Cody Ware explains his side of bizarre pit-road crash in Daytona 500

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There were many wrecked race cars at the end of Sunday’s Daytona 500, but some were damaged in an unusual place for a restrictor-plate race — the pits.

The five-car incident occurred with 41 laps left in the midst of green-flag stops, starting as Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and B.J. McLeod made contact near the entrance to pit road.

That set off a chain reaction that collected the cars of Jimmie Johnson, Tyler Reddick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Every car except Ware’s was able to continue.

Ware, who finished 39th, took to Twitter to explain Wednesday how the wreck unfolded from his perspective in the No. 52 Chevrolet. He blamed other teams for miscommunication.

Sassy & Sweet tweets from the Daytona 500

Ryan Blaney
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After two-and-half months of buildup the Daytona 500 arrived Sunday, was slowed by two red flags and then was over, with Denny Hamlin claiming his second win in the race in overtime.

Between Lap 1 and Lap 207 a lot happened that led to celebration, reflection, anger and plenty of jokes.

That’s all wrapped up here in a collection of “Sweet and Sassy” tweets that sum up the “Great American Race.”

The Sassy

The day before the Daytona 500 Corey LaJoie went out on a limb to predict it would be a lot more eventful than Saturday’s Xfinity race.

He was right.

For most of Speedweeks there were plenty of complaints about the style of racing, with fields running single file against the wall.

Many feared the 500 would provide only more of that.

Those fears vanished when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. quickly got the bottom groove working in the opening laps as he led a line of cars to challenge the top lane.

The first caution of the race struck on Lap 50 for a six-car wreck that involved Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick, the latter who was making his first Cup start.

Reddick jabbed back at Wallace after a passive aggressive, AKA a subtweet, directed at him.

Kyle Larson had a Daytona 500 to forget. He was involved in three separate incidents inside the final 30 laps, including a spin after he cut a tire.

But in the same vain as his Charlotte Roval performance last year, Larson brought a mangled No. 42 Chevrolet home to the checkered flag, finishing seventh for his third top 10 in 11 Daytona starts.

The Sweet

Ryan Preece made his Daytona 500 debut and after having a brief shot to compete for the win in overtime before he placed eighth.

During the late stages of the race, the crowd at Daytona began a chant in support of the rookie driver.

Hamlin led a 1-2-3 finish in the 500 for Joe Gibbs Racing, the first time that’s happened in the team’s history. It came a month after the passing of J.D. Gibbs, the son of Joe Gibbs and co-founder of the team.

Customers at the Steak N’ Shake near Daytona International Speedway got a surprise Sunday night as they shared the restaurant with Joe Gibbs Racing’s celebration dinner.

Sunday also marked the first Cup race since the passing of Wood Brothers Racing co-founder Glen Wood. Ryan Blaney, who drove for the team from 2015-17, sported a special helmet in Wood’s memory. It was designed after a helmet Wood wore when he raced.

Matt DiBenedetto experienced the best race of his career, leading a race-high 49 laps before being part of a wreck on Lap 191.

But on Monday the mind of the former Joe Gibbs Racing driver was still on the team and what it was able to do to honor J.D. Gibbs.

Driver Cody Ware‘s 500 ended with a wreck 41 laps from the end of the scheduled distance. But on Monday morning Ware’s thoughts were on being able to help others after sharing his story of dealing with depression and anxiety.

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Friday 5: Racer shares his struggles with depression, anxiety

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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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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Female tire changers to appear for first time in Daytona 500

Brehanna Daniels, left, and Breanna O'Leary. Photo: NASCAR
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Sunday will be a day Brehanna Daniels and Breanna O’Leary will never forget.

Daniels and O’Leary will become the first female graduates of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program to go over the pit wall in the Daytona 500.

Both will perform tire changing duties on the Rick Ware Racing No. 52 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, driven by Cody Ware. They’ll team with tire carriers and fellow Drive for Diversity pit crew alums Brandon Banks and Phil Thomas.

“The Daytona 500 is such a huge stage and getting to share the experience with Brehanna will make it that much sweeter,” O’Leary, who made her NASCAR Cup debut at Michigan International Speedway last season, said in a media release. “We came in together, trained together and got better together – and now February 17 will be another milestone we get to share together.”

Added Daniels, “I’m really looking forward to pitting in the Daytona 500 and having my teammate alongside me. It’s incredible how far we’ve come in such a short time and I couldn’t be more excited to be back at Daytona International Speedway.”

This will be the second time Daniels and O’Leary have gone over the pit wall at Daytona. The first time they pitted together, also for Rick Ware Racing, was last July’s Coke Zero Sugar 400.

