DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Comparisons are inevitable in sports, particularly in NASCAR. Fans love to say that “their driver” is better than every one else’s favorite.
But prior to Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, a new comparison of sorts was forged between a NASCAR star and country star – in this case country music superstar Luke Bryan.
Bryan, who performed a pre-race concert in the DIS infield Sunday morning, was spot-on when he talked about similarities between the teamwork of a successful driver and pit crew and a major country artist such as himself and his road crew.
“The comparisons and analogies between what singers and drivers do, I am only as good as all the people around me, and so are the drivers,” Bryan said. “I have 60 guys that work for me out on the road that move me town to town and make me who I am.
“Without those guys, it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t run smoothly and it doesn’t work. We huddle up every day and talk about how we can make things better. As a NASCAR driver, in probably the most competitive environment on the planet Earth, you have to have a big, strong team around you as a driver, you have to have a great crew, great people, working on your stuff, looking after you and keeping you safe.
“There’s so many similarities, it’s really neat to be here and watch the camaraderie with teams and how focused they are. This is their day to shine, just like when I’m about to go on stage and we’re all ready to go do our thing, too.”
A native of western Georgia, Bryan is a lifelong NASCAR fan. While he’s worked with a variety of NASCAR drivers on promotional projects over the years including Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski, Bryan doesn’t have one particular driver he pulls for.
“Growing up as a huge NASCAR fan, that was what we did, watch races on Sunday’s,” Bryan said. “My dad was a crazy Cale Yarborough fan. We grew up loving racing and I’ve been a part of so many races through the years, but this is my first Daytona 500. I’m super excited about being here and being out on the stage in front of the crowd.
“Through the years, I have worked with 10 or 15 drivers on charity stuff. I don’t necessarily pull for one driver, I have a couple I’d love to see them win it. … I have a lot of history with Jimmie Johnson, I’ve done several Jimmie Jams for him. Me and Brad Keselowski, my face was on the hood of the Miller Lite car, so I’ve worked with Brad on several things. … Me and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have worked together on several things. My main thing is I hope the guys stay safe and the fans have a great time.”
One driver Bryan is not necessarily a fan of is Joey Logano. Heck, he didn’t even get Logano’s first name right when he started talking about him in a pre-race press conference, calling him “Jeremy” Logano.
Bryan was the pace car driver for last August’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway and Logano was the pole-sitter. As they worked themselves around the two-mile MIS at about 115 mph, Logano decided to get cute and tapped the rear end of Bryan’s car with his own Ford Fusion a few times.
“He gave me a couple love taps and that was kind of nerve-wracking,” Bryan laughed. “When I was driving that pace car, I don’t think I breathed for one whole lap, and when you look in your rearview mirror and Logano is staring you down, tearing your bumper off, it’s pretty scary. It was fun.”
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.