Thursday, January 27, 2011

NASCAR Sprint Media Tour Notes and Quotes - Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011


NASCAR Restructures Point System and Method for Setting Chase Field

NASCAR announced Wednesday it would restructure the way it awards points and how it sets the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2011.

Brian France, NASCAR chairman and chief executive officer, made the announcements at the NASCAR Hall of Fame during the annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The new points system – which applies to all NASCAR national series – will award points in one-point increments. As an example, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, race winners will earn 43 points, plus three bonus points for the win. Winners also can earn an extra point for leading a lap and leading the most laps, bringing their total to a possible maximum of 48 points.

All other drivers in a finishing order will be separated by one-point increments. A second-place finisher will earn 42 points, a third-place driver 41 points, and so on. A last-place finisher – 43rd place – earns one point. In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the last-place finisher receives eight points, to account for that series’ 36-driver race field.

When addressing the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, France indicated the 12-driver Chase field will remain intact, however the final two spots will be determined by the number of wins during the first 26 races. The top 10 in points following Race No. 26 – the “cutoff” race – continue to earn Chase berths. Positions 11 and 12 are “wild card” qualifiers and will go to non-top-10-ranked drivers with the most wins, as long as they’re ranked in the top 20 in points. The top-10 Chase drivers will continue to be seeded based on wins during the first 26 races, with each win worth three bonus points. The wild card drivers will not receive bonus points for wins and will be seeded 11th and 12th, respectively. It’s a move aimed towards rewarding winning and consistency during the regular season.

“The fans tell us that winning matters the most with them, so we’re combining the tradition of consistency in our sport with the excitement that comes along with winning,” said France. “This makes every race count leading into the 26th race of the season at Richmond, when we set the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.”

Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, weighed-in on the changes.

“I think it makes for a simpler system,” he said.” I like a lot of other fans had to break out the book to figure it out, to see how the points worked. Even with years and years of being involved in the sport it was difficult to know exactly how the points would shake out to be in a given race. Now we know it’s very simple. The margin of points has not changed a tremendous amount, but they have put more emphasis on winning which as a fan I love and I think all of the fans out there will really like it as well.”

Other announcements made by NASCAR Wednesday include:

Pick a Series – Drivers in all three national series now must select the series where they’ll compete for a driver championship. Drivers still may compete in multiple series and help their teams win owner titles in series where they’re not competing for a driver title. The move helps spotlight young talent in the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

New Qualifying Procedure – The qualifying order will be set based upon slowest to fastest practice speeds.
Inclement Weather Qualifying – If bad weather cancels qualifying, the final starting lineup will be determined by practice speeds. The same rule book procedures will be used to determine eligibility to start a race. If weather cancels practice sessions, then the starting lineup will be set by points, per the rule book.

Tire Rules Revision – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams now are allowed five sets of tires for practice and qualifying instead of six. They must return four of those sets to Goodyear in order to receive their race allotment, and may keep one set of practice/qualifying tires. Tire allotments for race weekends will vary according to historical performance data.

Closed Loop Fueling System – Introduced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, this goes into effect for all three national series in 2011. It combines a more efficient fueling system with the elimination of the catch-can man, considered the most “vulnerable” pit-crew member. Teams now will use six, rather than seven, over-the-wall pit-crew members.

Evolution Of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Car – NASCAR continues to work with the manufacturers and teams to enhance the look of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car. The cars have new fronts this season and the body makeover will continue to help appeal to fans and aid manufacturer identity.


Furniture Row Racing Details Season Plans At New Retail Store

The third day of the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway began with a breakfast visit to the Charlotte, N.C., area’s new Furniture Row retail store and its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race team. This marked the first time in the 29-year history of the tour that participants visited a retail store for a presentation.

Regan Smith, 2008 Sprint Cup rookie of the year, will drive Furniture Row Racing’s (FRR) No. 78 Chevrolet Impala. Smith was the first rookie in Cup history to finish every race he started.

