Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Thirty-four minutes into Saturday’s opening practice for the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway, a session that had been relatively benign to that point went haywire for four prominent drivers.
Drafting in a pack of cars through Turns 1 and 2, the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 of Chase Elliott was trapped in the middle lane and lost positions. Moving up the track slightly, Elliott ran out of room and clipped the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang of Ryan Newman with his right rear quarter panel.
Both cars spun out of control. Checking up behind the collision, Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry got nailed from behind by the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang of Kevin Harvick, who slid into the infield grass and came to a stop. Hamlin’s car suffered severe damage as it plowed through the grass.
“I was really excited to see that there was actually a pack formed,” Elliott said of the moments that led up to the wreck.
“Typically, guys ride around here in practice and don’t ever do anything, so I was glad to see there was a good pack lined up. We were making an effort to try to get in it before it was over and Aric (Almirola) and I were coming up to speed together.
“He got to the bottom and kind of got in line, so I thought I would just hop in line, too, and it didn’t work out. Ended up kind of being in the middle, and I was going to ride out the middle until the back, and I came off (Turn) 2 there and it looked like I crowded Ryan (Newman) a little bit. When you get close to guys, it kind of brings you together. So, yeah, like I said, just messed up.”
Both Elliott and Hamlin had to go to backup cars for the Advance Auto Parts Clash (Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). NASCAR allowed Harvick and Newman to extricate their cars from the infield, change tires where necessary and drive them back to the garage, avoiding additional potential damage from being hauled on a tow truck or rollback.
“I didn’t really see anything other than I hit the car in front of me and just jammed on the brakes, wheel-hopped and spun out,” Harvick said.
“I kind of got stuck in the mud there, and they helped us out by letting us bring tires. It would have destroyed the car dragging it out of there, so I appreciate NASCAR helping us out.”
ALMIROLA TOOK THE HIGH ROAD AFTER 2018 DAYTONA 500—NOW HE’S BACK
Driving in his debut event for Stewart-Haas Racing last year, Aric Almirola had the lead roughly a mile from the finish line.
But as he approached Turn 3 at Daytona International Speedway and tried to block a run by Austin Dillon, contact between Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Almirola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang sent Almirola into the outside wall and Dillon into Victory Lane.
Under the circumstances, Almirola was extraordinarily gracious after the fact, defusing what could have been a volatile situation between the two drivers.
That’s not to say, however, that Almirola didn’t have a few private moments of anger and frustration.
“Did I ever have a moment where behind closed doors I stomped my feet and hit some things?” Almirola asked rhetorically on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. “Maybe,” he acknowledged with a mischievous grin.
But his behavior in public was far more measured and diplomatic.
“In that time, in that moment, it was more important for me to go out and be a good representation for my sponsors and my partners and my kids,” Almirola said. “My kids were sitting back in my motor home watching on TV like the rest of the world, so at that time it was an opportunity for me to be a good role model for my kids.
“You’ve got to be a good sport, and sometimes things don’t always go your way. You’ve got two choices. You can either keep your head high and take the high road, or you can pout and piss and moan—and the sponsors usually like the first one.”
Almirola didn’t win the Daytona 500, but he eventually found Victory Lane with Stewart-Haas in the last restrictor-plate race of 2019 at Talladega. With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars featuring the same specs for the Daytona 500, Almirola is optimistic about his chances this year—if he can just complete the last mile in the lead.
ARCA, MENARD’S ANNOUNCE MULTIYEAR ENTITLEMENT DEAL
John Menard, founder of the home improvement company that bears his name, is a long-time supporter of motorsports. Typically, Menard has a penchant for one-year deals.
That’s why Menard’s multiyear entitlement sponsorship of the ARCA Series, announced Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, is such a welcome addition to the series, which NASCAR agreed to acquire as part of its motorsports portfolio last year.
Menard’s, which has enjoyed a 10-year partnership with ARCA, has elevated its status from presenting sponsor to the title position under the ARCA Menard’s Series banner.
“We’ve been with ARCA a long time,” Menard said. “We’re a Midwest-based company, and ARCA has strong ties to the Midwest. So our customers in the Midwest shop our stores, attend ARCA races, and we really like the idea that we can have a longer-term relationship, that we can have more things that we can carry on from year-to-year to build on.”
NASCAR vice-chairman Mike Helton underscored the significance of the relationship.
“It means a lot,” Helton said. “First of all, John is no stranger to motorsports. He’s been in it for a long time, so for Menard’s to step up with the ARCA relationship is, I think, indicative, and complementary to the decision that Lesa Kennedy and Jim France had to bring ARCA officially into the NASCAR family.”