”

–Is the Drivers Council dead? So if the outspoken Keselowski is pulling back on being opinionated, does that mean stars are willing to acquiesce to the whims of the new Jim France-Phelps regime?

Speedweeks usually marked the annual formation of the Drivers Council since its inception in 2015, but there was no confirmation Wednesday. Instead, there was uncertainty about the panel’s future that had begun last month.

Will the Drivers Council remain, or is it still even necessary?

Opinions were mostly ambivalent, but there seems a sentiment that it has outlived its usefulness. “We had the Drivers Council and we all wanted one thing and they did another,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “I think that’s probably where some of the frustration comes from. For me, it was the things we wanted to do never happened, and it was more out of frustration than anything.”

Much of this undoubtedly stems from a greater comfort with the leadership of Jim France, who has been a garage fixture since becoming CEO last August. After France met with series champions last fall, Kurt Busch said he was inspired to start a ticket giveaway to veterans this year.

“Jim has done a tremendous job of at least being around,” Kyle Busch said. “He’s always carrying a pen. He’s always carrying a notebook. He’s always taking notes. He’s always listening to people, talking to people. He’s down in the trenches.

“He’s figuring it all out and trying to make some moves for the betterment of the sport, and that’s what we all want. We want somebody involved. That’s into this as much as we’re all into this and care about all of this.”

–Things are cool with Kyle: He finished second in the 2017 Daytona 500, but Kyle Larson’s most memorable connection to The Great American Race might be when he said he’d rather win the Chili Bowl.

That viewpoint naturally didn’t sit well with some NASCAR officials (as well as some veteran drivers), who relayed their concerns through Chip Ganassi Racing PR rep Davis Shaefer (“They make Davis the bad guy,” Larson said with a chuckle.”).

But the message being sent now is that Larson’s moonlighting on dirt tracks a couple dozen times annually is approved – and actually encouraged. Phelps made the point again during the SiriusXM interview when asked about how young drivers help promote racing, noting that “there’s not a vehicle (Larson) doesn’t want to climb in and compete, and people love that about him.”

“I’m just glad (NASCAR officials) feel the same way, finally,” Larson said. “I don’t really feel like I felt that from them for a long time, so it’s nice that they support all the extra racing that I do now.

“Do I do it to help grow the sport or all that? I don’t really think about when I’m off at a dirt track or any of that, I’m not thinking about just trying to help motorsports, grow motorsports. I love motorsports. So that’s why I do it. But it is neat that I feel like I do make an impact just a little bit. And it’s not just me. There’s a lot of other guys – Christopher Bell, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, (Ricky) Stenhouse – they have their own teams. I feel like we all do a good job of cross promoting between sprint cars or dirt track racing in NASCAR.”

Just as with the news of their dissatisfaction, NASCAR officials didn’t directly convey the change in their stance. “I’ve never talked to them really about it,” he said. “I’ve just seen articles and heard stuff of what they’ve said. It’s neat that they support it now. Because I didn’t feel like I got the support before. I feel like I was always in trouble for anytime I talked about sprint car racing.”

It was hard to miss the message sent when Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell led a delegation of high-ranking competition officials to the 2019 Chili Bowl last month (there was no formal meeting with Larson there, either).

“That was really cool,” Larson said. “Because the Chili Bowl has gotten a lot of exposure the last handful of years, so for them to go there and just experience the event and maybe see why it’s growing and maybe there are some things that they can take from an event like that into NASCAR is cool. They’re just looking at all areas to try to make our sport back to what it used to be — NASCAR, anyway. I’m happy they are getting into it again.”

–Lingering Daytona bitterness: It’s no secret there are several big-name drivers who have yet to win the Daytona 500 (and always have been), starting with best-in-class plate driver Brad Keselowski.

And unsurprisingly, those champions remain irked by their near-misses.

For Keselowski, Daytona “is frustrating as hell … especially when you get wrecked out, and there is nothing you can do about it.” Twice last season at Daytona, the 2012 series champion was caught in wrecks near the front of the pack because of what he felt were “bad, juvenile moves” by others.

“It seems like there are a number of people that get into the top two or three that really just have no clue what they are doing,” he said. “That has been unfortunate, but it is what has been happening lately. … Just people that throw blocks that don’t understand the runs or what is around them. They don’t have full situational or spacial awareness, but they think they do, which is even more dangerous. You can block if you know what you are doing but not every move can be blocked. You have a handful of people that have cars good enough to run up front and think that they can block every move and you can’t.”

For Truex, it’s the 2016 Daytona 500 that he lost to Denny Hamlin by 0.10 seconds in the race’s closest finish ever. “To know we were that close — as close as anyone has ever been without winning it — it’s crazy,” Truex said with a laugh. “That makes me angry.”

Could he have done anything differently to win? Truex says yes. “I would have just ran into Denny and pushed him up the track. Do what everybody does to me!”

For Kyle Busch, there is disappointment but less agony because there are “only been two opportunities that I feel like slipped away: ’08. And ’16. I was fast in ’07. We should have finished third behind Harvick and Martin, but I crashed and destroyed the field coming to the checkered.

“Yeah, I could have won two of them. Not all that many when you look at it. We just keep trying, keep fighting. It definitely sets the motivation to try to get one.”

Paul Menard ‘moving on’ from incident with Jimmie Johnson

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard talked Wednesday about their contact at the end of last weekend’s Clash and Menard says he’s “moving on.”

The two cars made contact as Johnson attempted to pass. The contact sent Menard’s car into the wall, triggering a 17-car crash, while Johnson went on to win the rain-shortened race.

“It is what it is,” Menard said Wednesday at Daytona 500 Media Day. “I felt like I was holding the wheel as good as I could and I thought being up front was probably a pretty safe place. Jimmie did what he did to try to win. It was not intentional. Maybe I moved down a little bit, I don’t know. There was no room for error and two cars collided.

“What’s done is done. We’re not looking in the rearview mirror on that one. Just moving on.”

Said Johnson of their conversation:  “It was great to have that conversation and talk to him. He knew then and he knows after our phone call that it wasn’t intentional. Looking back, I could have given him a few more inches. That way when he came down, there was a bit more margin for error between us.

“There’s always lessons to learn, going back on the tape and talking to someone about those things. I think where he and I stand, sure he wasn’t happy after the race with that, but he knew that wasn’t intentional and it was more of a racing thing than anything.”

Johnson was second to Menard and went to the inside to pass. Johnson moved his car close to the left rear of Menard’s car to side draft Menard and slow him. The cars then made contact.

“I didn’t think (Kurt Busch in third place) was going to go with (Johnson) because Kurt was sucking back up to me,” Menard said. “I was kind of like, go for it, see what (Johnson) could do. I wasn’t going to give up the outside.”

Johnson said he made his move knowing the rain was coming and the race would end soon.

“It really was a racing incident,” Johnson said. “I guess if there were two or three more inches in there when he made his move to kind of try to block, there would have been a couple of inches between us. At 200 miles an hour, in the draft, racing for a win, I saw the rain, I knew the rain was coming. I knew we were on the white-flag lap. I’m paid to be out there and be aggressive.

“If we just bump and nobody gets turned around (then) it’s the most the exciting finish we’ve had in the Clash in however long. But, unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way and a lot of cars were torn up.”

Johnson reached out to Menard earlier in the week to talk but Menard was with his family at Disney World, leading to Wednesday’s call.