FRR is based in Denver, Colo., far removed from most of the other NASCAR Sprint Cup teams. General Manager Joe Garone noted the reason the team is located there.

“Barney Visser, the company owner, lives in Denver, and the company headquarters is located there,” said Garone. “It just made sense to start racing right there. The first couple of years were just about trying to get it all done. We worked out all the bugs so we could make that happen. The biggest thing is in preparation. We have to be prepared. The other big challenge is moving all the pieces around. We have to get chassis and engines and all the parts. At the end of the day it’s about trucking.”

Garone spoke of the team’s 2011 season plans.

“We wanted to get one team working very well. We feel that with the addition of the guys we have, we are getting there. And, we would really like to get a second team going. One of the biggest advantages for us is that we are a fully funded race team, but we are actively seeking sponsorship to get a second team going.”
Mark McArdle is FRR’s managing director of competition and related how the team has progressed.

“I think we have the perspective of what a race team can accomplish,” said McArdle. “We are going forward, and we have everything in place to take the team to the next level of competition.”

Pete Rondeau will resume his role as crew chief for 2011.

“I’m relating better to Regan,” said Rondeau. “We have a good relationship and are working to get better. We just need to keep on with the way we ended last year, and that is with consistency. We are working harder at getting the most from the race car.”

Twenty-seven-year-old driver Smith has come a long way with the team and thinks the new year has promise.

“From my standpoint and the team’s standpoint, if we can continue to build on the way we finished last year, that is what our goals are,” said Smith. “We want to make the same level of progression this year and step up. I think the team can run in the top 10 consistently. That’s exciting for us. I have been here three years now and saw where we came from to where it is today. It’s been a lot of hard work, I know. It’s been kind of neat to see this whole program grow.”


Richard Petty Motorsports Addresses Financial Issues, Optimistic About 2011

During a press conference in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s NASCAR Nationwide Series garage, representatives from Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) and Ford Racing made 2011 season sponsor announcements and gave 100 lucky race fans track rides in Ford Mustangs.

Richard Petty opened by thanking the fans in attendance and his sponsors, briefly referring to the financial problems that beset RPM throughout 2010 and led many to speculate Petty had seen his final season as a car owner. The seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion joined with two investment companies toward the end of 2010 to buy RPM’s assets; he now serves as chairman of the reorganized group.

“We had a pretty rough time last year,” Petty said, “but everybody stayed with us. The sponsors stayed with us through the winter and came back on board for the new season. I have to give our crew a lot of credit. For the last five or six races, they didn’t know if they were going to have a job the next week, but they stepped it up, the drivers stepped it up, and we ended up with a pretty good season.

“As everybody knows, we had four cars last year; we’re going to have two cars this year.”

Stanley Tools, which has been involved with RPM since 2005, is returning as a sponsor of the No. 9 Ford Fusion driven by Marcos Ambrose. The tool-maker and DeWalt, which returns to NASCAR action for 2011, will serve as primary sponsors.

A.J. Allmendinger will pilot the No. 43 Ford Fusion, which will have Best Buy sponsorship for 24 races, with Valvoline, U.S. Air Force, WIX Filters, Reynolds, and Paralyzed Veterans of America filling out the package.

Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial, spoke about his company’s investment in RPM.

“My father got his start in 1937 as a taxi driver in New York City,” Murstein said. “He began buying taxi medallions [city-issued licenses] and eventually acquired hundreds of them that now trade for $800,000 each. That’s the way we view all investments. Like with those medallions, I hope that 70 years from now my children are involved just like Richard’s family is involved in his business.”

Since going public with its stock in 1996 (Nasdaq symbol: TAXI), Medallion has invested more than $3.5 billion in companies such as RPM.

“All of our companies fit the same model we have here – a great tradition and great integrity. The board of directors of my company includes Hank Aaron – another ‘King’ of his sport – who reminds me a lot of Richard. Both are very humble men and legends who have transformed their sports.”

