Daytona Beach, Fla. — Rick Hendrick threw a glamorous party last fall when he formally introduced his 2018 driver lineup.
It was a lavish car unveiling that used lasers, spotlights and an emcee to celebrate a Hendrick Motorsports roster that had undergone a dramatic makeover.
Each of the four drivers was paired with someone for the event. Chase Elliott was joined by his Hall of Fame father, Bill, who helped uncover the new No. 9 his son will drive this year in his honor.
William Byron was introduced with Jeff Gordon, who won four titles in Byron’s new No. 24. Alex Bowman came out with Dale Earnhardt Jr., the guy who helped him get his ride when Earnhardt retired. The team owner accompanied seven-time NASCAR champion and Hendrick frontman Jimmie Johnson.
Standing next to glittering new race cars, the quartet was able to briefly mask the striking youthfulness of Hendrick’s rebuilt organization.
Now, at the Daytona 500, the four drivers stand alone.
They passed their first test, and the boss could not be prouder.
Bowman, who sat out all of last year waiting for Earnhardt’s seat to open, put a Hendrick car on the Daytona 500 pole for a record-tying fourth consecutive year. Johnson was third fastest. Byron, a rookie rushed into a Cup car this year because Kasey Kahne was fired, was fifth. Elliott was 10th.
“We’ve got a lot of racing to do and we’re going to make mistakes,” Hendrick said. “But to come down here, it’s a statement by the whole organization to run four cars and get them that close.”
Danica Patrick let it slip that she will drive the Indianapolis 500 for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Patrick was upset about the error, dropping the microphone at Daytona 500 media day and mumbling in disgust.
Patrick rejoined longtime sponsor GoDaddy to run the final two races of her career, a feat she has dubbed the “Danica Double.” She will race the Daytona 500 for Premium Motorsports and previously said she was close to announcing plans for the Indy 500 in May, her finale.
But instead of getting a highly anticipated reveal, Patrick accidentally leaked the news in front of about 20 media members.
Martin Truex Jr. insists he doesn’t believe in lucky charms or superstitions.
But the rabbit’s foot he stuck in his pocket before the 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway has him reconsidering his views.
Truex won at Homestead to clinch his first championship. Former NHRA racer Darrell Gwynn gave Truex the lucky charm before the race.
Truex brought it with him to Daytona International Speedway, but hasn’t decided whether to break it out for the season-opening Daytona 500.
“I’ve thought it about it a little bit,” Truex said Wednesday at Daytona 500 media day. “I don’t know if I need to keep it for the big ones, maybe just keep it in case we get to Homestead again. I don’t want to use it up. I mean, it’s been sitting there for 20-something years gathering luck and it worked at Homestead, so I don’t want to push my luck.”
What if someone wants to borrow it?
“No,” he quipped.
Wallace making history
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace is set to become the first black driver since 1969 to start the Daytona 500.
Wallace faced perhaps the biggest media contingent of the day, with more than two-dozen writers holding selfie sticks and mobile phones in the face of the rookie driver.
Wallace played it cool. He said he welcomed the pressure that comes with the magnitude of his start.
“I’m just a race-car driver,” Wallace said. “I’ll whup their ass any day.”
Wallace will drive the No. 43 car made famous by Hall of Fame driver and team owner Richard Petty.
Wallace had fun with the topic of the day – who will become NASCAR’s next most popular driver? Most drivers answered Chase Elliott. Wallace smiled and did a playful double-take with a reporter before he answered:
“Hopefully me,” he said, smiling.
Wallace’s journey has been documented in “Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace,” a new series that debuts Thursday on Facebook Watch.
The Daytona 500 has gone dry.
Former NASCAR champions Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick, who usually sport beer brand sponsors logos on their hoods, have non-alcoholic sponsors for the Daytona 500.
The Daytona 500 will be the first once since 1982 without a beer-sponsored car in the race.
Miller Lite will still serve as primary sponsor for Team Penske and the No. 2 car driven by Keselowski at select races. Same with Busch and Harvick’s No. 4 Ford.
“It’s not like they’re not active,” Harvick said. “You go everywhere in this town and Busch has pretty much taken over the town. You would never know Busch is not on the car when you drive around town and look around the racetrack.”
When: 2:30 p.m., Sunday
Where: Daytona Beach, Fla.
Defending champion: Kurt Busch