Keselowski plays repair man in rush to fix Daytona 500 car

Big Race - Daytona

Brad Keselowski, left, looks over his car as his crew makes repairs after he wrecked during NASCAR auto race practice at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla (AP) — Brad Keselowski worked overtime to get his Ford ready for Daytona 500 qualifying. Keselowski moonlighted as a crew member when he grabbed tools in the garage and helped repair his car after he was in a fender-bender during practice.

The 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion stayed for at least four hours with his Team Penske crew and banged out the metal on a car that sustained moderate damage on the right side.

“I don’t want to take too much credit,” Keselowski said during Sunday’s qualifying session. “A lot of people did a lot more than I did.”

Keselowski did take the blame for the accident that happened a day earlier as he was set to hit the track for the second practice. He pulled out of the garage when a competing car slowed in front of him. Keselowski hit the brakes to avoid the car and instead struck a fence post.

“Was he tweeting at the same time?” fellow driver Kurt Busch cracked. “I don’t know how he hit that fence over there.”

Unlike some drivers, Keselowski refused to leave his Penske crew behind to handle all the repair work. His team put the final touches on his car early Sunday morning, and Keselowski posted the 23rd-fastest speed in pole qualifying.

“I thought we were going to be a little faster than I was,” Keselowski said.

BUBBA REMEMBERS

Bubba Wallace is honoring Kobe Bryant and the other helicopter crash victims as well as former Richard Petty Motorsports driver John Andretti on his Daytona 500 Chevrolet.

There was a decal on the trunk lid of Wallace’s No. 43 Chevy that read “In memory of …” and listed Bryant and the other victims.

Wallace also had a 43 decal that read #checkit4Andretti on his rear window. Andretti died last month at 56 after a three-year battle with colon cancer. Andretti drove for Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress during his racing career.

“I wanted to do something special for Kobe and all the victims there. I was going to put his name where my name was on the door and then we were like, ‘We need to honor every single person there,’ and I agree with that,” Wallace said. “We came up with a cool decal, and it turned out really cool with the Lakers colors. It offsets from our Air Force scheme. It looks good. Just a lot of people riding with us for the 500 on Sunday.”

MARATHON MAN

Jimmie Johnson finished one race before he even grabbed the wheel of his Chevy.

Johnson, a noted fitness freak, ran the Daytona Beach Half Marathon hours before he qualified for the Daytona 500. Johnson posted a photo on his Instagram story of a 6:51 a.m. warmup and he took off from the start line around 7:10 a.m. His bib matched his No. 48 car number and he finished 39th among the field of nearly 900 athletes with a time of 1:33:53.7.

“I started off a slower than I wanted to, but at the end I had a little more kick left and was able to chew away at the time and get it back down,” Johnson said. “It was a fun day. I’m sore as hell right now.”

The 44-year-old Johnson ran the Boston Marthon last year and wants to run the New York Marathon and Chicago Marathon as part of his fitness goals as he scales back his racing commitments after this season.

“I’ve always wanted to go over and ride before or after different stages of the Tour de France and go up some of those massive climbs,” Johnson said. “I’ll also have a little wine when I’m over there.”

Johnson heads into his 19th and final full season in stock car racing, but has refused to rule out racing another Daytona 500.

“I don’t know where ’21 and beyond will take me. If I can find a 10 to 15-race schedule, pick some of my favorite tracks, try some new cars, some new countries to race in,” that would be ideal, Johnson said.

John Hunter Nemechek also attempted the half marathon but didn’t fare nearly as well. He ended up limping to the finish.

“I was blowing steam, I was blowing water, that’s for sure,” Nemechek said. “I definitely wasn’t prepared for it, but I went out there and tried it. That’s all you can do: push your body to the absolute limit and try and go some more.”

OFF SCRIPT

Corey LaJoie wasted no time getting a jump on free agency: He presented Rick Hendrick with a hand-written letter stating his case to replace Jimmie Johnson next year.

LaJoie spent more than a month working on the letter with his wife serving as editor. There were several drafts before he finished it around Christma, then presented it in person to Hendrick at last week’s NASCAR Hall of Fame ceremony.

“I was so nervous,” LaJoie said. “That man can change my life. He can change the life for my entire family. It’s so hard to get a chance, so hard to get noticed or stand out, so I just tried something different. I have excellent cursive writing, I’ve got an excellent font, so I went for it.”

LaJoie actually consulted with Johnson about the idea before proceeding. Johnson is retiring from full-time racing at the end of this season, making the No. 48 Chevrolet probably the most coveted seat in racing.

Johnson has won 83 races, two Daytona 500s and a record-tying seven Cup titles in the 48. LaJoie has two career top-10 finishes in 93 career starts, but last year was his first full season. He’s back for a second year in the No. 32 Ford with Go Fas Racing.

“Corey was trying to figure out how to stand out and really connect with Rick, and when he brought up the idea of a hand-written note, I was like ‘Yup,'” Johnson said. “Rick’s phone is ringing, people are always trying to get to him. But if you think about it, when was the last time you got a hand-written note across your desk? I felt that would definitely leave a lasting impression.”

LaJoie has not received any response from Hendrick since handing off the letter Jan. 31 but said he was flattered that Hendrick not only knew who he was when he approached him at the Hall of Fame event, but that Hendrick also complimented his racing.

“That kind of blew me away, that he knew who I was and took the time to talk to me,” LaJoie said.

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