How I Got Here with Mike Joy

This is the latest in a weekly feature called “How I Got Here,” where I ask people in NASCAR about the journeys to their current jobs. Each interview is recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed on JeffGluck.com. Up next: Mike Joy, the longtime NASCAR broadcaster for FOX Sports.

Could you tell me how you got started and how this whole thing came to be?

I was in college and it was right after the dawn of college FM radio. We had a very progressive station, and it was all progressive rock, drug-infused music at night. But the station had a mandate to do live sports of all the university’s teams. So I had done football and basketball play-by-play. The sports I didn’t play in college, I broadcast them and learned my trade from other students who had experience doing it.

And it was fun. I got to doing news for the station and that was no fun. We had a UPI teletype machine at the station — donated, of course — but you were forbidden to rip and read: Rip a piece of copy off the teletype and read what those professionals had written. All stories had to be rewritten.

Why is that?

Because reading off the printed page, you weren’t learning anything. I didn’t want to bother with that — not because I was lazy, it just didn’t challenge me. Maybe I just didn’t enjoy writing all that much.

But I found that I could look at one of those news stories and rewrite it in my head and rebroadcast it as I went. People started telling me that’s a very useful skill, along with broadcasting live sports.

My goal, I wanted to be the next Dan Gurney or the next Mark Donohue. I wanted to race. But I didn’t have any money to find out if I had any talent, and there weren’t the junior racing series and cars like Bandoleros and Legends. There were Quarter Midgets, but they were few and far between. There just wasn’t that opportunity. Even Darrell (Waltrip), Darrell got in his first race car at age 17.

So in college, we were running road rallies and autocrosses — which is pylon racing in a parking lot — but we didn’t have an opportunity to really race. So we would run these autocrosses, and one place we ran was a quarter-mile track in Massachusetts — Riverside Park Speedway. They would run stock cars on Tuesday and Saturday nights, and we would have the track Sunday for our autocrosses.

Well, the track announcer, the PA announcer, was also an author and a Shakespearean actor, John Wallace Spencer. I learned a lot from him, especially about timing. John wrote all his books about things that could not be disproven: UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, things likes that. And he was having to book tours, so they needed another announcer.

Well I was autocrossing one day and they said, “When you’re not running your car, would you go up to the PA booth and just fill in the people that might wander by?” Because the speedway was attached to an amusement park and they’re seeing what’s going on.

Like on the same night you’re running?

Yeah, on the same day. So in between runs with our car, I’d go do that. Well here comes Ed Carroll, a fiery Irishman who owned the racetrack: “Why are several hundred people sitting in a stadium watching one car go around cones instead of being out in the park spending money?” Well, they were being entertained. We were having fun. And I got offered a job Saturday nights as the assistant announcer for his stock car track.

Now, I was in college full time. Part time, I was busting tires in a Firestone store, which because it was a union shop, I was making $3.05 an hour while my friends were pumping gas or flipping burgers for $1.75, which was minimum wage. So I thought I was doing great. So when they told me they would offer me $25 a night to announce the stock car races? Boom! That was awesome.

But I turned them down. I said, “They’re no way. I’m a fan of Formula One and Trans Am and Can-Am, and all you’ve got is a bunch of jalopies going around the track in circles. They’re just turning left!” And the PR guy said, “Why don’t you come to the track one night, why don’t you come Saturday night and see?” So Saturday night, I’m watching the A consi, and it’s the last chance to get into the main event, and these two cars come off Turn 4 side-by-side, banging wheels, bouncing off the wall, one guy wins by inches and the 6,000 people there go crazy. And I went, “Hell, I’ve gotta be a part of this.”

So I’m the announcer at this quarter-mile racetrack, and for the really big events, they would bring in the New England legend — then, as now — Ken Squier, to work the PA. And that’s where I really learned a lot from Kenley about how to make heroes out of these everyday people.

I was really naive. I thought Saturday night racers, that was their job — that they were professional racers, that’s what they did. I didn’t realize that one ran a repair garage, one drove an oil truck, one was a long-distance trucker during the week and they just carved out time on Saturdays to race. So I had a lot to learn. But that was the start of it, and it was the notice from Ken that helped open a lot of doors.

