NASCAR Sprint Media Tour Roars Through Charlotte

Concord, N. C. – For the 31st time, the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by the Charlotte Motor Speedway took place this week in nearby Concord. The four-day event beckoned some 220 motorsports journalists, and most of the major media outlets had representatives present.

In the past, the journalists journeyed to the race shops but in recent sessions, the team notables come to the media hotel with an occasional visit to a race shop, the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and other key points of interest.

Teams participating included Stewart-Haas Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Penske Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Team owners, drivers, crew chiefs and others were on hand when their team was in the spotlight, and the participants talked freely about their plans and hopes for the upcoming season.

Leading off the tour, Sprint representatives discussed the company’s plans for The Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, the 75-lap non-points race that was previously known as the Budweiser Shootout. The made-for-television race will take place on Saturday night February 16 and will be telecast by Fox.

To make the race structure unique, fans have been invited to design the race by casting votes on the number of laps in each segment, the type of stop a team makes after the first segment, the number of cars to be eliminated after the second segment and the design of the fire suit to be worn by Miss Sprint Cup in victory lane.

Votes can be cast on NASCAR’s new official mobile app – NASCR Mobile ’13 – or at More info is available on the referenced web site.

22 drivers are eligible for The Sprint Unlimited event – 2012 pole winners and the five past champions of the event.

Stewart-Haas Racing was the leadoff team for the media tour and taking the stage were drivers Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick along with crew chiefs Matt Borland, Steve Addington and Tony Gibson along with competition director Greg Zipadelli.

They discussed their initial experience with the Gen-6 car, their plans for the season ahead and other aspects of their racing endeavors.

“If these cars (Gen-6) race as good as they drove, it will be a good year for everyone,” Stewart said. However, Zipadelli said his team was challenged in assembling cars, obtaining requisite parts and adapting to the rule changes.

Patrick was quick at the recent Daytona test, and she exuded confidence going into the first race of the season. “The cars looked great and I was pleased with them,” she noted. Discussing a subsequent test at the nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway, she praised the car’s grip and its ability to be driven deep into the corners.

Newman cited the reduction in down-force, but was pleased with the results of the first two tests.

Gibson will serve as Patrick’s crew chief and while he indicated the sky is their only limit, he said they are setting many small goals, ones that can readily be attained. “We want to jell as a team, and Danica and I are rookies together,” he commented. Stewart expects Patrick’s transition to Sprint Cup to be a smooth one and believes one day without warning, she will see it all come together just as it did for open wheelers Juan Pablo Montoya and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Addressing Roger Penske’s offer for Stewart to race in the Indianapolis 500, Stewart affirmed it will not happen this year but could at a later date. “It was a huge opportunity and a very flattering offer, but at the same time, this group up here (on stage) is why I am not going to run the 500,” he said.

Stewart went on to say he would need to be with an IndyCar team for several races ahead of the Indianapolis 500, and he doesn’t have time for such an extensive commitment. He did say that met with Penske after season’s end and the latter made him a generous offer, and Stewart countered with an open-invitation for the future. “Maybe some year down the road we might be able to accept his offer, and he never said no,” Stewart said.

Patrick said she would be open to Penske’s offer but not for 2013. She also thought it would be neat if both she and Stewart could do it at same time. “It just didn’t work out for this year,” he commented. “If I do it in future, the support is there but at this time, the focus is on Cup. If it works out, good; if not, I have had many great years at Indy.” Stewart said he would support her if she elects to do it at a later date, but wants her to realize the effort entailed.

As usual, Stewart was candid in answering questions and when asked whether his mother approved of him racing in his early days, he said, “We had a huge fight over that, as she wanted me to go to college and (with a pause) now she works for me.” He did state that his parents and sister gave up a lot years ago to help him get his race career going.

Regarding sponsorship commitments for 2013, Stewart indicated he has nine open dates for a primary sponsor on his car, eight or nine on Newman’s and three on Patrick’s cars.

