Corey LaJoie listens to a question from a reporter during NASCAR Daytona 500 auto racing media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The Latest: Menard, Johnson hash out Clash crash, move on

February 13, 2019 - 1:40 pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on NASCAR media day for the Daytona 500 (all times local):

1:30 p.m.

Paul Menard says he talked with Jimmie Johnson on Wednesday to hash out the late-race wreck that cost Menard a win in the exhibition Clash.

Johnson triggered a wreck that wiped out nearly the entire 20-car field when he dipped low and tried to side-draft Menard as they battled for the lead. Johnson turned Menard, starting a massive chain-reaction behind him. Johnson zipped past Menard and won the rain-shortened race.

"Jimmie did what he did to try to win. It was not intentional," Menard said.

Menard declined to discuss many specifics of the conversation, saying he was ready to "move on" from the incident.

"What's done is done. Looking into the rearview mirror on that one," Menard said.

Not everyone was ready to let it go. Fellow driver Corey LaJoie joked that he might have a better shot in the season opener "if Jimmie can take out another 20 cars on Sunday."

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1 p.m.

Corey LaJoie believes he's got the best beard in the Cup Series.

It's about to get national exposure.

LaJoie's face and beard are featured on the front of his No. 32 Ford for Speedweeks.

"I was against it at first," LaJoie said at Daytona 500 media day Wednesday. "But Old Spice had an idea what they wanted to do and they ran with it. They only gave us the one option. There was no A, B and C options.

"It was, 'Your face is going on the car with what's going to look like hair down the (side) of the car because we're pushing our dry shampoo and deal with it.' I was like, 'Fine, right?' But as soon as we put that thing out, it's just taking traction like no other, way more than anybody expected."

There have been jokes, memes and plenty of puns since the paint scheme's debut at Daytona last week.

LaJoie is hoping to keep his car in one piece during a qualifying race Thursday and in the season-opening Daytona 500 three days later, mostly so his face doesn't end up being a crumbled reminder of the one-race deal.

"I hope I keep that thing together 'cause that could open up a whole 'nother can of worms I'd rather not have to go down or see myself plastered with my hood bowed up and sideburns pushed in and everything else," he said. "It could be the best thing that happens in my career or the worst thing that happens in my career."

LaJoie figures Old Spice picked the perfect driver to team with for the season opener.

The 27-year-old LaJoie has a thick, brown beard with not even a touch of gray. Is it the best in the Cup Series?

"First, clearly," he said. "It's not even close. I lapped everybody."

He eventually acknowledged that Team Penske driver Paul Menard would be the only other driver even in the conversation.

"A few weeks ago, Menard looked like he came straight out of the woods in hibernation," LaJoie said. "But when Penske called him up for the ol' company pic, he had to go knock an inch and a half off that thing. I would say right now my beard is first. I don't even know who I would rank second."

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12:50 p.m.

Kyle Busch says he's deep into negotiations on a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Busch has driven the No. 18 Toyota for Gibbs since 2008 and is in a contract year with the organization. He was surprised Wednesday to learn his contract status was public knowledge but indicated he's not truly a free agent.

"We're in discussions right now, we are talking. It's all been agreed to," Busch said. "It's just a matter of putting pen to paper. We're all good."

Busch has won 47 Cup races with Gibbs and the 2015 championship. He's raced for the title in each of the last four seasons.

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12:30 p.m.

Johnny Sauter has salvaged his 2019 season roughly a month after it fell apart with no notice.

Sauter lost his ride with GMS Racing in January when the team decided to instead use reigning Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt.

The decision blindsided Sauter, who won six races for GMS last season and finished fourth in the championship finale. Sauter won the Truck Series championship in 2016, has not finished lower than fourth the last six seasons and won 13 times for GMS.

Sauter finally put together a new job right before he had to report to Daytona International Speedway. He will drive again this season for ThorSport Racing, where raced from 2009 until he joined GMS in 2016.

"I'm returning home," Sauter said. "I couldn't be more proud of going back there and running for a championship."

ThorSport is expanding to four full-time Truck entries with Sauter. He'll be teammates with Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Myatt Snider and Grant Enfinger. Snider will drive in select races for the team.

Sauter arrived in Daytona three days before the Truck Series season opening race Friday night.

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11 a.m.

Casey Mears will have a paint scheme for the Daytona 500 .Mears secured one of the open spots for Sunday's race when he qualified in an all-black No. 27 Chevrolet. Without a guaranteed spot in the field, Germain Racing was unable to sign a primary sponsor in time for qualifying.

Still wearing a plain, black fire suit, Mears at least had a Rim Ryderz hat on his lap.

"They literally handed me this hat when I walked through the door," Mears said at Daytona 500 media day. "I'm learning as I go. It looks like a pretty cool company."

The company makes skateboard rims.

Mears, who has one career Cup win in 488 starts, said he had no other races scheduled for this season. He was second in the 2006 Daytona 500.

Mears is running a second entry for Germain in a car built in collaboration with Premium Motorsports. He was one of the six drivers vying for four open spots in NASCAR's season opener.