So you’re observing Ken and working alongside with him. At what point did he come to you and say, “You’re good at this, you need more of an opportunity?”

It didn’t take long. Within two years, I was doing public address five nights a week throughout New England, New York State, Long Island.

Is this after you were done with college, or was there overlap?

There was a lot of overlap and some cold winters and eating a lot of mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches in the winters. But that’s OK, I really thought this could work into something.

In 1975, five years after this started, I went to work in Stafford with Jack Arute at his dad’s track, and we had a ball. We’d have Ken come down for some big shows and I think we honed as many announcers out of Stafford as we did top level drivers to go to Cup. That’s where it really took off.

Jack came down to Daytona at the end of ’76, and I followed him at the end of ’78. We worked for MRN full-time in the office during the week, selling ads, signing up stations, and then broadcasting on the weekends. And it was a tremendous education.

When Jack left, I ended up running MRN for three years. CBS was by now broadcasting, and I left MRN full-time, kept doing the races on the weekends, but left the full-time job because of an opportunity. And then as soon as I left, CBS called. They couldn’t interrupt what I was doing at MRN, but once I was no longer there full-time, they said, “We want you to come work for us in the pits.” And again that was Ken Squier.

In the meantime, I learned so much from Ken and Barney Hall and Ned Jarrett, and that kind of helped me craft what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be in this business.

I would imagine, though, that the transition from radio to TV — it seems to me like it can’t be easy at all. Was it natural for you?

In the pits, it’s very easy because you’re reporting. The difference is, instead of telling people what you’re seeing and having to flesh out the word picture, it’s show and tell. It’s when you move to the booth that TV becomes very different from radio.

Radio, you have to create the entire word picture of the event of the separation between cars, what the cars look like, not just the attitude, but the colors, the paint schemes, the sponsor logo, everything.

In TV, the best TV announcers let the picture do most of the talking and try to tell the viewer what they can’t see — how things are developing, whether intervals are growing or shrinking, and things that they can’t readily see. The more technology we put on the screen, especially with the new scoring pylon, there’s less of that information that we have to give and we can delve much more into the why instead of the what you are seeing.

If somebody wanted to get into it now, should they go straight TV or should they still start in radio and build their way up that way?

I think radio challenges your creativity much more than television from sitting in the booth. Television challenges your restraint much more than radio. On radio, I knew that when I was talking, there were nine other voices that couldn’t wait to get in and all they had to do was flip the switch.

The rule in radio that Ken started is two-fold: You lose your breath, you lose your turn. And if somebody interrupts you, you stop mid-sentence — because they respect what you’re saying, but there’s something of immediacy. If you interrupt, it better be the second coming or something. It better be important enough to interrupt the train of thought of what’s being said.

I always tell people new to TV: “One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, and I have a lot of them: ‘I never learned anything when I was talking.'” And so instead of talking wall to wall through the event, we need to be respectful and restrained. Let the cars go through the frame and listen to them. Let a battle develop. And even sometimes, let a crash unfold. Let the people see it. And then tell them what and why.

You don’t have to say, “There goes so-and-so up on his side, here’s so-and-so in the wall, here’s so-and-so on the roof.” But we do, because we’re reacting to what we see. So it’s very hard to exhibit that restraint and to let the picture and only the picture tell the story. Now, when you have three Type-A personalities in the booth, all of us having been vaccinated with phonograph needles, it’s very, very hard to have that restraint.

You were announcing on CBS, and then you ended up on FOX once the contracts switched over. But was it that simple? Was there any question you would go there?

Oh, there was. I joined CBS in ’83, and CBS at that time only did three races a year: Daytona, Michigan and Talladega. So I would do the rest of the season for MRN and that persisted for several years. And then I was just doing CBS and picked up TNN when they got into racing and did all the TNN races for five or six years.

But in 1998, I began a three-year run of doing Formula One for FOX with Derek Bell. And while Bob Varsha did the same job on Speed, it then wasn’t really part of FOX, it was kind of different. So that’s where my relationship with FOX started.

Many of the FOX management were former CBS people, because FOX Sports was started when they got the NFL contract from CBS, so they absorbed a lot of those people. So as 2000 rolled around, CBS pretty much assumed that I would move with the NASCAR property to FOX.

