DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As a rule, media day is only slightly more insightful than a presidential press conference: You know the topics going in, can guess many of the answers and can expect a few surprises.
The 2012 Sprint Cup Series media day, held Thursday outside Daytona International Speedway, didn't stray from that script. It had the routine (let's talk about Danica Patrick), the rote answers (Tony Stewart isn't thinking beyond Daytona) and several surprises (Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s beard and Kurt Busch's self-deprecating humor foremost among them).
• How did Stewart win five of 10 Chase races last season after going winless in the first 26? According to teammate Ryan Newman, not even Stewart knows.
"I was the second one to get to him after Homestead," Newman recounted, "and he looked at me and said, 'I still don't believe it. I still don't know how it happened.' "
• Kurt Busch stayed on message, explaining how much "fun" (11 mentions) he's having going "old-school racing" (seven mentions) with his new team, the underfunded Phoenix Racing.
• Just about everyone thinks the Daytona 500 is going to be a pack race until the closing laps, when drivers will pair up in a dash to the checkered flag.
• The free agent class of 2012 includes Matt Kenseth (not talking about his contract), Ryan Newman (said he wanted to get a new deal done prior to the season but hasn't), Joey Logano (who's on the hot seat) and Martin Truex Jr.
• AJ Allmendinger, who replaced Kurt Busch at Penske Racing, said, "Anything less than winning races and making the Chase is a disappointment."
• One thing Earnhardt didn't consider when he signed Patrick to drive for JR Motorsports is that she would make the organization better. According to him, she has. How? She works hard, lightens the mood and everyone likes to work with her.
• Earnhardt said his chance of winning the Daytona 500 is the lowest of any race of the season, not because he's not good at Daytona, but because the number of cars capable of winning is about 35, compared to fewer than 20 every other week of the season.
• Denny Hamlin will caddy for Bubba Watson during the Par-3 Tournament prior to The Masters.
• Quote of the Day comes from Busch, explaining what it will be like driving for his brother Kyle in the Nationwide Series: "I might be able to call him 'dude' on the radio," a reference to Kurt's dude comment to former boss Roger Penske.
• When asked if he agreed with team owner Chip Ganassi's assessment that 2011 was "pathetic," Juan Pablo Montoya replied, "I would agree with him. I mean if any of you think that as a team we performed last year, you should not be a reporter, or you should not be involved in this sport because it was bad. It was a really bad year for us. I mean on a good day we could finish eighth or something, I mean that is crazy."
• Does Brad Keselowski ever think twice about what he says in a tweet?
"Absolutely not. If I have to think about it twice, it's not authentic,” he said. “If I have to stop and think, 'If I should cut out this world not to make so and so mad,' I'm a big believer in authenticity. I've had a few moments where I've had to explain myself."
• Kevin Harvick said starting a family was the biggest contributing factor in he and wife Delana's decision to sell Kevin Harvick Inc. The Harvicks announced last month they are expecting their first child in July.
• And finally, when asked about appearing on Forbes' top 10 list of most hated athletes, Kurt Busch responded, "I actually went from third to 10th, so I actually think I improved."
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