ENTERTAINMENT

‘Malcolm in the Middle’ star Frankie Muniz back at Daytona and rising up the NASCAR racing ladder

Feb 16, 2024, 7:29 PM

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 18: Frankie Muniz, driver of the #30 Hair Club Ford, waits on the...

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 18: Frankie Muniz, driver of the #30 Hair Club Ford, waits on the grid prior to the ARCA Menards Series BRANDT 200 Supporting Florida FFA at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2023 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

(Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Frankie Muniz was running late. Or so he thought.

The 38-year-old actor-turned-race-car-driver was wandering through the Daytona International Speedway infield on Friday with no idea where to go. He was lost, essentially feeling like “ Malcolm in the Middle ” of nowhere.

He asked for help and quickly got pointed in the right direction. But a minute later, he was back. He had forgotten he was now on Eastern time, so the Scottsdale, Arizona, resident was actually two hours early for the Xfinity Series drivers’ meeting.

It was the latest round of confusion for Muniz, who had to wait until last week to announce his racing plans for 2024. Muniz, who competed in the entry-level ARCA Series last year, will try to make his Xfinity Series debut in the No. 35 Ford for Joey Gase Racing at Daytona.

“It was a really interesting offseason,” Muniz told The Associated Press on Friday. “Everything was done a long time ago and then it wasn’t and then it was and then it wasn’t and then something else was done and it wasn’t. All things out of our control.”

Muniz insisted the delays had nothing to do with Ford or financing, saying “just a lot that has to come together to make it work.”

But he made it clear the situation was far from ideal.

“I thought I was going to spend so much time with my team and in the (simulator) and in the shop,” he said. “Instead, I met my guys today; I met a lot of them today.”

Muniz still needs to qualify for the race Saturday, a potentially daunting task considering six of the 44 entrants will be sent home.

So making the race is the top goal. And that would just be the start of Muniz’s learning curve as he takes the next step in his racing career. Even though he’s driven competitively for decades, Muniz has yet to make a live pit stop since ARCA relaxed rules that make it easier for teams to add fuel, change tires and make car adjustments.

“Obviously I’m competitive and you want to go,” he said. “But at the same time, I need to learn.”

Muniz learned plenty last year. He led the ARCA Series points standings at times and finished fourth despite a number of mechanical issues late in the 20-race season. He also gained confidence and respect from his peers.

He became a regular in NASCAR garages, and other teams were eager to offer advice and help. He’s not so sure that will be the case as he climbs NASCAR’s ladder.

“The only thing I can compare it to is like going to a new school,” he said. “You can feel like you’re the man in one school and you go to that new school you’re like, ‘I don’t know anybody. Are people going to welcome me here?’

“I have a little bit of that feeling. Like even walking in the garage, I don’t know if people accept me there yet.”

If he walks around the garage long enough he probably will bump into a familiar face. Muniz shared an acting stage with NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon in 1998.

Muniz was playing a hospitalized youngster in need of a kidney transplant on the comedy “Spin City.” Gordon and NBA player Jayson Williams went back and forth trying to one-up each other about what they planned to do to support the kid.

Muniz went on to land the lead role in the popular TV series “Malcolm in the Middle” and star in the movie “Agent Cody Banks.”

He hasn’t forgotten his acting roots, either. Muniz used a Hollywood head shot, complete with one hand resting on his chin, for the photo on his NASCAR credential. It stands out for sure.

And he’s hoping to do the same on the track.

“I’m excited to prove to people that I can race in this series,” he said. “I know it is not going to be easy. ARCA is a great series. There’s some really good cars, some really good competition. This is a whole different level.

“Everybody out there is good. I don’t want to call it self-doubt. It has nothing to do with that. I just have to prove it to myself as soon as we get on track. Hopefully we can do that.”

___

AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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‘Malcolm in the Middle’ star Frankie Muniz back at Daytona and rising up the NASCAR racing ladder