Unlike most sports, NASCAR hosts its biggest event of the year, the Daytona 500, at the beginning of the season. Media day is part of the nine days of activities known as Speedweeks and allows journalists the chance to catch up with drivers following their offseason.
All of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers competing in the 500 took part in the media day, and a few stopped by to answer some fun sports-related questions, starting with their memories of their first Daytona 500.
“I was pumped to be in it,” said Austin Dillon, driver of the number 3 Chevrolet. “I remember wearing my cowboy hat walking out on the stage, being proud to be part of the Daytona 500.”
Aric Almirola, who is from nearby Tampa Bay and drives the number 10 Ford, said, “Nerves! Butterflies in my stomach! I was so nervous. I was excited. Nervous. All of these things. I felt like I just wanted to throw up all day before the race started.”
Ryan Blaney, whose father, Dave, was also a NASCAR driver, recalled, “I’ve always watched the 500 and been around it when my dad was racing it. But now to be a part of it and see all of the atmosphere that is a part of it—you never forget your first 500.”
Ricky Stenhouse, who drives the number 17 Ford, has an interesting memory. “My first Daytona 500 was the one where the jet dryer ended up being blown up,” he said, referring to the 2012 edition when there was an accident with Juan Pablo Montoya's car and a jet dryer. “We were here until, I think, 2 a.m. I got in a late-race crash and didn’t end up well, but it was a pretty eventful Daytona 500.”
David Ragan, driver of the number 3 Ford, recalled his optimism following his first Daytona 500: “I wrecked my primary car on Thursday, so that wasn’t good. But our back-up car was pretty fast. We started in the back, but I worked my way up and finished fifth and thought, ‘Man, this is pretty easy; I’m going to win one of these things!’ But to date that top five is my best finish in the Daytona 500.”
Who did you want to win the Super Bowl between the Eagles and Patriots?
Jamie McMurray, driver of the number 1 Chevrolet: “I wanted the Patriots to win the Super Bowl because I like seeing history being made. I think Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever. I wanted to see them get the next Super Bowl. But at the same time, I thought it was super cool for all of the Eagles fans.”
Dillon: “I wanted Tom Brady to get another Super Bowl ring, and I was mad that he didn’t. I think he will get another opportunity. But the fact that he’s creating history every time that he goes to the Super Bowl—I think that’s cool.”
Ragan: “I wasn’t a fan of either team. I didn’t really like the Eagles because they beat my Falcons. And the Patriots beat my Falcons last year in the Super Bowl. So I was hoping the power would go out in the dome and they would cancel the Super Bowl and there wouldn’t be one!”
Who is your favorite athlete who is not a race car driver?
Blaney: “I’ve always been a big fan of LeBron James because he’s from Akron, Ohio, and I was born not too far from Akron. I have to support my fellow Ohio natives.”
Almirola: “I really liked Barry Larkin, the shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, for a long time.”
Ragan: “I’m a big fan of Matt Ryan, the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. I think Matt’s a good guy, and I’ve always enjoyed watching him play.”
Stenhouse: “[Professional bull rider] J.B. Mauney is a buddy of mine who I think is a super tough athlete. And I like Rickie Fowler playing golf.”
What is your favorite sport to watch when you are away from the track?
Dillon: “This week I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic [short-track] speedskating. [They’re] bumping and pushing and they’re wrecking a lot. So that’s cool.”
Almirola: “If I’m going to watch a sporting event live, I really enjoy going to baseball games. If I’m going to watch on TV, the [college] football playoff is pretty exciting. My team is UCF, [University of Central Florida], because I went to UCF.”
Blaney: “I prefer watching supercross, dirt bikes, F1. But basketball is probably my favorite sport outside of racing.”
Stenhouse: “I watch a lot of golf when I’m away from the racetrack or at the racetrack. And I watch a lot of supercross.”
To watch the 60th running of the Daytona 500, featuring these six drivers along with the 34 others who will make up the field, be sure to tune in to FOX this Sunday. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Photographs by (from top): Chris Trotman/NASCAR/Getty Images (2017 race start); Michael Nichols (Stenhouse, trophy)