Tuesday Pit Notes
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
The Monday evening portion of the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour included dinner at The Speedway Club at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway. The function was hosted by Performance Racing Network and the SMI Ultimate Speedway Tour.
MARCUS SMITH, (President of Business Development for Speedway Motorsports Inc.): ¿The SMI Ultimate Speedway Tour is part of SMI¿s ¿Fans First¿ initiative. It¿s great that more than 2,000 race fans will have the opportunity to win fantastic prizes simply by entering the contest. We know this unique program will make a lot of people very happy.¿
FRANK MOGUS, a 79 year-old race fan from St. Petersburg, Fla., won the 2003 edition of the SMI Ultimate Speedway Tour, presented by Performance Racing Network and Speedway Motorsports Inc. Mogus now has the chance to live out every race fans¿ fantasy with VPI accommodations for race weekends at two of the following SMI Speedways: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Lowe¿s Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway or Infineon Raceway. The package includes pictures in victory lane at each races, tickets, VIP Tours, roundtrip airfare, hotel accommodations and $2,000 in spending money.¿
The SMI Ultimate Speedway Tour welcomed two new sponsors for 2004 ¿ the Richard Petty Driving Experience and The Sporting News magazine.
RICHARD PETTY (7-Time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion and owner of Petty Enterprises and the Richard Petty Driving Experience): ¿The press is the reason we are here. You are the ones that make this whole deal work and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I want you to keep helping me into the future. We started this deal (the Richard Petty Driving Experience) over 10 years ago. I saw 150,000 people in the stands and all those fans think they are drivers. Trust me, because I¿ve heard them say, ¿Why don¿t they get that driver off the track?¿ We started off here in Charlotte and kind of grew it from there. We¿ve been able to take racing to the people across the country since then so the fans don¿t have come here because we now travel across the country.¿
Petty also touched on the progress at the Victory Junction Camp and talked about the changes at Petty Enterprises.
RICHARD PETTY: ¿We¿ve raised almost $20 million for the Victory Junction Camp, and we still need a little more to get finished up. Without all the people, this never would have happened. We¿re doing things 180-degrees from last year with the team because what we did last season didn¿t work. We have basically the same crews and crew chiefs. All the engineering is starting to come together and everybody knows who is supposed to know what. We¿ve brought Dale Inman back into the shop to help everybody get things coordinated.¿
JEFF GREEN (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge): ¿I did a lot of hunting during the off-season and working around the shop. All the guys at the Petty shop have been working really hard and I¿ve been up there and spent some time with them. (NEW POINT SYSTEM) I¿m from the old school and I like it the way things have been.¿
The evening concluded with a hospitality function at the Sam Bass Gallery in Concord, N.C., hosted by UAW-GM Motorsports and motorsports artist Sam Bass.
SAM BASS: ¿This gallery is a dream come true for me. I¿ve spent a lot of hours working in here, in fact a lot of 14 hour days. Since I was a kid, I never would have dreamed that I would have been able to make a living drawing paint schemes and art work in racing. One of my biggest heroes is Dale Earnhardt because he was a great friend of mine. He would give me a call whenever he wanted something painted, whether it was a great scheme for a race car all the way to his airplane.¿
BRUTON SMITH (Chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc.): ¿I don¿t know that we¿re going to make a lot of big headlines this year, but we are working on some things. The one thing I¿d be impressed with would be if NASCAR could cut the cost. Until they cut the cost, I¿m not very impressed. As far as changing the points, that doesn¿t mean a thing to me because it¿s not helping to cut the cost. One thing that will help our attendance for the October race will be if they cut the speeds so we can have a full field of cars. Now we see a lot of guys pull in after 10 or 15 laps and say they blew up or something. When you look at somebody like Jeff Burton that doesn¿t have a sponsor, it¿s a concern because we¿re going to see a lot more of it. We see a lot of it in the Busch Series because the sport has gotten to be too expensive. I know I sound like a broken record, but if the costs were down the racing would be a lot better.¿
Breakfast with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates opened Tuesday¿s portion of the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour. Team-owner Chip Ganassi was joined by drivers Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears.
CHIP GANASSI: ¿We need a little bit of a rebound this year. We are looking for a little better performance out of the 40 car (Marlin) this year. We do have high expectations for our team in 2004. The guys are working hard at the shop. It¿s a new year and there¿s a new name (NEXTEL Cup Series), so lets get going.¿
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge): ¿Last year was the most aggravating season that I¿ve had in a long time. We had high expectations going in, but we made some mistakes and got caught up in some of other people¿s mistakes. We just have to roll our sleeves up and work harder¿We want to get back to where we were in 2000 and 2001, winning races and in the top five in points.¿
JAMIE MCMURRAY (No. 42 Havoline Dodge): ¿It seems like all the guys that end the season strong usually start the next season strong. We¿ve made a lot of changes to the team to try to make things better for this year. I¿m really excited to get the season started.¿
CASEY MEARS (No. 41 Target Dodge): ¿Last year was really a valuable year for me. Chip and Felix put in a lot of extra effort getting me in all those different cars, and it really helped. The first time I drove the ARCA car at Pocono, and I got out and got in the Cup car, I could tell a difference, that I had learned something. Driving all those cars really proved to make a difference for me.¿
As part of the program, DANA Corporation officials announced Raybestos will continue as sponsor of the Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year Award through the 2010 NASCAR season. McMurray won the rookie title last season.