Director of Ford North America Motorsports, Jamie Allison, spoke about Ford’s commitment to Petty’s team.

“We at Ford really believe in the new RPM. RPM is very important to us. We have a long and illustrious tradition in the sport. We have a great team between Roush Fenway Racing, RPM, and the Wood Brothers and we stick with our teams. When Richard reached out to us last year, there was not a moment of consideration on our part. Our chairman, Edsel Ford – the chairman of Ford Racing – absolutely felt in his heart that it was the right thing to do, to make sure the legacy of Richard Petty continues.

“It is the steady hand of Robbie Loomis [RPM’s director of competition] that will guide this team. He is very tenured, very accomplished, and we are looking forward to going where he has been – on championship row.

“And let’s not forget the guys who are going to pilot these cars. A.J. Allmendinger is returning for his second year with the team. We are thrilled to have that. Marcos Ambrose, a champion from Australia, is here to make his claim on NASCAR. We are energized and very excited.”

A.J. Allmendinger was very positive about the new organization.

“I think the team has a ton of potential,” he said. “Mike Shiplett, my crew chief, is sitting right here, although I think he should be working right now. I promise you guys that Mike is going to be one of the greatest crew chiefs in this sport, because I see that from him on a daily basis. The work ethic he puts into the job trickles down to the rest of the race team.

“Marcos, I’m excited to have you on this team. I’m looking forward to being your teammate. Maybe you won’t run into me as much now.”

Marcos Ambrose spoke for a few minutes about his place on the NASCAR learning curve, but could not resist a playful jab at Allmendinger.

“If I was running into A.J. on the track, he was probably going too slow. I’m also looking forward to having him as a teammate.”


Bobby Allison with media Wednesday
at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Hall of Fame’s Kelley Recognizes Ford Racing Tie with 2011 Induction Class

Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., welcomed NASCAR Sprint Media Tour participants to a Ford Racing-sponsored lunch at The Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We are honored at the Hall of Fame,” Kelley said, “to have entertained and educated more than 200,000 guests since opening in May of last year and we are on track to have higher numbers than any other sports Hall of Fame in North America other than the [National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.].

“We have annual members from 44 states and five countries. They travel an average of 300 miles, and 57 percent said they came to Charlotte specifically to visit the Hall of Fame. We’re happy to be here with one of our strongest partners, Charlotte Motor Speedway, which contributes more than $400 million to the economy.

“The 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction class has a definitive Ford tie - four of the five with long and strong ties to the company,” Kelley continued. “If you add in Richard Petty’s current relationship, all five have been tied to Ford. Each has played an integral role in the 110 years of Ford Racing. We hope all of you will join us at the May 23 induction ceremony.”

The 2011 class comprises Ned Jarrett (Ford’s first NASCAR Cup champion and all-time winningest driver in Ford’s NASCAR history), Bobby Allison (third on the all-time NASCAR Cup victories list), Bud Moore (whose cars finished in the top 10 in half of their 959 starts), Lee Petty, and David Pearson.


Hendrick Motorsports Driver/Crew Chief Changes in the Spotlight for 2011

Wednesday afternoon saw the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway make a stop at Hendrick Motorsports where the team’s drivers and crew chiefs discussed their 2011 season plans. The team has new driver/crew chief combinations, making personnel adjustments to three of the four teams. Only driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus remain together as the 2011 season gets underway.

Team owner Rick Hendrick talked about his state-of-the-sport views and their expectations for the year.

“It’s awesome to start the new year,” said Hendrick. “I don’t think as an organization we were as strong as the competition. We were thinking about it during the year and selecting the lineup. We didn’t want to go outside the walls. All of our employees show and do their best. I think we will have a good year and that we will all work together, and I will be happy. I have a lot of confidence in the organization.”

Hendrick also feels that the sport is rebounding from the bad economic conditions.