It wasn’t that easy. NASCAR had a play-by-play person who was, for lack of a better word, a company man that they really wanted there. There were only two jobs, NBC and FOX. NBC signed Allen Bestwick right away. That left the FOX job, and there were a number of us in there vying for it, and I got it.

But it was kind of touch and go there for a while. And I think what put it over the top was, they had hired Darrell, they were talking to Larry McReynolds, and I made sure through Ed Goren, that David Hill and the FOX execs had a tape of a late-season Saturday race that Larry, Darrell and I had done together at Phoenix. And they looked at that and they go, “That’s it, that’s the chemistry we want. There we go.”

Is it possible today to still follow the career path that you had? For instance, you were a pit reporter on TV. Well now FOX hired Regan Smith because he has expertise and these drivers are so good at talking. Can someone still follow the path that you did to become the next Mike Joy?

I think so. I think the entry level is much easier than it has ever been. Any one of your listeners and readers can buy a piece of equipment, go to their local short track, establish a blog and be credentialed as media and get something up there on the web. Anybody can do that. There are zero barriers to entry, other than the willingness to do it and the cost of the equipment. And then, the more you do, the more you get noticed.

If you’re doing this at a local track and the local track people are smart, they’ll hire you to do it, they’ll hire you to work the public address. There are positions. That’s how I started. Those jobs are still out there, still available.

There are two and a half radio networks covering NASCAR on a regular basis: MRN, PRN and then the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Network, which does their one race. So there are opportunities, and there are people coming through radio that could transition to TV, and again a lot of that depends on the focus of the network.

(FOX Sports president) Eric Shanks, who’s our boss, he really likes the idea of having boots on the ground that have been on the field — and that’s not just in NASCAR, that’s in all sports. He wants ex-players and ex-coaches and crew chiefs, pit crewmen, to do the reporting on the ground partly because they instantly know what they’re looking at and why. But also because they can add their own layer of experience into what they’re describing. I support that.

So no, I wouldn’t get a job as a FOX pit reporter now. And there are talented people that wanted that job that Regan Smith has, but he’s well spoken, he puts his thoughts together in a good, concise way, he’s gonna do a great job for us. I don’t think we’ll ever have all ex-athletes in the pits, but we’ll have a balance of them and I think that’s good. Just like I’m not sure we’ll ever have all ex-drivers in the booth. I see two that might be able to, after a couple of years as booth analysts, transition to a play-by-play role. I won’t tell you who; I’ll go talk to their agents first. You know who they are.

What else is left for you to accomplish in your career? What else do you want to do that’s on your bucket list?

The next one, the next race. I’ve called Major League Baseball for FOX. That was fun. Would love to do some more, but I respect that FOX has people whose expertise is 100 percent baseball, and so it’s not for me to meddle in that.

Sports television has evolved so much. When I started, ABC and NBC used the same three or four play-by-play announcers each for everything they put on the air. Jim McKay did everything, from the Olympics to Indy to Daytona — everything, because he was that familiar voice that was important to the network to project to the viewers. And if he was there, it was a big event.

CBS’s approach was different, they knew auto racing was a very different sport. They did not put it in the hands of Chris Schenkel — they did for a while, they tried that, and Brent Musburger, they tried that. But they knew the sport required the expertise of particular people who were immersed in it, and that’s how I got that opportunity. Same with Chris Economaki, with Dave Despain, with David Hobbs, Ned Jarrett — we were all immersed in racing, and because CBS believed that that was what was needed.

It was a combination of timing, opportunity, recommendation, maybe a little talent, a lot of ambition. But to get to this level would be much more difficult than it was. There’s only two networks doing NASCAR, so there’s only two top play-by-play positions. There’s a lot of undercard, and we now have a separate play-by-play for each national series of NASCAR, and another group doing the touring series now for NBCSN. So there’s opportunities there. Vince Welch’s son (Dillon) did the pits for the ARCA race the other day, which is great, because he really wants to be in this business, had the background, they gave him an opportunity. Wonderful.

So at the entry level, at the mid-level, there are a lot of opportunities. I know there’s a bunch of people hoping I retire real soon, and my intent is to greatly disappoint them. Greatly.

