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2024 Daytona 500 notebook: What Kyle Larson, other stars had to say at media day for 'The Great American Race'



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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After a full offseason of preparation and more than a week of anticipation following the Clash in Los Angeles, the journey to Daytona ended on Wednesday. With the arrival of 42 drivers to Daytona and 42 teams unloading their haulers, the Daytona 500 portion of Speedweeks began, with only five days now separating the field from the start of a new NASCAR Cup Series season and the crowning of one driver as Daytona 500 champion.

Race weekend’s festivities began with Daytona 500 media day on Wednesday, where drivers throughout the field and all ends of the grid spoke to the press about “The Great American Race” and the coming season. Here is a sampling of what was discussed during media day, as well as other storylines developing during Speedweeks.

The Swiftie connection

The NFL season that just concluded, and the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory in Super Bowl LVIII, was proof writ-large as to the sheer power pop star Taylor Swift has as an entertainment kingmaker. Swift’s relationship with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce took not only the Chiefs dynasty, but the NFL overall to an entirely new level of exposure and media attention.

As the NFL season progressed, the aura of Swift became absolutely inescapable. And as it turns out, there’s no escape in the Daytona 500 either: Cup rookie Josh Berry was an underclassman of Swift’s at Hendersonville High School in Tennessee, and recalled a performance of hers at the school talent show.

“We’re being like, ‘Dang, she’s alright!’ You know how talent shows are, sometimes they’re really hit or miss. But with this we were like, ‘Damn, that’s pretty good,'” Berry said. “I think that was right before summer break or whatever, and she made it.”

While Berry shared that friends of friends knew Swift, he says he did not know the future music superstar personally, nor did she ever sign his yearbook. “I would’ve already sold it by now,” Berry said.

Spire of influence

As the single biggest race in NASCAR, the Daytona 500 offers the business arm of each race team no better platform to try and entice new sponsors into the sport. This year, Spire Motorsports has made one of the biggest splashes of Speedweeks, unveiling a new paint scheme for Corey LaJoie and new sponsor Chili’s. The fast casual chain will make its entry into NASCAR by sponsoring LaJoie in the Daytona 500, with a unique paint scheme filled with QR codes for fans to scan.

The partnership marks yet another indicator of Spire Motorsports’ explosive growth as they posture to become a top race team, which has included attracting several lucrative sponsorship deals. In addition to Chili’s, LaJoie and Spire also signed Gainbridge as a major sponsor last year to join another major brand in Celsius.

“I take a lot of pride in being a part of getting our team to a place where we could even be considered to represent a brand like Chili’s,” LaJoie said. “To have one of the most recognizable brands in the country to be on our car at the biggest race of the year with a super cool campaign of fans trying to scan QR codes to have a chance to win some Chili’s gift cards … I’ve been a part of some wild ones with my face on the car and hair going back and Mystery Machines and this that and the other, but I think this is the most interactive, and certainly the most activation outside of the race, that I’ve been a part of.

“To be kind of a cornerstone piece of Chili’s NASCAR debut is really cool. And they’ve really leaned into all that NASCAR has to offer in marketing assets to really blow this thing out.”

Where’s the Biff?

When the entry list for the Daytona 500 was released Monday, the presence of the No. 44 NY Racing team offered both the only real surprise and a sense of mystery. The team did not list a driver, and the matter of who would take the wheel of the car offered several twists that were not settled until the haulers parked in Daytona for qualifying Wednesday.

An X user who spotted NY Racing’s hauler on the way to Daytona noted  the team had wrapped its hauler, with the paint scheme suggesting the team had enlisted former Cup veteran and 19-time Cup race winner Greg Biffle as their driver, as he was in 2022. However, Biffle released a statement Monday disputing his name being on the car, saying he would not drive in any races for the team until it fulfilled its contract obligations to him from 2022.

Biffle’s name was later taped over, but the issue of NY Racing’s driverless car was not settled until Wednesday morning. J.J. Yeley has been announced as the driver, and he will try to put the Jonathan Cohen-owned car in the field on short notice.

