DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There were no marriage proposals, no child reporters and hardly any silly questions.
Media day at the Daytona 500 didn’t even have a prediction.
No doubt, NASCAR’s season-opening event has a long way to go before it reaches the level of the Super Bowl.
Although it was held under a huge, white tent outside Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, it was missing the circus-type atmosphere of Super Bowl media day.
The juiciest story of the day came from Jamie McMurray, who recounted his recent four-day stint as jury foreman in a rape trial.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t have anything to say about his strained relationship with his stepmother or his split from Dale Earnhardt Inc. Kyle Busch downplayed his offseason move from Hendrick Motorsports to Joe Gibbs Racing. Even the car of tomorrow has pretty much become old news.
Maybe the bride who crashed Super Bowl media day would have livened up the place.
“I could find a thousand things better to do than this,” two-time Cup series champion Tony Stewart said as he sat down to speak to dozens of reporters.
Stewart was annoyed with the entire daylong event. He spent several hours shuffling between television cameras, radio microphones, tape recorders and hordes of reporters, and by the end of the day, he felt like he was answering the same questions he’d been asked since the end of last season.
“What are you going to ask me today that you didn’t ask me two weeks ago and three weeks ago and five weeks ago?” Stewart quipped. “Ask me something different.”
How about the Car of Tomorrow making its Daytona debut?
“I don’t understand why we’re still answering the same question about how does it feel,” Stewart said, wearing his orange and black race suit. “Nobody knows. Nobody can feel 3 or 4 horsepower, especially by yourself. I don’t know how in the hell we’re supposed to feel it until we get out there with other cars, and we still can’t do that because we have to do media day before we get on the track.
“I’m dressed up with nowhere to go. I want to know myself, but I’ve got to spend all day in here myself.”
Although Stewart’s mild rant was one of the more intriguing media day story lines, plenty else happened.
There was talk about the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500, the addition of four open-wheel champions to NASCAR, the current state of the sport, Hendrick’s dominance last year and Toyota’s expected improvement in its second season.
There was more, too.
Longtime NASCAR driver Mark Martin cheerfully recalled his oh-so-close, second-place finish in last year’s Daytona 500.
Martin, winless in his previous 22 Daytona 500 starts, was leading with two laps to go and looked like he would hold off Kyle Busch for his first win in NASCAR’s premier race. But Busch started a multi-car crash in the final turn that allowed Kevin Harvick to edge Martin at the finish line.
“I believe in my heart that I drove the race of my life and I don’t know if I’ve got more than that in me or if I could ever do that again,” Martin said.
“I don’t know and I’m not worried about it. That’s a great feeling. I’m very proud of what we did last year. I wish we would have won, but winning that race wouldn’t change who I am or really wouldn’t change my world that much.”
A few feet away, James Hylton remembered his Daytona experience a year ago. Then 72, Hylton nearly became the oldest driver to ever make a Cup race.
He came up a few spots short in one of the twin qualifying races.
“That was my one chance,” Hylton said. “It was heartbreaking as close as I got. I felt like I won the race, even not making the cutoff. That was the highlight of my career.”
Hylton had hoped to try again this year, but he couldn’t get his car together in time. Instead, he’ll focus on the ARCA series and his new sponsor, an energy drink that already has created more age jokes.
“I have to be careful drinking it,” he said. “If I drink one at 4 o’clock, I’ll be up until 3 in the morning before I can go to sleep.”
Age was an issue Thursday, but not just because of the veterans.
Joey Logano, a 17-year-old developmental driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, hopes to make his Nationwide Series debut in late May – the week after he turns 18. But NASCAR is considering raising its age limit for drivers to 21.
“I feel I’m ready to go out there and win some races,” Logano said. “It’s NASCAR’s thing. I can’t really do much about it. It’s their game. We’ve got to play by their rules. Obviously, I like the way it is.”
While Logano drew one of the smallest crowds of media day, reporters stacked up five or six deep to listen to Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, four-time Cup series winner Jeff Gordon and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson.
None of them, though, had McMurray’s story.
He served on a jury last month in Statesville, N.C., and had to decide the fate of a man accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl.
McMurray was the lone man on the 12-person jury, was chosen foreman while he was in the bathroom, and the entire experience affected him so much he woke up thinking about the case Thursday morning. The defendant was found not guilty, he said.
“Jury duty was life-changing,” he said. “It’s incredible to me that they put 12 people in charge of someone’s life or someone’s future, but I was a part of that. I wouldn’t trade it, but I don’t want to go back.
“If I ever get put back in that, I’ll tell them I don’t want to do it because I didn’t realize how intense that was going to be.”
It certainly was more intense than media day.