12 Questions with Corey LaJoie (2018)

Corey LaJoie (second from left) stands with former NASCAR Next drivers who competed in this year’s Daytona 500. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Corey LaJoie of TriStar Motorsports. LaJoie finished 40th in the Daytona 500 after an engine failure.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Not a whole lot. When you’re a little kid, you have a little more vivid dreams of trying to win the 500, and then you get here and you’re kind of fighting an uphill battle every week with a couple of places I’ve been. So your dreams start to be a little more realistic, and you dream of like maybe running 12th on a good day.

I dream about weird stuff, but for the most part I don’t have vivid racing dreams.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

Oh yeah, you’ve gotta address it right up front. You can’t let it fester. It’s just like life: If you do it wrong, it just only gets worse, and tempers only get more bitter the longer you go and you don’t address it.

A big reason why people get into it is because they race each other hard week after week, and if you race that person week after week, that means you’re gonna be parked next to them, right? So that’s how it always happens: You get in a fight with somebody, and then you’re riding in the (driver) intros truck with them the next week. Something like that happens all the time.

So nip in the bud, grow a pair. If you didn’t mean to, just tell them, “I didn’t mean to.” I’ve had to do that a couple times, but you can’t let that grow because you’ll end up like a Matt Kenseth and Joey (Logano) situation, and that didn’t end up good for any one of them.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

For the stage that I’m at in my career, you’re just trying to survive and scratch and claw and stay in the sport because you’re hoping for an opportunity to get in a well-funded car. But for now, you’re here, you’re digging, you’re scratching, you’re clawing, and when people from the other side of the garage acknowledge that they know how hard I’m working and they see me develop as a race car driver — even though the results may not show it every week — when somebody actually on that side notices and says, “Hey man, you’re doing a good job, keep it up,” it definitely makes the hard work worth it sometimes. Because then you know it’s not going unnoticed.                                

4. NASCAR comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?

Probably Ryan Reynolds. That guy’s a stud. I think he’s funny. I think that’d be just a hilarious day of just walking around with that guy and showing him our sport and showing him everything that our lives are every week and kind of see what he thinks. I think that’d be my choice.

I mean, (wife) Blake Lively might come with him, so then you’ve got to think about who his plus-one is.

5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, NASCAR offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?

(Laughs) No, man! No. That No. 1 pit stall ain’t worth like a good pizza and a cheeseburger and some beer. No pit stall is worth that. I can’t do that.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I have picked a random race from your career and you have to guess where you finished. This is the K&N East series, 2012, the year you finished second in points, the September race at Loudon.

I finished second to (Kyle) Larson by like three inches.

Wow! You remembered that one right off the bat.

Right off the bat. That’s the one that still stings because I led, I don’t know if the race was 150 laps and I led…

You led 25 laps.

I led like the last 25, and on the last, late-race restart, I couldn’t get going on the short run and Larson rolled the top on me and I got back to him in (Turn) 3 and moved him when he crossed the line. He beat me by like three inches. I hadn’t won at Loudon up to that point, always ran good, but that one was too close to home.

So I brought up a bad memory.

No, it’s all good. I mean, obviously it kind of brings up back when people used to think I was a good race car driver. So that feels like a lifetime ago. But that was a fun race. Darrell (Wallace Jr.) finished third in that race.

Yeah, I have here that Larson won, Bubba finished third and Chase Elliott finished fifth, so it was a pretty stacked field.

Yeah, K&N was tough back then.

You won five races that season. You finished that season with five straight top-twos, and three of your five wins came in those final five races. So that was a pretty strong finish.

Yeah, and then we had a judgment call on a carburetor that cost us 25 points, and we lost the championship by six points.

Oh, is that what happened? I don’t even remember that. Dang. Was it the right call?

Depends on whose truck you’re sitting on. Not mine, I can assure you.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

That’s a good question because I like rap music. I like all music. I’ll have like some MercyMe followed up by Tupac or totally out there. Let’s see my latest. (Opens iTunes.)

What’s on your phone here?

I like Rick Ross.

Rick Ross, the Boss?

Yeah, Rick Ross the Boss. Meek Mill is good. (Keeps scrolling through iTunes.) I’ve got a lot of Rick Ross in here. I like Gucci Mane, too. Yeah, so I like rap music. I like it all.