Although there have been reports that Patrick will do 10 or so Natiowide Series races for Turner-Scott Motorsports, she said no arrangement has been finalized, although a Daytona deal is reasonably close. She is warm to doing a few Nationwide races to gain additional seat time and track familiarity. “When I did double-duty last year, the Natiowide race helped my Cup race and the Cup practice helped my Nationwide practice,” she commented.

The next stop was a journey to Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, N. C., followed by a Goody’s announcement involving Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

At RCR, team owner Childress led the way and Sprint Cup drivers Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton commanded the attention along with Childress’s grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon.

Even though Harvick will be departing the team at season’s end, the driver and car owner spoke well of each other and their outlook for the season ahead. “We are handling it in a very professional manner,” Childress said. “Kevin has played a big role at RCR, and I wish him well in his new endeavor. I know we will get through this, and we will continue to field three Sprint Cup teams.” Harvick downplayed the team change and said the transition should be an easy one.

RCR didn’t fare as well as they would have liked in 2012, and they believe the addition of Dr. Eric Warren as competition director is a blessing. Said Warren, “My task is to get the teams working together and to build methods for preparing and pulling our ideas together.”

The drivers and the team owner were very complimentary of the new car. They realize there are many unknowns but they are up for the challenge. Each thought the appearance of the car was a best seller, and they hope the fans are as thrilled with the cars as they are. They indicate the cars look similar to those to be found in the showrooms.

Childress tipped that Austin Dillon will run in a handful of Cup races in 2013, including the Daytona 500, and Ty Dillon will likely be entered in one event. The youthful drivers know the pressure and spotlight are on them, but they believe they can handle it. “My grandfather puts his full trust in us, and I know we have to work hard to make it happen,” Ty said. The youngest Dillon will be running for the Camping World Truck Series championship and believes his year of experience will benefit him. “I want to lead and win races and to minimize my mistakes,” he said.

Childress likes the esthetics of the new car but said the transition is an expensive endeavor. “All the engineering and simulation that goes into a new car and that which is done behind the scenes is expensive,” he noted. “Also, there’s testing and when you add it all together, it becomes very costly. If it puts on a good show for the race fans and if NASCAR doesn’t make too many changes, I am excited about Cup racing.”

Coming off a disappointing season, Burton has a positive outlook and is looking forward to racing the new car. “This is a street car,” he said. “It has put the stock back in stock-car racing. If you see the street car, that’s what the race car looks like. The bottom line, though, is how many people want to watch it race. The quality of racing hasn’t changed much but society has changed and changed the way people look at entertainment. The racing has to get better, so fans will watch it. And we have to find a way to increase the action on the track.”

Burton feels like he’s in an envious position with his Cup career, saying he went to a short-track event over the weekend with some 140 drivers in action. “I realized there are hundreds of people (drivers) that would like to have my job.”

In the news arena, Goody’s, the headache powder company, has signed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to partner with Richard Petty to promote the company’s product. Goody’s signed Petty in 1977 to become the first non-automotive sponsor in NASCAR to start one of the longest-running relationships in sports promotion.

Furniture Row Racing relied upon its furniture products to set the stage for its media event. The company set up a living room with couches and numerous chairs for its key team members to use while talking with the media. The setting was well received by the media.

For the 2013 season, the Colorado-based team has signed Kurt Busch as its driver and they got a jump start on the upcoming season by running the controversial driver in the final six races of the 2012 season. Busch drove consistently, chalking up successful runs as he became accustomed to the team and crew chief Todd Barrier.

“We are all together on this,” Busch said. “To be a western-based team that wants to compete with the big dogs is impressive and we are working toward making this car competitive. It is full throttle for us.”

Busch likes the new car. “With everything new, it makes it exciting,” he said. “This is a package that teams, drivers and fans have created a buzz about. This is probably the car we should have had six years ago – a futuristic car that looks neat and has brand recognition. This is a car where you win on Sunday and sell on Monday.”

In another endeavor, Busch has been working closely with girlfriend Patricia Driscoll’s foundation, the Armed Forces Foundation. At the Barrett-Jackson auction in Las Vegas, the pair sold a car for $500,000. “It is great to do this charitable work and see the outcome,” he said. “We are fighting a battle for the troops, and it is great to find unique situations to help other people.”

