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The Latest: Mexico’s Daniel Suarez wants to inspire others

February 22, 2017
Daniel Suarez speaks during a news conference at NASCAR Daytona 500 media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Daniel Suarez speaks during a news conference at NASCAR Daytona 500 media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Daytona 500 media day (all times local):


3:30 p.m.

Daniel Suarez hopes he can inspire kids now that he’s the only Mexican driver in the Cup series.

Suarez was a sensation in his native Mexico for becoming the first foreign-born series champion with an Xfinity Series title last November. He was promoted to drive the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing when Carl Edwards abruptly walked away.

“I really wasn’t expecting to be in this position right now, five years ago,” Suarez said. “I wish I was, but I wasn’t expecting to be here, and now to be here, it’s something really cool; to be living there and now to be able to try to help a little bit the new generations that are coming here to the United States from México or to all over the world. ”

— Dan Gelston


2:30 p.m.

Monster Energy tried to poke fun at its NASCAR debut by having its sponsorship girls read a series of mean tweets.

The tweets weren’t all that mean.

But the energy drink company is aware that its brand hasn’t yet saturated the sport at Daytona International Speedway.

Other than the Monster girls, there has been little promotion by the company. Monster isn’t selling drinks at concession stands, and there are no ads spread around the track.

Monster Energy has sponsored Stewart-Haas driver Kurt Busch the last two seasons. Busch said Monster was the type of brand that could potentially attract a younger demographic to a sport badly in need of new viewers.

“The lifestyle, the brand, the image,” Busch said. “It’s a lot of fun. No matter what they’re doing, they’re always trying to find something creative and push the envelope to see what we can do that’s exciting, different and tasteful at the same time.”

— Dan Gelston


2 p.m.

Chase Elliott is on the pole for the Daytona 500 for the second straight year, only this time Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. is handling most of the media demands.

Earnhardt will start second in Sunday’s season opener and is getting far more attention than Elliott. He did a media tour in New York earlier this week and has been the most popular driver at Daytona 500 media day.

That wasn’t the case last year, when Elliott was a rookie and replacing retired driver Jeff Gordon. Now Earnhardt, who is returning from a concussion that cost him half of last season, has been the one in the spotlight.

“I’ve kind of had a pretty laid back past couple days, just enjoying my time down here,” Elliott said. “I have some friends in the area, so I like to stay throughout this week to kind of spend some time with them and hang out. I just enjoy that.”

Elliott hopes the slight difference in workload will mean a different result Sunday.

“Heck, we didn’t even make it to the first pit stop last year, so all that stuff can just be all for naught if you don’t do your job correctly and don’t make sure that you’re where you need to be mentally and with the car setup and the whole deal when it comes to race time, which is the day that counts, obviously,” he said.

— Mark Long


1:30 p.m.

Could Matt Kenseth be the next NASCAR driver to step away? The 44-year-old Kenseth, who has a son and three young daughters, has no idea when he will retire from full-time racing. But he’s at least got a plan for his post-NASCAR career.

“I’m pretty sure I won’t be hanging out at race tracks,” Kenseth said at Daytona 500 media day. “I’ve done that for a lot of years. I enjoy doing it now. I’m not sure I would enjoy it if I’m not driving. My youngest is only 2 right now. Obviously, my girls aren’t most likely going to be real old when I’m done racing, so I’m planning to spend time with them. Gymnastics, basketball practice. I don’t do gymnastics. The girls do. Snowmobiling.”

Kenseth is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and the 2003 NASCAR Cup champion.

— Mark Long


11:15 a.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. would consider retirement if he won his first NASCAR Cup title this season.

Earnhardt, who missed half of last year because of another concussion, says he might walk away if he won a championship in his comeback season. Earnhardt reiterated at Daytona 500 media day Wednesday what he said a day earlier on the “Dan Patrick Show” on NBC Sports. Junior said he was speaking tongue and cheek initially, but made it clear he would consider calling it quits if he won his first Cup title.

“Hell, yeah, man,” he said. “I would definitely not want to come back and try to race anymore if I won the championship. I would be outta here. I’ve always wanted to win a championship so badly, and coming back from this injury, we worked so hard, so to come back this year and win a championship, it would be hard not to hang it up.”

Earnhardt added that this is the last year of his contract with Hendrick Motorsports. He is putting off negotiations while he completes his return.

“I would like to race more, but if I win the championship, I’d have to consider going out on top,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know. It just really depends on a lot of different things. I said that a little tongue and cheek yesterday, but I would definitely consider it. That’s the last box I don’t have checked really. There’s a few races I’d like to win, but the championship would definitely be the icing on the cake for my career.”

— Mark Long


10:45 a.m.

Forbes has released its list of most valuable teams in NASCAR, and Hendrick Motorsports again ranked highest.

Forbes estimated the worth of the Hendrick team at $350 million, with little competition.

Joe Gibbs Racing ranked second at $225 million, and Stewart-Haas Racing was third at $180 million.

Forbes estimated the top-10 teams in NASCAR are worth an average $137 million, which is down 7 percent from last year. The top-10 teams generated a total of $864 million in revenue and $50 million in profit last season.

The full list can be found here .

— Jenna Fryer


10:30 a.m.

Brendan Gaughan is talking ’bout Allen Iverson.

Gaughan received a shoutout in Iverson’s basketball Hall of Fame induction speech last fall. Before Gaughan started a lengthy NASCAR career and Iverson became of the NBA’s greats with the Philadelphia 76ers, they were teammates at Georgetown. Gaughan was a role player with the Hoyas in the 1990s, and had one big assignment — roughing up Iverson in practice.