So you’re going with Rick Ross for your answer?

I’m gonna go with Rick Ross, the Boss.

Kyle Busch last week said Eminem, so we have one vote for Eminem.

(Laughs) He has to say that, because that’s what the big yellow thing is on the hood of his car.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Wow, what a question that is. I don’t know, it just depends whose face needs to get punched in certain situations. I mean, I pretty much like everybody.

Some people just have annoying faces though.

Now there’s people’s faces I don’t want to punch, I can tell you that. Like (Ryan) Newman. That guy’s neck is so solid, you punch his head, it’s like one of those little guys in martial arts — the little blow-up thing with the black base, and his head just bounces right back off your fist. So Newman would be a guy I would not want to mess with. He’s like cornbread-fed.

I feel like Newman would be one of those people in a superhero movie when they start attacking the guy and it has no effect on him whatsoever.

He’s like the rock guy (Thing) from the X-Men.

Yeah, he’s like that. Keeps coming.

So I would say Ryan Newman has the least punchable face.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

That’s easy. LeBron James will be the crew chief, he’s a great leader of men, he would get that ship rolling good. He probably doesn’t know how to take a tire off, but he can get them people working like in a synchrony. I don’t even know if that’s a word. Symphony, maybe?

Tom Hanks on the roof spotting because — what’s that movie he was in with the plane? (Sully) He’s a familiar voice, it’s kind of like a calming Tom Hanks voice up on the roof, so you don’t get fired up.

And then T-Swift will drive the bus, and I’ll let her sing karaoke all she wants.

You’d hang out for the weekend?

I’m engaged, so I can’t answer the question like that…

OK, well you can bring your fiancee. I’m sure she would want to hang out with her.

Yeah, for sure. So yeah, T-Swift driving the bus, Tom Hanks on the roof, LeBron James calling the shots. That’s a dream team.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

I’ve always said if you’re a fan, you find the closest port-o-potty to wherever (drivers) get off the trucks from driver intros. You can meet everybody from Danica to Dale Jr. to anybody else if you stand to the closest one off the driver intros truck. Usually there’s a line about six deep with all drivers (waiting to pee).

So that’s a little tip for the fans: If you want to get an autograph, don’t worry about waiting around all day by the pit area, because they’re not gonna sign it. Go to the port-o-potty, and preferably try to have them sign it before they use the bathroom, because there’s no sink in there.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

How much money? Does that include the medical bills they would have to pay for?

You would probably have to negotiate that into it.

You ask that question to (Daniel) Hemric, and he’s gonna tell you, “For free.” That’s his thing. But for me, I have a hard time doing a backflip on a trampoline, so I’d probably do it for $100,000. And I’d be close to sticking it.

So you wouldn’t get hurt that bad?

No. But I would make sure to park in the grass. I would do it in the grass, for sure. But yeah, 100 grand, I’ll do it.

12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last week, I interviewed Kyle Busch. His question was: With life on the road, how do you balance the travel with each location, whether you go out, you stay in a motorhome — you have a motorhome?

No.

OK, so a hotel. How do you decide if you’re just gonna chill, or go do something fun in that city — what goes in the decision?

Since I stay away from the racetrack, I can see the surroundings when I leave and kind of pick different restaurants on the way back. You’ve got your one or two restaurants you want to hit up in every city you go to. I go to Phoenix, I’ll hike up Camelback (Mountain). Or there’s a really good steakhouse in Atlanta which I go to, little things like that.

But you try to keep it routine. You want to go to bed fairly early, maybe see some friends who don’t live at home and live somewhere else and meet up with them.

I like to stay at hotels. For one, it doesn’t cost me anything — I just show up and get in the rental car and go to the hotel. But everywhere has its little perks. There’s some places like Pocono where there’s nothing really to do there, so everywhere has its pluses and minuses.

So you don’t have to worry about race traffic too much in the morning? You get there early enough?

Yeah, so I leave fairly early. That is a nightmare of mine, waking up in a cold sweat and waking up late on a race day like, “Oh.” Then you’re like, “It’s 3:30 in the morning, let’s go back to sleep.”

There’s your racing dream.