Paving for Preece

One highlight that will undoubtedly be played many times in the leadup to the Daytona 500 is Ryan Preece’s series of sidewinders from the last time the Cup Series raced at Daytona. This week marks Preece’s return to Daytona following his accident late in last August’s regular-season finale, where his car went airborne and flipped 10 times in the backstretch infield.

In response to Preece’s accident, NASCAR has paved over a part of the infield near the bus stop used for the track’s road course configuration, which in theory would lessen the chances of a car both catching air and being launched skyward during a spin.

“I feel right now with our rules packages, with the limiters and the diffuser and everything that we have, that was the best alternative that we needed to do,” Preece said about NASCAR’s paving job. “Certainly, I don’t want to see any driver have to fly in the air like that. Because at the end of the day, I was certainly lucky. I understand that. You’re inches away from possibly not walking out of here or seeing your family again. So for me, I’m happy they did it. And it was a step in what needed to be done to keep these cars on the ground.”

Preece’s return to the Daytona Beach area is off to a good start. On Tuesday night, Preece won the Modified feature in a World Series of Asphalt race at New Smyrna Speedway, out-dueling Ron Silk to earn the 13th World Series win of his career.

0-for-Daytona

In recent years, one of the recurring storylines surrounding the Daytona 500 concerns the Cup Series champions who have yet to win “The Great American Race” despite 15 or more years of trying. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. headline the longtime drivers burdened by not having a Daytona 500 win, and another Cup champion is at increased risk of joining that uncomfortable company.

2021 Cup champion Kyle Larson is 0-for-10 in the Daytona 500, with two notable missed opportunities in a decade’s time. Larson led at the white flag in 2017 but ran out of fuel on the last lap, and last year he made a three-wide move for the lead at the white flag that proved unsuccessful.

For all that Larson has otherwise won — including the Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 — a lack of a Daytona 500 victory is a glaring omission in his resume. But as of now, the 31-year-old Larson did not indicate any added urgency to get the monkey off his back in NASCAR’s biggest race.

“Obviously I want to win this race really bad, just as bad as everybody does,” Larson said. “But I’ve also accomplished a lot of good things in my career, and I’m not anywhere close to being done. But whenever I am done, if I haven’t won this race, I don’t think I’m gonna lose sleep at night. I don’t know.

“I love coming here, I love trying to win it. You want to win the big ones, and it doesn’t get any bigger than this one for the NASCAR schedule. So we’ll just keep trying.”

In fairness, Larson isn’t anywhere close to being the most snake-bit of those who have yet to win the Daytona 500. That distinction belongs to Martin Truex Jr., who is winless in 19 starts — including 2016, when he was runner-up by mere fractions of a second in the closest finish in the race’s history.

Winning Lap 200, but not the Daytona 500

Second to Truex in Daytona 500 tries without a win among active drivers is Kyle Busch, who is now 0-for-18 (Busch missed the race with injury in 2015) after an especially agonizing loss last year: Busch was the leader under caution at Lap 200, but he would lose the lead in overtime and ended up finishing 19th after getting collected in a crash on the final lap.

Since the introduction of overtime rules to the Cup Series starting in 2004, Busch is one of five drivers to have led at Lap 200 but not won the Daytona 500, company he shares with Mark Martin (2007), Greg Biffle (2010), David Ragan (2011) and Denny Hamlin (2018). That adds an extra layer of frustration for Busch, who playfully lamented the absence of the one race he hasn’t won in his decorated career.

“I won the Daytona 500 last year under the yellow flag, not under the checkered flag. Those damn technicalities keep coming up and getting me,” Busch said. ” … I don’t have the trophy or the ring, so it means I coulda shoulda woulda if it was prior to 2005. That sucks, but it is what it is.”

If it’s any solace to Busch, years of trying to win the 500 runs in the family. Kurt Busch went 0-for-15 to start his career in the Daytona 500 before finally breaking through and winning in his 16th start in 2017.





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