“I feel like we are coming back now,” said Hendrick. “The automobile business is selling more cars. The economy feels better. I have to say that NASCAR has gone above and beyond to reach out and work with all the teams, the drivers, and the crew chiefs and listen to the fans. I just feel better about our sport in general. I think the competition is there.”

NASCAR veteran Mark Martin, driver of Hendrick’s No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, said, “I will absolutely, without a doubt, be driving race cars next year. I am not going to be in any hurry to worry about that. I’m focused on 2011 and really enjoying being a part of Hendrick Motorsports. We have a really strong team and Lance [McGrew, Martin’s crew chief] is really a smart guy. This is the fun stuff right here in front of us. Hopefully, we can realize our potential.”

Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jeff Gordon, driver of Hendrick’s No. 24 Chevrolet, said, “I’m really excited to have Drive to End Hunger as a sponsor as well as continuing with DuPont for 13 races. We have a great lineup. I think our team at Hendrick Motorsports is capable of having a strong season.”

Driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy Chevrolet Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “I’m thankful to have the opportunity in this sport that I have. This is the best of my career. I’m looking forward to just getting started. We had a good Daytona test in January. We have seen all the teams practice well. A lot of the work goes on in the shop, and you don’t see it, so I think we have a good opportunity. I think the more we are around the race car, the better we can be for the season. We have to understand what makes each of us tick a little better.”

Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 88 Lowe’s Chevrolet, said, “We have some great fun and have a great relationship with Lowe’s. We are all proud of Hendrick Motorsports and all we have accomplished. It’s been amazing. It’s all work. Yes, there is change in the organization, but we all work together. We are trying to do a better job with this. There are just a lot of hungry people walking around here.”


ESPN Starts Fifth Year of Sprint Cup Coverage
At a dinner hosted by ESPN Tuesday evening, Andy Hall, manager, media relations for ESPN, announced the network was excited about starting its fifth year of an eight-year deal to broadcast NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series races with only minor changes to the program.

“We’ll pretty much have the same schedule we’ve been running since we started this contract in 2007,” Hall said. “Our NASCAR races are a strong property, and we are looking forward to the season.

“Ray Evernham won’t be with us any more because he went back to work for Hendrick [Companies]. That just means a little more work for Ricky Craven, who is going to be doing booth analysis for seven Nationwide races and will continue his role with our studio programming.”

Hall also noted that ESPN has extended Rusty Wallace’s agreement through 2014. Wallace is an analyst for ESPN’s NASCAR studio programs, including NASCAR Countdown and NASCAR Now.


Red Bull Racing Welcomes Back Vickers, Prepares for One Year with Kahne


Jay Frye, general manager of Red Bull Racing (RBR), introduced the team’s 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers – Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne – who visited with the media in a one-on-one format on the second day of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour.

Vickers is returning to the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota for the 2011 season after an extended medical break from racing. Since May, 2010, Vickers has been treated for blood clots in his legs and lungs, received two surgeries to mend a hole in his heart, and had a stent inserted into his left leg. The 27-year-old driver was cleared to race without limitations at the end of last 2010.

“It was obviously a long process,” Vickers said. “Not only finding out what happened, but how to solve it. Going through the surgeries, having the heart surgery. Training again to get back in the routine. Going back to my first steps. Going through the first steps at Disney [testing at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida] was a really big moment. Being back in the car… I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to race again.
“How tough is it to watch racing and not be racing? I find racing very entertaining,” Vickers said. “Watching a Cup race you are supposed to be in sucks! It is just horrible. I talked to some other guys who experienced that. I talked to Kyle Petty, who was out of his car for a period of time. It’s painful. I didn’t go to all of the races because of that. When I was there, I was just miserable.

“What do I expect from the Daytona 500 next month? To win the race.”