Yeah, that’s one of the dreams I’ve always had, waking up and you’re late to practice, you’re late to qualifying or something, and you wake up and you’re like, “Oh. Phew. Good thing.”

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but do you have a question I can ask another driver for next time?

You should do Bubba, and then you should ask him how much gas money he gave me for driving him to school for three years.

What’s the story there?

We went to the same high school. He was a year and a half younger than me, so I drove him, picked him up. I lived like five minutes away from school, so I had to drive past the school like 10 minutes, turn around and come back. So it was an extra 20 minutes twice in my day, right?

I drove him to school for two and a half years. And he gave me $20 the entire time!

You ask him that question, he’ll bust out laughing. So ask him how much gas money he gave me for wasting valuable time to come pick his ass up and bring him to school. I love Bubba, but he should have given me more gas money.

So he still owes you, with interest.

Yes. He can afford it now, I’m sure.

Post-Daytona 500 podcast with Jordan Bianchi

SBNation.com’s Jordan Bianchi returns to the Untitled Jeff Gluck Podcast to help me break down all things Daytona 500, including talk about Austin Dillon’s move on Aric Almirola, Bubba Wallace’s stardom, Danica Patrick’s legacy and more.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Daytona 500

Five thoughts after Sunday’s 60th running of the Daytona 500…

1. That’s racing

I’m sort of baffled by the outrage over Austin Dillon driving through Aric Almirola — after Almirola admitted he saw Dillon coming and threw a last-ditch block. There’s no sound reason behind the anger here, other than fans can’t stand Dillon and his perceived silver spoon background — while Almirola would have been a likable winner and feel-good story after last year’s broken back and transition to Stewart-Haas Racing.

I get that Dillon irritates fans (he doesn’t care, by the way; Dillon believes in the “as long as they’re making noise” philosophy), but geez. Seriously, folks? Take the emotion out of it for a second.

Dillon had a huge shot of momentum from a Bubba Wallace push when the Almirola block happened, and it was on the last lap of the freaking Daytona 500. So what was Dillon supposed to do, let off the gas and cut Almirola a break?

“I guess I could have lifted and gave it to him, and not had this Daytona 500 ring that I’m wearing,” Dillon said.

But even if he did lift, Dillon probably would have gotten turned by Wallace behind him.

After all, that’s what seemed to happen when Ryan Blaney blocked Chase Elliott in the first Big One (Elliott lost momentum, got loose and spun off Brad Keselowski, starting a pileup). And when Denny Hamlin blocked Kurt Busch in the last Big One, Busch lost his momentum and got turned by the air off Blaney’s nose.

As we saw throughout Speedweeks, superspeedway racing has evolved into a risky, ballsy game of chicken when it comes to blocking. Almirola had no choice but to throw that block — in hopes Dillon would somehow blink — and Dillon had no choice but to drive through him.

Unless he wanted to lose, of course.

“I had such a run,” Dillon said, “and I had to use it.”

2. A star is born

NASCAR got stuck in some political debates last year, which prompted outsiders to once again bring up stereotypes about the sport’s fans.

But the majority of race fans aren’t racist. How do I know? Because Bubba Wallace is quickly becoming one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR.

Fans at Daytona gave Wallace a loud cheer before the 500, and his high profile in the media this week (including a feature on ESPN, a six-part docu-series on Facebook and then some air time in front of the largest audience NASCAR has all year) allowed fans to take a closer look at whether they like him or not.

It certainly seems like they do. And it has everything to do with his personality, which is refreshing, energetic, fun, raw and real.

I mean, what other driver shows emotions like this?

If Wallace can do anything in the 43 car and is even halfway competitive, it will be massive for NASCAR. His profile only grow if that’s the case.

But Richard Petty Motorsports has a lot of work to do judging by last year’s results, and if Wallace doesn’t run in the top 10, he risks becoming another Clint Bowyer.

Fun guy, hilarious, great personality, people love him, but…

At the tweetup on Sunday, fans emphasized they seek the perfect combination of personality and results. A driver needs both to truly be a superstar.

Those who deliver in both ways are the types of drivers NASCAR needs to succeed. Wallace certainly has the personality; now we’ll see whether he can produce on the track.