Front Row has strong ties with Richard Childress Racing and they are regarded as the fourth car for the accomplished team. The two entities previously had a working arrangement but it has been strengthened during the off season. Busch believes the two groups will work hard together, improving performance for both of them.

Going into the 2012 season, Michael Waltrip Racing was guardedly optimistic about doing well but as the season progressed, the team’s fortunes spiraled upward as it put newcomer Clint Bowyer and returnee Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase for the Sprint Cup crown. And Bowyer was in contention for the championship until the end. If not enough, veteran Mark Martin grabbed four pole positions and had victory in his grasp on more than one occasion.

“We had a lot of hope and anticipation going into 2012,” team co-owner and part-time driver Michael Waltrip said during the tour. “It was unarguable that we had the best driver line-up, and we hoped that we could do more than we had ever done before, but I wasn’t bold enough to think that we could win more races and have more top-five’s and top-10’s than we did,” he said.

Waltrip complimented his driver line-up of Bowyer, Truex, Martin and newcomer Brian Vickers. The Daytona 500 champion complimented Truex, who hung in there during the team’s formative stages, and he described Martin as a breath of fresh air.

Said Truex, “I am very excited about our program during 2012. It was great for us both on and off the track. For a couple of years, we went to the track wondering what we could get out of it. What would it take to get to the next level? That’s hard to stay where we are but we will keep trying. And we will roll the dice at times, and you have to confidence.”

Martin was his usual positive self. “I had an amazing year,” he said. “MWR is a great atmosphere to work in. For 2013, my expectations are to have fun while working with the team. We have kept our entire team together and that shows how the guys are enjoying their work and have a lot of fun. It was a blast.”

Said Bowyer, “We exceeded expectations last year but now we have challenges ahead of us. I think we have a good game plan going forward.”

Bowyer’s made worldwide headlines when he jousted with Jeff Gordon in the penultimate race at Phoenix, but he said his championship hopes weren’t derailed there, as they disappeared earlier at Talladega when he got caught up in a late-race crash while in the lead. “I made a couple of bad moves, and I got wrecked,” he said. “Jimmie (Johnson) kind of got through it and Brad (Keselowski) did get through it. That one big mishap and you are done. Had I inched through that thing, I might have been able to get through.”

Regarding rivalries with Gordon or others, Bowyer stated, “I really don’t think I have a rivalry with Gordon or anyone. You guys (the media) made it a lot bigger deal than I thought it was. I have a lot of fun in this sport. Last year was a lot of fun except for one weekend. If I have one not-so-fun weekend, I am good with it.”

Addressing the new car, Martin said, “This is not a dramatic change from what we had. In most ways, it represents subtle improvements until it gets to the esthetics. That represents a huge improvement but operationally it is not that huge. As we get acquainted with the rules, there’s opportunity to gain an advantage.”

Martin continues to seek a victory and when it happens, he will go into orbit. “Any race win would put me over the moon and to win the Daytona 500 would put me over the galaxy,” he said. “And the Brickyard (400) would be great. But I will take anything that’s on the schedule. All you can do is to try and at the end of the day, they either come or they don’t.”

Waltrip enjoys getting behind the wheel but realizes his days as a formidable contender are diminishing, although he’s not giving up. Had he won at Talladega that could have been it. “Having a chance to win is what this sport is all about,” he said. “I love what I do, and I have a lot of determination and desire. As long as I can get in a car and think I can win, I want to continue doing it.”

With four top-notch drivers at the top of their game, MWR is looking to excel in 2013

Other informative events included a meeting with the NASCAR executive leadership, including chairman and CEO Brian France and president Mike Helton. The meeting took place at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Also, Ford paraded its new cars through the streets of downtown Charlotte, and there were high-speed thrill rides at the Charlotte Motor Speedway along with a meeting with Bruton Smith, honcho of Speedway Motorsport Inc. and the general managers of the eight tracks owned by SMI.

This report is not all-encompassing as many things happened over the four-day period. But what is known is that the new season will be underway in less than 30 days, which will be a welcome relief for drivers, team owners and the fans.

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