Media Day kicks off Daytona
AP Sports Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Snow made NASCAR drivers Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. no-shows at Daytona 500 media day.
Newman and Truex missed the kickoff to Speedweeks on Thursday because a winter storm and icy conditions affected travel in the South and East.
Newman posted a message on his Twitter page that included a photo of his snow-covered farm and several buffalo: "Stuck in NC. Headed out to check on Farm. Buffalo are happy this am."
The weather caused several other NASCAR drivers to alter travel plans to Daytona International Speedway.
David Gilliland and David Ragan were supposed to fly down Thursday morning, but instead of gambling on being able to get to the airport and take off without any delays, opted to drive Wednesday. They got on the road before the heavy stuff wreaked havoc on roadways.
"If we left probably 30 minutes later, we would have been in trouble for sure," Gilliland said. "There was a lot of stuff happening. But luckily it was all a couple of exits behind us. We saw all the ice, snow, the trees breaking while we were driving down I-77 there."
Parker Kligerman also ended up driving. But the Sprint Cup rookie made a rookie mistake by getting a late start and didn’t get to Daytona until the wee hours Thursday.
"We didn’t get out ‘til the midst of the storm," Kligerman said. "We literally hit gridlock. ... We had the car completely iced over at one point. We had to find a deicer. It was a disaster. We got stuck a couple of times. There were four or five overturned semis."
Some drivers and teams arrived in Daytona a day or two early to avoid the chaos. Six-time and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, though, decided to chance it and travel early Thursday.
He said the key was moving his private jet to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, which was better equipped to clear runways.
"The trip from the hangar to the runway was pretty exciting," Johnson said. "They hadn’t plowed any of that. I thought I was in an off-road truck for a while there, trying to get out to the runway."
Aside from travel troubles, here are five things to know about media day:
DEFENDING DANICA: Several drivers, maybe even most, defended Danica Patrick. Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty said the only way Patrick could win a Sprint Cup race is if "everybody else stayed home." Patrick refused to fire back, politely saying everyone is entitled to an opinion. Her peers were more outspoken. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. said "it was a little rough on Danica" and added that "she goes by a different set of rules because of her gender, and that’s unfortunate. It seems like she’s always having to answer to something like that, and that’s a pain in her butt. And frankly it’s just got to get old."
RETURN OF THE 3: The return of the iconic No. 3, the famed number the late Dale Earnhardt drove with Richard Childress Racing, was a hot topic. Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon, will drive the black No. 3 for RCR. Dillon handled the attention perfectly, saying "the legend of Dale has lived on for a long time and is going to continue to live on forever. Dale Earnhardt is not just famous because of the number." Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father died after crashing on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, said he’s "quite comfortable with how it’s going down and I’m glad it’s back."
STEWART’S REHAB: Tony Stewart’s return to racing is down to hours. The three-time NASCAR champion has been out of a race car since crashing at a sprint-car event in Iowa last August and breaking his right leg. Stewart missed the final 15 races of 2013. He has been cleared to race and will be back in the car for practice Friday. "It’s been the slowest offseason I’ve ever had," he said. "I’m ready to get doing something again."
CHASE CHANGES: NASCAR drastically overhauled its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship by expanding the field, switching to a knockout-style format and placing more emphasis on winning. Johnson welcomed the tweaks. "I still think the way you win a championship is the same: you’ve got to win races," he said. "When we look around at sports, everything’s changing. The Olympics look far different than they used to. The NFL is considering change. The world is changing. Our viewership is changing, so the sport has to change."
GORDON’S FUTURE: Four-time champion Jeff Gordon is talking retirement. Gordon said he is prepared to call it quits if he wins a fifth championship. "Go out on a high note," said the 42-year-old Gordon, who won titles in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001.
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