After breakfast, the Media Tour hit the road, stopping at the NASCAR Technical Center in Concord, N.C. There NASCAR officials made a much-anticipated announcement, outlining the new format for determining the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion.
The points system, which was introduced in 1975, will remain mostly unchanged. The only difference will be that the winning team will be awarded five more points than in past years, putting a slightly greater emphasis on winning races.
The big change will come after the first 26 races when the top 10 in points, and any driver within 400 points of the championship leader, will be locked into the Chase for the Championship. The leader after 26 races will be awarded 5,050 points heading into the final 10 races, with each driver behind him that has been locked into The Chase, awarded five fewer points. Thus, the leader will have a five-point lead over second place, and a 45-point lead over 10th place entering the stretch run. Under the current point system, no driver outside the top 10 with 10 races remaining has ever won the championship.
In addition, all drivers in the top 10 will be guaranteed to earn at least $1 million at season¿s end, while the champion will take home more than $5 million. Finally, a $250,000 bonus will be paid to the 11th-place finisher, in addition to the normal 11th-place point award.
MIKE HELTON (NASCAR President): ¿NASCAR has been forced to make many decisions over the course of its history. Some have come easily. Others have not. Some have been openly expected. Others have not. NASCAR has an impressive track record of making the right decisions. Looking as far back as the 1940s and Bill France, Sr. promoting stock-car racing on the Daytona Beach before leaving for asphalt ovals in the ¿50s and ¿60s. Change has sometimes been met with skepticism, but change built the foundation for what we have today¿With NASCAR having one of the longest seasons in all of sports, it became obvious that we needed a different approach to maintaining the interest and excitement through the course of the season. The modifications we discuss today will focus more attention on our sport during the fall season when we are in competition with other major sports.¿
BRIAN FRANCE (NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer): ¿We have been anxious to give all the details of this program. We think our fans are going to love it, because more drivers are going to have a chance to win the championship at the end of the year¿Our goal is to create more interest in this sport. Our goal is to make racing better. Our goal is to give more drivers a chance to win the championship. Our drivers want the opportunity. They want the ball in the last two minutes. They want the chance to win. This is what this plan is going to do. I think you¿ll see the drivers racing hard and competing more in Sept. and Oct. and that¿s how we will judge this program¿We still want consistency to matter. We have a long season and you ought to be consistent all year to win the championship¿It¿s not a playoff system. It¿s better than all that. We think we have something better than playoffs¿How in the world can any of our fans over time think anything other than that it is a great plan?¿
MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet): ¿It¿s good for the fans because it will give them more to cheer about. It is good for the media because it gives them more stories to cover. And if it is good for the fans and the media, that makes it good for the sport as a whole. The rest will take care of itself.¿
The lunch hour took the Media Tour to Evernham Motorsports in Statesville, N.C. There the media met with team-owner Ray Evernham and drivers Bill Elliott, Jeremy Mayfield and Kasey Kahne.
RAY EVERNHAM: ¿Dodge has exercised an option on a commitment, and made a long-term commitment to sponsor the No. 9 and the No. 19¿(About the points system) It is going to add some pressure. If you have a 200-point lead and that gets erased, that will be tough to handle. We are not crowning a full-season champion anymore. We are crowning a 10-race champion. If we had this system last year, neither Bill (Elliott), nor Tony Stewart would have made it in the top 10.¿
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 91 Dodge ¿ Limited Schedule): ¿I¿ve had a completely different makeover. I¿m not going into January dreading the start of the season. I know I¿m not going to have to race ever weekend, and I¿m actually ready for the season to get started¿How many races we run will depend on sponsorship. I would like to run 15 races, but it may be as few as four or five.¿
JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge): ¿I haven¿t been in this position (as lead driver) for very long, but I think I can bring a lot to this deal, having worked with Bill and Rusty (Wallace) in the past. Having been in that position, I know what Kasey is going through and what he is thinking. I think I can help him since I¿ve been in his position in the past.¿
KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge):: ¿I¿m going to be pretty busy running the full Cup schedule and trying to run as many Busch races as we can. I think the practice in the Cup car will help us for the Busch car and the race in the Busch car will help the Cup car. It will be a really good situation for me to get a lot of laps and the experience I need. Depending on weather and things, it¿s possible I could run every single race (in both divisions). It would be great if we could do that.¿
Upon returning to the Hilton Hotel, the media had the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session with driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DALE EARNHARDT JR. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet): ¿It¿s kind of tough because the basics of the superspeedway cars haven¿t changed. We¿ve kind of hit a cap on what else we can do, and what else we can learn. We continue to go to the wind tunnel, and test three or four times a year on the speedways. I compare it a lot to a gold mine, because you never know if you are going to walk away with anymore than you came with¿I¿m not in approval of the change, but once the decision is made, it doesn¿t do anybody any good to go any further than that. I am curious about how it is going to work out, and I look forward to seeing what the end result will be. What is important to me, is that at the end of the day, if I ever win a championship, how is it going to be compared to the championships my father won. Is it the same? Is it better? And so on.¿
News and quotes from the Tuesday evening function will be included with the Wednesday notes.