3. For Blaney, wait til next year

This really seemed to be the Ryan Blaney 500, especially after so many other contenders wrecked out. It looked like Blaney had the strongest car and could do anything with it. He led 118 laps in playing the typical Keselowski role, a dominating performance on a day when no one else led more than 22 laps.

Blaney was leading a single-file line with 10 laps to go when William Byron spun in his damaged car, which brought out a caution that ultimately cost him the race after the ensuing restart.

“That stunk,” Blaney said of the caution. “That grouped everyone back together. I tried to block as best I could, but it’s just so hard when they’re coming so much faster than you.”

Still, a green-flag finish wouldn’t have guaranteed a Blaney win. He had the best car of those remaining, though that doesn’t mean everyone would have stayed in line. But he’ll always wonder.

“It definitely was going to get tough there, and it was starting to brew up to where people were going to start to go,” he said. “With five to go, it was probably crunch time — and we were five laps away from that.

“But I thought we could control the lead pretty good, and it just didn’t play out that way.”

Ryan Blaney collects himself after climbing from his car following a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

 

4. Logic doesn’t prevail

I don’t know if this will go down as one of the best Daytona 500s ever, but it was certainly one of the most entertaining.

Honestly, it shouldn’t have been.

With drivers knowing their cars were less stable than in previous years thanks to the new rules package, it seemed running single-file (like in the Clash) would be the smart way to go.

It certainly would have been very boring, but logic dictates that’s what the drivers should have done in order to still be racing at the finish.

Instead, the drivers got all crazy over the end of Stage 1 and took out a bunch of great cars. Then more wild moves finally bit them just after the halfway point.

“It looked like everybody thought that was the finish of the Daytona 500 and it was really only lap 59 coming to 60,” Jimmie Johnson said of the first incident. “… I’m not sure everybody was thinking big picture and really using their head through that.”

I’m sure they weren’t. But I can’t really figure out why. Drivers had privately predicted a single-file race, perhaps even with several groups of six-to-12 car lines spread across the track. Then they would all go hard for the win at the end.

Instead, it seemed like the opposite happened in the first two stages. It was weird. Super entertaining, but weird.

Perhaps the start of a new season left everyone too antsy to use the patience required to make it to the finish, or maybe racers just can’t help themselves from racing hard — even when it’s not necessary at the time.

5. Underdogs shine

Speaking of those who patiently bided their time and made it to the finish, there were some surprise names who had solid results after others wrecked out.

Chris Buescher previously had only one top-10 finish at a restrictor-plate track in nine starts, but he finished fifth on Sunday.

Michael McDowell finished ninth to record his sixth career top-10 finish — five of which have come at Daytona.

Justin Marks had a surprising run in his first career Cup race at Daytona and finished 12th despite being one lap down.

Also, David Gilliland made his first Cup Series start since 2016 — and recorded a 14th-place finish, his first top-15 since the 2015 Daytona 500.

And finally, despite all the drama and questions about whether it could even get the car on the track, BK Racing got a 20th-place finish with Gray Gaulding. Not a bad day for a team that just filed for bankruptcy protection.

Aric Almirola not angry at Austin Dillon despite Daytona 500 collision

Aric Almirola was a half-lap from winning the Daytona 500 in his first race with new team Stewart-Haas Racing — that is, until Austin Dillon turned him while battling for the lead.

So was Almirola pissed at Dillon for driving through him? Was Dillon being too aggressive?

Almirola let out a “Ha!” when I asked, as if that was a ridiculous question.

“He’s not driving too aggressively, he’s trying to win the Daytona 500 — just like I was,” Almirola said. “I saw him come with the momentum and I pulled up to block and did exactly what I needed to do to try and win the Daytona 500. I wasn’t going to just let him have it.

“I wasn’t going to stay on the bottom and let him rail the outside, so I blocked, and he got to my bumper and pushed. I thought I was still going to be OK, and somehow I got hooked. I’m just devastated.”

Almirola said if it was Lap 5 of the race, “I probably wouldn’t have pulled that block.”

“But it was the last lap of the Daytona 500, and I was doing everything I could to try and win,” he added.

Almirola was still managing to smile because he feels like he’ll have a chance to win other races this season now that he’s with SHR.