Kahne comes to RBR for a unique one-year-only contract after a disappointing partial 2010 season with Richard Petty Motorsports. His ride for 2011 is the No. 4 RBR Toyota – a number the team was able to “borrow” through NASCAR from Morgan-McClure Motorsports, which used the number from 1983 through 2009. The number, which is significant to Kahne’s open-wheel racing history, will return to Morgan-McClure in 2012 when Kahne begins driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Like his teammate, but to a lesser extent, Kahne experienced some health issues toward the end of 2010. The long-distance running enthusiast had painful knee problems when the plica in his kneecap became inflamed. Arthroscopic surgery two days after the end of the 2010 season gave the 30-year-old full use of his legs.

“I don’t even feel them when I’m sitting in the race car,”  Kahne said. “They feel better now than they felt at the end of last year. From what I understand, we are all born with plica but it usually goes away. Mine didn’t, so it rubbed on my joints. Then, I tore the meniscus on my right knee and had to live with it all year. I was lucky it didn’t affect me enough to slow me down. I just kept going.

“The toughest part [of working with RPM] was going into the year [2010]. I was pretty excited. Then, it really fell apart pretty quickly. I broke a ton of parts. I lost brakes several times [including during the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October]. There were a lot of little things like that. I was worn out. Some other stuff happened later in the season. I made my mind up that I needed a change. I was happy I moved on when I did.

“All they’ve (RBR) done is work to build the best cars. They are working on stuff to have the right cars and win races. The best part about it is to know I’m with a stable team, and I’m with a stable group of people who want to win races and won’t take shortcuts.”

Quotes of the Day

Brian France, NASCAR chairman and chief executive officer, on the points restructuring: “Many of our most loyal fans don’t fully understand the points system we have used to date,” he said, referencing the system that has been in use since 1975. “So, we are simplifying the points system to one that is much easier to understand. Conceptually, it is comparable to our previous system, but it is easier to follow.”

Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, on the points restructuring: “I think it makes for a simpler system,” he said.” I like a lot of other fans had to break out the book to figure it out, to see how the points worked. Even with years and years of being involved in the sport it was difficult to know exactly how the points would shake out to be in a given race. Now we know it’s very simple. The margin of points has not changed a tremendous amount, but they have put more emphasis on winning which as a fan I love and I think all of the fans out there will really like it as well.”

Director of Ford North America Motorsports, Jamie Allison, on Ford Racing’s rich tradition: “We like reaching milestones at Ford. The first is that this is Henry Ford’s 110th anniversary of racing. Ford himself raced once and won the race he entered. That win attracted the investors he needed to start Ford Motor Company. We have 599 Cup wins – The King (Richard Petty) is responsible for nine of those – so, obviously, we’re going for the 600 club very soon. We want it bad and we want it at Daytona. Destiny is on our side, legend is on our side, and the future is on our side.”

Rick Hendrick on the driver/crew chief changes at Hendrick Motorsports: “We just felt a realignment would get us smart and some synergy. It’s not like these guys haven’t worked together. So far in practice, I think we are poised for a very good year. I will really be surprised if all four teams are not better going in to 2011 than we were in 2010. Our goal, as always, is for all four teams to get in The Chase [for the Sprint Cup], win races, and compete for the championship.”

Ken Howes, vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, on starting the 2011 season: “You get a little nervous this time of year because you don’t know what the other teams have figured out. We are still learning about the cars, and it’s an ongoing thing. We do our final preparations and go with what we have and know. You never get ready; it’s just time to go.”

Brian Vickers on what it was like to sit out part of the 2010 season: “I’ve used this quote several times, and I have to give Dale Earnhardt credit for it: He said being out of the car was like watching his wife cheat on him. Sitting on top of that box, I know exactly what he went through.”

Kasey Kahne on his decision to leave Richard Petty Motorsports in 2010: “I didn’t really have a next step for 2011, but this whole Red Bull thing came together, and it’s as good as anything I’ve ever had – if not the best thing I’ve ever had. It’s pretty exciting. I look forward to the whole season."

- Release courtesy of Charlotte Motor Speedway

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