“Ask him if he wants to play a game with me guarding him,” Gaughan said. “It was a lot of fun. You know the old joke where they say he’ll cross you so hard, he’ll break your ankles? Actually, he crossed me so hard I did break my ankles. It was black-and-blue two years guarding him. Chipped a bone and tore some ligaments.”

Gaughan, a regular in the Truck and Xfinity Series, is set to make his 51st career Cup start in the Daytona 500. The 41-year-old driver raced his way in for Beard Motorsports.

He’s still trying to entice Iverson to attend a NASCAR race.

“We have a great relationship, still,” Gaughan said.

— Dan Gelston


10:15 a.m.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has always been overshadowed by veterans at Roush Fenway Racing.

Now that the team has scaled down to two full-time cars, he’s the new leader of an organization desperately searching for improvement.

Roush once fielded a NASCAR-high five cars and boasted a lineup that featured Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle. But those drivers are long gone, and Biffle at the end of last season said he was parting ways with Roush.

That leaves Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne as the two full-time Roush entries. Stenhouse turns 30 this year and is entering his fifth full Cup season with the organization.

He noted that he and Bayne are both more engaged this season, and Stenhouse has made a point to attend as many team meetings as possible. He’s also been active on the simulator, which was a task he typically dreaded.

But Stenhouse knows Roush has a long road ahead.

“Wins for us are going to be starting off running solidly in the top-15 and finishing in the top-15,” Stenhouse said. “Once we can do that, we can go after top-10s, then top-5s, and then wins. But it’s just about getting top-15 cars right now.”

— Jenna Fryer


10 a.m.

Danica Patrick says she has not been distracted by her ongoing legal wrangling with former sponsor Nature’s Bakery.

Stewart-Haas Racing has filed a $31 million lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery, saying the food company concocted false claims to dump the remaining two years on its deal to sponsor Patrick.

Patrick says she thought she had a solid relationship with Nature’s Bakery and insists she never promoted any rival products.

“We had a great yoga event here at Daytona last year at this time,” she said. “When there was something to do, we did it really, really well. My focus is on those who are still around and those who are stepping up.”

The severing of the contract left Stewart-Haas Racing in a funding lurch weeks before the season. Patrick had at least 20 unsponsored races without Nature’s Bakery, but Aspen Dental this week broadened its role with her. Aspen Dental will be Patrick’s primary sponsor for double-digit races, debuting with the Daytona 500.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for them to step up and I appreciate that very much,” she said. “But also to really expand their brand and continue to grow.”

— Dan Gelston


9:45 a.m.

After 14 years, 488 races and one victory, Casey Mears might be done in the Cup Series.

Mears signed on to drive in 12 Xfinity Series races for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.

“I knew we were going to have something, but until it’s locked down you’re always wondering what’s going on,” said Mears, who made every Cup race in 13 of the last 14 years. “It was great to get it locked down and know what we’re doing and have a path to pursue.”

Mears won’t be in the car for the season-opening Xfinity race at Daytona. But he will be at the track getting accustomed to his new team. He signed up to work with Fox Sports while he’s not behind the wheel, but returning to the Cup Series seems like a long shot.

“I’m a very reality-based guy,” Mears said. “I’ve had some very good opportunities in Cup. Unfortunately, it’s probably been mediocre at best.”

Mears started his career at Chip Ganassi Racing (2003-06) and then moved up to powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports (2007-08). He landed at Richard Childress Racing in 2009 and then bounced around in 2010 before spending the last six years at Germain Racing.

“I’m not jumping out of my seat to do something mediocre again,” he said. “It’s a long, grueling season. I’m open to being very dedicated to doing a full season again at some point. But to do it in the fashion where you just absolutely know you can’t be competitive is kind of heartbreaking. ... And it wears on you.”

— Mark Long


9:15 a.m.

Seven-time and defending NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says Hendrick Motorsports is hard at work trying to figure out why he spun twice in Turn 4 during last weekend’s exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway.

Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott also had in an issue during practice in the same turn, and Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had similar incidents in last year’s Daytona 500 that led to crashes.

Johnson says Hendrick has been “very aggressive” in trying to find additional speed in the car. Despite the apparent problems it has caused, Johnson noted that Kasey Kahne and Alex Bowman had no issues in that turn.

“We can’t sit still,” he said in vowing to keep pushing limits.

— Jenna Fryer


9 a.m.

Rick Ware Racing has landed a primary sponsor for its longshot effort to make the Daytona 500.

Timmy Hill is driving the Chevrolet for the team and will attempt to earn one of the two remaining slots in the Daytona 500 field in qualifying races Thursday.

To support the effort, the team signed Spoonful of Music as its primary sponsor. Spoonful of Music is a nonprofit organization that uses music to improve the lives of adolescents with chronic or incurable diseases.

Rick Ware Racing said last month it will field a full-time car in the Monster Energy Cup Series with a variety of drivers, including Hill.

— Jenna Fryer


8:30 a.m.

Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip has a lofty goal for his final NASCAR race.

Waltrip wants to “figure out a way to get to the front, run up front and finish in the top 10.” If that happens, the 53-year-old driver would “walk away proud.”

One problem? He was 35th in pole qualifying Sunday, hardly the kind of speed needed at one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks.

“Unless our strategy is, ‘We’ve got them right where we want them; they don’t even know we’re here,’ then we might be in a little bit of trouble on this one,” Waltrip said. “But I’m looking forward to trying.”

Waltrip announced last month that his 30th Daytona 500 would be the final driving stint of his NASCAR career.

— Mark Long


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