Tony Stewart came into the infield care center and gave Almirola a big hug. He told the driver: “The good news is, we have a lot more of this (running well) to look forward to.”

“This is just one race,” Almirola said. “This is might be the biggest race, and this is going to hurt for awhile. But next week, I think we’ll have another shot.”

Brian France speaks at Daytona 500 drivers meeting

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France opened the Daytona 500 drivers meeting on Sunday with some remarks.

Here is a transcript of his comments:

“Another amazing event. Weather is perfect. We are so excited to kick our NASCAR Monster season off in a big way. Looking forward to a great event. So thankful everybody is here today and we’re going to do this in a big way. Thanks, guys, and look forward to an unbelievable Daytona 500 today. You bet.”

Previous Brian France coverage: Should Brian France still be in charge?

Making sense of the crazy Xfinity Series race at Daytona

A few thoughts after the 100th race under the “Xfinity” Series banner…

— Whoa! We’ll remember that one for awhile. The first two-thirds of the race were completely wild, with Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott swapping the lead and throwing insane blocks on each other.

Then, the race got clunky and borderline comical with a rash of yellows — including a Big One and a record five overtimes.

To top it all off, Tyler Reddick and Elliott Sadler ran side-by-side to the finish and ended up in a near-tie, with Reddick winning the closest finish in NASCAR history!

“That was insane,” Reddick said. “I guess (the winning side-draft) was just enough and just soon enough.”

— So, about that margin of victory. The official number was 0.000, but that’s only because NASCAR’s scoring only goes to the thousandth of a second. But there had never been a margin that close since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.

“That’s, like, a tie, am I right?” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who owned the cars of the top two finishers. “Either way, fine with me.”

The previous closest finish had been in a 1995 Truck Series race at Colorado National Speedway. The famous Kurt Busch/Ricky Craven finish at Darlington in 2003 had a .002 margin of victory.

— Before all the chaos, the race was shaping up to be one of the best restrictor-plate races ever.

That’s because of the ballsy moves and blocks being thrown by Elliott, Logano and Larson that made it look like they were going to wreck the whole field at any moment.

Earnhardt gave some insight into their thinking after the race.

“All of them out there feel like they’re the best plate racer that’s ever lived and they drive in that fashion,” he said. “If someone is leading the race and you’re not, it’s almost an insulting thing. The comfort in those (Xfinity) cars allows those guys to be more aggressive.”

— There’s still some confusion on the bump-drafting rule in the Xfinity and Truck Series. Drivers were warned in their pre-race meeting with NASCAR not to lock bumpers “in order to advance your position,” and Sadler interpreted that as meaning “to pass.”

But NASCAR black-flagged both Sadler and Elliott when they locked bumpers at one point — this despite not passing a car at the time.

“I’ve got a misunderstanding of the rule,” Sadler said. “I thought you couldn’t lock bumpers to gain a position.”

Sadler said he needs to get a clarification, because if they wanted to enforce it the way he was penalized, then “You could black-flag every single car in the field.”

— Despite six Cup Series drivers being in the race — and dominating much of it — the top seven finishers (and 10 of the top 11) ultimately turned out to be Xfinity Series regulars.

That’s fitting, considering Xfinity was promoting its 100th race as series sponsor.

“It’s ‘Names Are Made Here,’ right?” Reed said. “I think this is a testament to that being true.”

Though Cup drivers are restricted more than ever this year in their Xfinity participation, this seemed like one race a Cup guy would win. So in that sense, the season is off to a good start.

— The five overtimes were likely the most in NASCAR history for a national series race.

“Was it only five? I thought it felt like a dozen,” fourth-place finisher Kaz Grala said.

When NASCAR began the green-white-checkered rule in 2004, there was only one attempt. Then it was expanded to three attempts in 2010 and stayed that way until 2016, when the GWC rule was converted to “overtime” with the overtime line.

After the overtime line was moved to the start/finish line last year, the rule was changed to allow for unlimited attempts. But that hadn’t really occurred in any race until Saturday, when the overtime periods kept piling up.

— The race was 357.5 miles long, which was the second-longest race in Xfinity/Busch/Grand National Series history. Only the 1985 Miller 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was longer distance-wise.