Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Lighthearted moments give drivers something to smile about at Daytona
By Terry Blount ESPN.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- January testing in unpainted cars and mostly empty grandstands won't win any awards for dramatic performances.
Drivers are bored to tears 90 percent of the time, but the low-stress environment also lends itself to some interesting information that rarely comes up on a race weekend.
Dodge officials hosted a dinner with their drivers Monday night that produced plenty of revealing -- and in some cases oddball -- topics about the drivers' lives on and off the track.
Here are a few examples that include everything from boxer shorts to babies:
• Sprint Cup rookie Dario Franchitti got caught with his pants down, sort of, when he first moved to his home in Nashville, Tenn., with his wife, actress Ashley Judd.
"I was just sitting in the kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal in my boxer shorts," Franchitti said. "I looked up and some guy is standing in front of me. He just walked in the house.
"I really don't think I was the one he was looking for, but the guy quickly turned around and ran out of the house. He got in his car and sped off. So what did I do? I got in my car and chased him."
But Franchitti forgot one important thing in his quest to catch the intruder.
"The police caught up [to] the guy before I did," Franchitti said. "And apparently some people in the Nashville media also heard on the [police scanner] about it, so they were there, too. They came up to talk to me about the time I realized I was still in my boxer shorts. I had to stay in the car the whole time."
• Ryan Newman, who turned 30 on Dec. 8, said his wife, Krissie, gave him the best gift ever at his surprise birthday party, which included 300 people.
"It was a 1948 Buick Roadmaster convertible," Newman said. "That's my dream car."
Newman's off time also included a duck-hunting outing with NASCAR team owner Richard Childress last week in Tennessee. But Newman had limited success.
"I wounded one duck," Newman said. "Somebody else shot it and made it go down, but it was mine because I shot it first."
• Bobby Labonte is quite proud of one rare accomplishment he achieved in the offseason at big brother Terry Labonte's Texas ranch.
"I got to shoot a hog," Labonte said. "But I did it with a bow and arrow. That was pretty cool."
• Jeff Meendering, Bobby Labonte's new crew chief, did a six-race stint as Jeff Gordon's crew chief last summer while Steve Letarte was suspended.
"Those six races showed me how much I enjoyed being the leader of the team," Meendering said. "The part I haven't gotten used to is talking to the media. That's the hardest thing for me."
Gordon posted six consecutive top-10s with Meendering on top of the pit box, including a second-place finish at New Hampshire in July.
Meendering, 30, left Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the 2007 season to join Petty Enterprises as the crew chief for the No. 43 Dodge. He said one big factor in his decision was the chance to work with Petty Enterprises general manager Robbie Loomis.
Meendering worked under Loomis when Loomis was Gordon's crew chief: "Robbie's a good person that I have the utmost respect for," Meendering said.
Sam Hornish Jr., left, is expecting a new baby to arrive Feb. 10 -- on pole day for the Daytona 500.
• Sprint Cup newbie Sam Hornish spent most of December getting ready for a new arrival. Sam's wife, Crystal, is due to deliver their first child next month.
"I've been decorating the nursery and getting everything ready," Hornish said. "The due date is a bit of a concern for me. It's February 10th [pole day for the Daytona 500]. I really want to be there for the birth. We'll see what happens."
• At age 22, Reed Sorenson now is the senior member of the Chip Ganassi Racing Sprint Cup team. Sorenson is starting his third Cup season.
His teammates are Juan Pablo Montoya, who begins his second season, and 2007 Indy 500 winner Franchitti, a 34-year-old Cup rookie.
"I like being a rookie again," Franchitti said. "If someone has bad eyesight, maybe they'll think I'm young."
• French Canadian Patrick Carpentier experienced a NASCAR first when he revealed the 2008 paint scheme for his No. 10 Valvoline Dodge at a Montreal Canadiens hockey game.
"It was really cool because I got to walk out on the ice with [former Montreal Canadiens player] Guy Lafleur," Carpentier said. "He's a legend with those fans. He also was No. 10. The people were cheering like crazy when we walked out."
George Gillett, the co-owner of Gillett Evernham Motorsports, also owns the Montreal Canadiens.
• Kasey Kahne said he learned one cool thing about having Budweiser as his new primary sponsor of the No. 9 Dodge.
"I can get tickets to pretty much any sporting event I want," Kahne said.
Kahne went to the BCS National Championship Game between LSU and Ohio State at the New Orleans Superdome, but Budweiser didn't supply those tickets.
"Those came from my other sponsor -- Allstate," Kahne said. "They sponsor that game."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.