“We are proud to have these remarkable women on our team and we look forward to having them join us more throughout the 2019 season,” Rick Ware said. “Last July, Rick Ware Racing was the perfect fit for Brehanna and Breanna as the first female NASCAR Drive for Diversity tire changers to pit on the same team at the Cup level. We have always stressed our family philosophy at RWR, so we welcomed them into our family and they performed very well.”

Daniels and O’Leary were recruited to the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program by veteran pit crew coach for Rev Racing, Phil Horton. Daniels came to the program after playing Division I basketball at Norfolk State University, while O’Leary was an outfielder on the Alcorn State University softball team.

Daniels recently competed in and won on NBC’s Titan Games, hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Daniels and O’Leary have gone over the wall in over 60 races across NASCAR national series and the ARCA Menards Series.

Daniels, O’Leary, Banks and Thomas are among more than 50 graduates of the Pit Crew Development Program currently working in the NASCAR industry, including 28 pitting on NASCAR Cup teams for the 2019 season. Last February, Derrell Edwards became the first Pit Crew Development Program member to be part of a Daytona 500-winning team with winner Austin Dillon.

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Why Las Vegas test is so important

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While nearly two dozen Cup and Xfinity teams will take part in this week’s two-day test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, at least one new driver-crew chief combination is putting its significance into perspective, particularly due to the new rules package that will mark the first time teams experience the new aerodynamic and horsepower elements.

“It’s almost at the very top (of all-time tests), obviously, because this is our one chance to work on communication and the new package, and we have some new players in the shop too, engineering-wise,” Matt McCall, crew chief for Kurt Busch at Chip Ganassi Racing, told a media gathering earlier this week.

“We’ve got a lot of different stuff we need to communicate on, not just between me and Kurt, but also the team and Kurt,” McCall added. “So, it’s pretty high up there, for sure.”

Busch, who won the 2004 Cup championship, is looking forward to the test at his hometown track and to work on car-to-team on-track communication. Busch owns LVMS’ speed record of 196.328 mph (set in 2016), but given the new package’s horsepower limitations, it’s unlikely he’ll come close to that speed in the test.

“For me, it’s just to get behind the wheel and to feel the Chevrolet and feel the drivetrain and to go through a few setup changes,” Busch said. “I think the most important thing is radio communication and how we want to mock-up certain pit stop sequences for changes as we’re out on-track and just having that banter back and forth so when we roll into Daytona, we’re best prepared.

“That’s a big reason why Chip Ganassi Racing is having the No. 1 car go do this test is to work the bugs out of it and just work those sequences into how we’re going to go attack things in Daytona.”

Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials are also touting the significance of the test on Thursday and Friday, issuing a media release with this headline: “Elite drivers ready for one of the most important tests in NASCAR history.”

The data teams collect from the test will go a long way towards adapting early in the season to 1.5-mile tracks such as Atlanta Motor Speedway and LVMS, which host the second and third races of 2019 – Feb. 24 and March 3, respectively – after the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.

In addition to Busch and McCall, the Las Vegas test will also be the first on-track interaction between several other driver/crew chief combinations including Jimmie Johnson and new crew chief Kevin Meendering, Chad Knaus and William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan Newman and Scott Graves at Roush Fenway Racing.

The test will be open to fans with free admission. Also, NASCAR.com will be streaming parts of the test.

Here’s the list of drivers and teams that will be taking part in the Las Vegas test:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
0 Landon Cassill, Starcom Racing, Chevrolet
1 Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet
2 Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford
3 Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet
6 Ryan Newman, Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
13 Ty Dillon, Germain Racing, Chevrolet
14 Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford
18 Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
21 Paul Menard, Wood Brothers Racing, Ford
43 Bubba Wallace, Richard Petty Motorsports, Chevrolet
47 Ryan Preece, JTG Racing, Chevrolet
48 Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
51 Cody Ware, Rick Ware Racing, Chevrolet
95 Matt DiBenedetto, Leavine Family Racing, Toyota
Chevrolet W
heel Force car Ross Chastain, Chevrolet Racing
Ford W
heel Force car David Ragan, Ford Motor Company
Toyota W
heel Force car Drew Herring, Toyota Racing Development

NASCAR Xfinity Series
8 Zane Smith, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet
9 Noah Gragson, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet
18 Riley Herbst, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
98 Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford

Event schedule (all times Eastern Time):
Thursday, Jan. 31

11 a.m.–Practice begins; LVMS gates, grandstands and pit road (via infield tunnel) open to the public
2 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
3-4 p.m.–Driver’s lunch break, driver group interviews in media center
6 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
8 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
10 p.m.–Track secure

Friday, Feb. 1
11 a.m.–Practice begins; LVMS gates, grandstands and pit road (via infield tunnel) open to the public
Noon –Drafting practice on track
2 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
3 p.m. –Track secure

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