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10:45 a.m.

Ross Chastain, a watermelon farmer from Florida and aspiring race car driver, had accepted he'd likely always be a journeyman driving for back-marker teams that had little chance of winning races.

Then a chance encounter with a potential sponsor changed Chastain's life.

Chastain was spotted washing a motorhome between practices by the head of DC Solar, and the chairman was fascinated to learn that was how Chastain earned additional money needed to fund his racing dreams. Jeff Carpoff was adamant he wanted to sponsor Chastain and paid for Chastain to drive a handful of Xfinity Series races for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Chastain won in his second start in Ganassi's equipment and by November he had a full-time Xfinity ride with Ganassi funded by DC Solar.

The joy from his long-awaited break was short-lived. Federal investigators raided DC Solar's headquarters in December and the Carpoffs have been radio silent since. Ganassi has shuttered the Xfinity team, and Chastain was looking for work roughly a month before the season began.

"I am not driving the race car I thought I would be, but there are thousands of people whose lives got turned upside down and when I can't sleep at night it is because of that," Chastain said. "A lot of people who have had to find new jobs."

Chastain still has a relationship with Ganassi and has pieced together a full schedule of racing for 2019. He will race his first Daytona 500 and the entire Cup schedule with Premium Motorsports, three Xfinity Series races, including the Daytona opener with Kaulig Racing, and the remaining 30 Xfinity races with JD Motorsports.

Chastain has also signed on to drive select Truck Series races for Niece Motorsports.

He's yet to hear from Carpoff, whom Chastain still credits with giving his career a boost.

"They all are figuring out what they want to do. I am here when they want it," Chastain said. "I love them, I know they love me, they did a lot for me, they changed my life forever. They made me a NASCAR winner, it gave me a level of confidence I would have never had before. I had accepted the fact I would never win in NASCAR, and he changed that, himself."

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10:30 a.m.

Denny Hamlin is dedicating this NASCAR season to the memory of Joe Gibbs Racing co-founder J.D. Gibbs.

The eldest son of team owner and Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs died in January at age 49. J.D. Gibbs discovered Hamlin at a late-model test at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina in the early 2000s.

Hamlin's charity is donating $111 to the J.D. Gibbs Legacy Fund for each lap he leads in the No. 11 Toyota in 2019. Hamlin also hopes to dedicate a victory to Gibbs, preferably at Daytona.

"It'll be super important," Hamlin said. "Obviously, everyone knows how important he was for me and my career and everything he did for us. Certainly having success on track will be crucial for that. Now that I pledged $111 for every lap we lead, it's going to be important for me to get up front and be up front often."

Hamlin's career high for laps lead is 1,380 in 2009.

Gibbs died from complications following a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease. It was revealed in 2015 that he was dealing with "conditions related to brain function." He was serving as president of JGR at the time.

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10 a.m.

Daniel Hemric hopes his surprise run in time trials for the Daytona 500 is just one of many highlights in his rookie season.

Hemric advanced into the final round of single-car qualifying and landed fifth on the timing stand — behind only Hendrick Motorsports' four-car sweep.

Hemric will make his Cup Series debut in Sunday's season-opening race and use the biggest stage to introduce himself as a throwback of NASCAR's earliest stars. Hemric grew up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, home of the Earnhardt family and he grew up rooting for the late Dale Earnhardt.

His big break came with Richard Childress Racing, Earnhardt's old team, and his car number is from a sacred stash that isn't given to just any driver. Hemric will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet, used before by Earnhardt family patriarch Ralph Earnhardt and later Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt Sr. drove the No. 3 Chevrolet, and Childress brought that number back for his grandson, Austin Dillon. Dillon drove the No. 3 to victory in last year's Daytona 500.

"It's a huge sense of pride to be from Kannapolis and also a sense of pride in our race shop, when guys realize where I come from, where I've been and how I got to this point, it puts a pep in everybody's step," Hemric said. "It's the American dream of how a guy can get to this level, and I'm pumped up to carry the flag for Kannapolis and have a shot to build something incredible."

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9 a.m.

Joey Logano no longer feels like the NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Even though he thinks it's cool that people call him "champ," he says he and his Team Penske crew need to turn the page and start looking toward the new season.

"That was last year," Logano said Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway. "One of my favorite Roger Penske's quotes is, 'Don't trip over your press clippings.' That's last year and we need to keep looking forward because right now we're past champions in my eyes. As soon as we unloaded down here, the championship fun is over and it's back to trying to win another one. We're back at zero with everyone else."

He finished third in the exhibition Clash on Sunday and was back at the track three days later for Daytona 500 media day.

The 28-year-old Logano won his first Cup championship in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, beating out fellow title contenders Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.

He says winning was the best part, not anything that followed.

"To me, the most fun was right when you get out of the car and you see your team and you see your family," Logano said. "That, to me, was the most rewarding and fun piece, to see everyone else's face as excited as I was and then getting back home after the media tour and watching all the specials on TV and kind of reliving the moment. That was fun for me."

Logano will try to become the first defending series champion to win the Daytona 500 since Dale Jarrett in 2000.

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