DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Daytona 500 media day included lots of talk — talk about puppy love, wedding rings and a growing mullet — and a lot of conversation about four-time champion Jeff Gordon and what could be his final ride in NASCAR'S most prestigious race.
NASCAR's biggest stars took center stage for the annual event held inside Daytona International Speedway on Thursday. Defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick welcomed the challenge of trying to repeat. Embattled driver Kurt Busch insisted he would be in the car all season despite a lingering court case involving a former girlfriend. And 2012 champion Brad Keselowski said he was one of the series' three best drivers after a fiery 2014 season that included fisticuffs and bruised feelings.
Those were just some of the highlights. Here are the others:
NASCAR's biggest star has a little phobia. Dale Earnhardt Jr. revealed that he wants nothing to do with jewelry. Necklaces, rings, bracelets, no way.
"It's creepy to me," said the two-time and defending Daytona 500 champion. "I can be in the same room with it. It doesn't bother me on other people."
Earnhardt and his longtime girlfriend, Amy Reimann, already have talked about what might happen down the road if they get married. Earnhardt has no plans to give in, saying he won't wear a ring but will get her one if she wants.
Jimmie Johnson was only mediocre by the standards he set for his team during his six championship seasons.
So it was a disappointment when he was eliminated from title contention in the second round of last year's Chase. Johnson believes his Hendrick Motorsports team learned through last year, though, and will be far better this season.
"When you're struggling, you almost have a shotgun approach, and you're trying to hit a wide pattern and see what brings speed," Johnson said. "When you unload off the truck and you're fast, you get much more into like a rifle scenario and you're very precise with the changes you make, and there's a lot of speed in the details.
"Sometimes you can recover if you unload slow and you get in the game and can be close and have a shot at winning, but in most cases you're an adjustment or two behind all weekend, and you just never get there, and then that's the hard part."
He goes into this year again trying to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for seven championships, the NASCAR record.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is sticking with his mullet — no matter what girlfriend Danica Patrick thinks.
Stenhouse said he's committed to the hairdo despite pleas from Patrick to cut the curled-up locks that hang over the collar of his fire suit.
"Mom loves it," Stenhouse said. "It's always nice to keep mom happy."
What about Patrick?
"Ehhhh, maybe not so much," Stenhouse added. "We'll see. Right now, it's the most committed I've been to it since I was younger."
Stenhouse sported a mullet when he first met Patrick. But the former IndyCar driver persuaded him to cut it. He started growing it back in the middle of last season, and now it's close to being the real deal, much like Jeff Gordon had in the early 1990s.
"Jeff Gordon's last year, so maybe I'll just keep it for him," Stenhouse said.