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Thursday, February 16, 2012
NASCAR circus hits Daytona Beach

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Media day at Daytona, similar to media day at the Super Bowl, is more about the show than it is about what you know.

Maybe not quite that zany. I checked with NASCAR PR guru Kerry Tharp. The big tent here didn't have a reporter from MTV or Nickelodeon.

Oh, well. One reporter -- Tommy Wissing -- came from the Netherlands. He brought a pair of wooden shoes painted in the theme of Tony Stewart's No. 14 Chevy.

"Those are cool," Stewart said. "But I don't think I can wear them. My feet won't take it."

Racing shoes were the footwear of the day. One by one, every driver paraded through in his (or her, in one case) shiny new firesuit. They smiled for the row of TV cameras. They joked with reporters. They went live on radio and TV shows.

Serious questions sometimes take a backseat to offbeat ideas. What did we learn?

Juan Pablo Montoya and Travis Pastrana
Juan Pablo Montoya, left, thought he was going to get in trouble at NASCAR media day. Travis Pastrana is just trying to stay healthy.

Well, Danica Patrick won the popularity poll as far as media attention goes. An all-star rugby player wouldn't want to brave that scrum.

And Patrick even brought up the taboo subject that's always around when she's around but no one mentions -- sex. Actually, she thinks it's mentioned too much.

"If there's a pretty girl, it seems like [reporters] don't know how to describe her except being sexy," Patrick said. "That has such a negative connotation. You don't frame it like that for a guy."

Hey, I know plenty of women who think Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and, of course, Dale Earnhardt Jr. are sexy.

OK, let's change the subject. See what I mean about media-day topics?

Here's a better one: Kevin Harvick and wife DeLana learned last week in an ultrasound that they are having a son, due this summer. Kevin said they have picked out a name, but he wouldn't tell me what it is.

I'll make a prediction: It won't be Kyle, Kurt or Carl.

Probably not Juan Pablo, either. Mr. Montoya went to the print reporters' portion of the day with the top part of his firesuit tied around his waist, then realized photographers were taking pictures there.

"Uh-oh," he said, pulling up his uni. "I've got to zip this up or I'm going to get in big trouble right off the bat."

Hopefully no one tweeted JPM in his T-shirt. Twitter is a dangerous world, but driver Regan Smith feels safe.

"I thought twice last year before I posted tweets because I heard [NASCAR] was giving fines," Smith said. "But now I've heard there's not going to be fines, so I might not think twice anymore."

Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon set a serious tone by talking about what he saw on an offseason trip to Africa.

Uh, think again, Regan. NASCAR officials still are dishing out fines if they don't like what you tweet. The only difference is the fines won't be a secret. So if you tweet a no-no and they fine you, everyone will know.

Rules change frequently in NASCAR, as Kasey Kahne pointed out when asked if fans will continue to see a lot of pairs racing at Daytona.

"I don't think so," he said. "But if we do see it in the Shootout [Saturday night], we'll see a new rules package Monday morning."

NASCAR wants to give the fans what they want, and most fans don't want to see tandem racing. A big goal is bringing in new fans, which Danica can do.

It's no secret the fan base skews toward middle-aged men, something NASCAR officials want to change.

Motorcross and X Games star Travis Pastrana could bring some younger fans when he finally gets on the track. Pastrana broke his ankle and foot in a stunt competition two days before he was going to make his Nationwide Series debut last summer. He said things will be better this year with his much-delayed debut.

"If I just stay healthy," he said. "And if I don't suck."

Good point.

There were some serious comments, of course. Maybe the best one came from Jeff Gordon when he asked about what he learned while visiting Africa last year.

"I learned that children are dying over there from things that are easily treatable over here," he said. "That got my attention."

Edwards made a serious prediction that most fans will like if it comes true. He thinks the historic championship battle he had with Stewart last season can happen again.

"As close as the competition is now, I think we could go to the last race with three or four guys that close," Edwards said. "I think the chances of that are very high."

One prediction no driver wanted to make was selecting a winner for the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.

"Everybody has a shot," Earnhardt said. "Well, at least 35 [drivers] or so have a good shot at it. I've known for a while it's a lottery. You just don't know who's gonna come off Turn 4 [on the last lap] battling for this thing anymore."

That may have been the most insightful racing comment anyone said all day. Save it for another day. On media day, it's all about the show.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.