Friday February 22nd, 2019 9:29AM

The Latest: Bubba Wallace faces huge crowds, big questions

By The Associated Press
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Daytona 500 media day (all times local):

3 p.m.

Darrell "Bubba" Wallace is set to become the first black driver since 1969 to start the Daytona 500.

Wallace faced perhaps the biggest media contingent of the day Wednesday, with more than two-dozen writers holding selfie sticks and mobile phones in the face of the rookie driver.

Wallace played it cool. He said he welcomed the pressure that comes with the magnitude of his start.

"I'm just a race-car driver," Wallace said. "I'll whup their ass any day."

Wallace will drive the No. 43 car made famous by Hall of Fame driver and team owner Richard Petty.

Wallace had fun with the topic of the day — who will become NASCAR's next most popular driver? Most drivers answered Chase Elliott. Wallace smiled and did a playful double-take with a reporter before he answered:

"Hopefully me," he said, smiling.

Wallace's journey has been documented in "Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace," a new series that debuts Thursday on Facebook Watch.

— Dan Gelston


2:45 p.m.

Denny Hamlin is no longer on the NASCAR drivers' council he helped create.

Hamlin said at Daytona 500 media day Wednesday that he was not voted to the council for 2018.

But he still feels like he has a voice in the Cup Series garage.

"There are issues that I like to have a voice on, but I still have that voice internally with NASCAR and still get invited to plenty of private meetings with them on issues," Hamlin said. "Not a whole lot of change as far as my role."

The council has nine drivers representing each of NASCAR's three manufacturers, Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.

— Mark Long


2:30 p.m.

Elliott Sadler is ready for another shot at an elusive championship.

The 42-year-old Xfinity Series driver has finished second four of the last seven years, including back-to-back seasons. He finished fourth or better in six of those seven years.

He drives for close friend Dale Earnhardt Jr. at powerful JR Motorsports.

Sadler has being striving for a championship since breaking into the national series in 1995. He drove 12 full-time seasons in the Cup Series, finishing as high as ninth in 2004, and has driven nine full-time seasons in the second-tier, Xfinity Series.

He knows the day is coming that he will hang up his helmet, but he doesn't want it to be until after a title. He watched Earnhardt and fellow 40-something drivers Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth walk away over the last three years.

"I've talked to them guys," Sadler said. "When do you know deep down in your heart that, 'Hey, it's time for me to do something else?' I have that in mind. I understand what that feeling is probably going to be like.

"Right now, I don't have it. I still want to race and I still want to be competitive. I still want to do the things it takes to be a good race-car driver. I want to be in the gym. I want to watch film. I want to do those things. I think once that day comes where, 'Ah, I don't feel like going to the racetrack, then I'll know it's time to step away. But right now it has not come to that point."

— Mark Long


2 p.m.

Defending Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. believes NASCAR's new pit rules are the pits.

The sanctioning body reduced the number of crewmembers allowed over the wall from six to five, meaning fewer people making changes when every second counts. NASCAR also instituted a universal air wrench that is heavier and slower. The new rules made their debut in the Clash at Daytona last weekend.

"I didn't see any pit stops the other day that were very good," Truex said. "Ours were awful. I'm sitting there like, 'Oh my God. This is way worse than I anticipated.' I felt like was sitting there for a minute. And then I came out with the three guys I came in with, so I'm like, 'OK, so we all sucked.'"

The loss of a crew member is expected to add at least a couple seconds to a typical pit stop. The additional time also allows teams to get creative with how to perform the same work with fewer people. An unexpected byproduct is more injuries from pit crews handling a heavier workload.

"All I've heard all offseason is how difficult it is, how many guys are getting hurt, the guns are so slow, the guns are this," Truex said. "It's going to be bad. I feel it's going to take a while to figure out."

— Mark Long


1:45 p.m.

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has no retirement date in sight.

Johnson has watched fellow 40-something drivers Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all leave the sport over the last three years. But he's not ready to join the NASCAR star exodus quite yet.

"For me, I feel like, sure, I could stop; I've accomplished so much," Johnson said at Daytona 500 media day. "But what else am I going to do? I'm going to find something else to race. I am a racer at heart and I want to compete and I feel like I can accomplish more in the sport and win more races and compete for more championships and win more championships. I don't feel that it's time yet.

Johnson said his desire to compete is as "intense as ever" as he continues his chase of a record eighth NASCAR Cup championship. Johnson, who won the 2016 crown, is coming off the worst season of his career. He won only three races — none after June — and finished 10th in the final points standings.

— Mark Long


1:15 p.m.

The Daytona 500 has gone dry.

Former NASCAR champions Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick, who usually sport beer brand sponsors logos on their hoods, have non-alcoholic sponsors for the Daytona 500.

The Daytona 500 will be the first once since 1982 without a beer-sponsored car in the race.

Miller Lite will still serve as primary sponsor for Team Penske and the No. 2 car driven by Keselowski at select races. Same with Busch and Harvick's No. 4 Ford.

"It's not like they're not active," Harvick said. "You go everywhere in this town and Busch has pretty much taken over the town. You would never know Busch is not on the car when you drive around town and look around the racetrack."

— Dan Gelston


1:10 p.m.

He Said It:

"Joey is one of those guys you could kick in the (groin) and he'd walk away smiling."

— Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski on eternally optimistic teammate Joey Logano.

— Dan Gelston


1:05 p.m.

It's a thorny issue for Brad Keselowski. Does it matter that he is the favorite to win the Daytona 500?

Keselowski can't bet on himself.

"I'd be Pete Rose," Keselowski said. "I don't think it should be illegal to bet for yourself. It should be illegal to put against yourself."

But is their pressure as the favorite?

"No, because I don't have any money on it," Keselowski said, laughing.

— Dan Gelston


12:30 p.m.

Kevin Harvick has high expectations for budding star Chase Elliott.

The 2014 NASCAR Cup champion called Elliott the "biggest tie to our grass-roots NASCAR fan." Elliott is the 22-year-old son of Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott. Both hail from Dawsonville, Georgia.

"I feel like he's one of the most important ingredients in what NASCAR racing does going forward because of his family name," Harvick said at Daytona 500 media day. "He has the legacy that's already been built in this sport by his dad. He's come into this sport with a great name and already proven that he's going to be competitive. He has those southeast, NASCAR ties to those core fans that none of the rest of us will ever have. He's the guy."

Elliott, entering his third full season at Hendrick Motorsports, in winless in 77 career Cup starts. He has 12 top-five finishes last year, including five runner-ups.

"When he wins the first time, you're going to see things that you haven't seen in a long time from fan reaction and just enthusiasm about this sport," Harvick said. "And when that happens, it's going to be good for all of us."

— Mark Long


11:45 a.m.

The green flag is about to drop on Daytona 500 media day.

There's plenty to talk about heading into Sunday's race. The field has undergone a dramatic youth movement, and new stars seem to be the sport's focus. Alex Bowman is on the pole for the season-opening race and fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron is set to make his Cup series debut.

Kurt Busch will try to defend his Daytona 500 championship, and Martin Truex Jr. opens defense of his 2017 series title.

Darrell Wallace Jr. will make history as the first black driver since 1969 to start the Daytona 500.

Danica Patrick is still around, at least for one more race. She'll make her final NASCAR start as part of the "Danica Double" that has her ending her career back in open-wheel racing at the Indianapolis 500.

— Dan Gelston


More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org

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