The new Optical Scanning Station inspection system was a mystery heading into the first real qualifying day of 2018.
Would a bunch of teams fail at in the first downforce race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as they did under the old system? Or would everyone sail through now that it is tougher to push the rules? Perhaps it would be somewhere in between.
“We were supposed to have limited the inspection process by a lot. It’s supposed to be what, 90 seconds?” Chase Elliott said. “If everybody gets through in 90 seconds, we shouldn’t have any issues, right?”
For the most part, that was the case. More than half the field (20 of 36 cars) breezed through on the first attempt, and only three cars had to make more than two attempts.
But while Jimmie Johnson and Harrison Rhodes made it through on their third tries, defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. did not. As a result, he will start 35th and spend the weekend without car chief Blake Harris, who was ejected.
Crew chief Cole Pearn was visibly angry after the car failed for a third time, which followed what Truex said was an extra focus on getting through inspection.
“We stopped practice early just to try to get a jump start and have good plan going into this system today, just to see what happens,” Truex said before inspection began. “We’re trying to get ahead of the curve. It has potential to be very difficult.”
As it turned out, it was for his team. There were problems on one attempt with the body and problems with the rear-wheel alignment on another attempt.
Furniture Row Racing president Joe Garone said the team was frustrated and the mood was “volatile” after the third failed attempt.
“You’re trying to figure out what you actually did, especially when you feel like maybe the equipment itself is off a little bit,” Garone said. “But it’s also on our side as well. … It does change every time you go through.”
NASCAR disputed the suggestion its new equipment was inconsistent. In fact, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said most of the comments he got from teams on Friday were the opposite.
“Of course they’re going to say that,” Miller said of Furniture Row. “… All I can say is we feel like we did our job.
“Everybody else made it out there no problem at all, with time to spare. I don’t know what else to say about that.”
Miller said the tolerances used in inspection Friday will be the same all season long. The new system measures thousands of data points and provides a heat map of the car — it shows green if the car is legal, for example — and Miller said “there’s no real way to fake your way through there.”
The tighter limits could have made for far more headaches. Instead, the day was mostly smooth with the exception of the 78 team not getting through.
“I certainly would have guessed there would have been a lot more (than Truex), that they wouldn’t have been the only ones,” Kyle Busch said.
Austin Dillon is one of the most self-confident people you will ever meet and rarely seems rattled by anything.
But going on national TV this week — particularly doing the LIVE with Kelly and Ryan show? That had him shook.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had texted Dillon the night before the show to congratulate him on the Daytona 500 win and urged him to “go represent our sport well this week.”
So Dillon had those comments echoing in his head, along with fighting fatigue (he gets sleepy and goes quiet when he’s nervous) and being in an unfamiliar environment.
“You look in the mirror before you go around the corner (onto the stage) and they are like, ‘We want you live and (having) energy when you walk in there because people are going to be clapping,'” Dillon said of the Kelly and Ryan appearance. “It’s like an awkward stage, because you are smiling at all these (audience members) that you don’t have a clue who they are, but they are excited because that is what they are supposed to be.
“You are running down the aisle smiling, and then you get there. I never got to meet Ryan (Seacrest) or Kelly (Ripa) before the TV, that was the first time I had met them.”
Dillon said he sat down and started talking about his wife, Whitney, to find a topic he was comfortable with. But he noticed his voice start shaking a little bit, and he searched the audience for her face.
He soon spotted her and felt reassured, and then got more relaxed.
“The interview was easy after that,” he said. “I was trying to be authentic and talk about the whole experience. But that was the most nervous (media appearance) for sure.”
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.”
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.”