NHRA to go Four-Wide at zMAX Dragway

The NHRA is going four-wide.

NHRA President Tom Compton, Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman and CEO Bruton Smith and 16-time Funny Car champion John Force were on hand Thursday to announce the inaugural NHRA Four-Wide Nationals to be held March 25-28. All four lanes of zMAX Dragway's concrete will be used for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.

The announcement comes four months after the NHRA conducted a four-lane exhibition at zMAX Dragway during the NHRA Carolinas Nationals in September.

"I hope all the fans are excited about this as I am," Smith said. "We are expecting it to be standing-room only here in March."

Fans may love the idea, but Force conceded that some in the sport may not like such a dramatic change.

"We've gotta grow," Force said. "Like Obama says, we've got to have change.

"I don't know how the other racers feel. But at the end of the day, it's going to be exciting. You're talking over 30,000 horsepower at one time. You're talking over 1,200 mph out there on that race track. We did it. My driver, Mike Neff, won it. I was a runner-up. It was exciting.

"Let me tell you, I embarrassed myself at the press conference. We came right back in to talk about what had taken place...When I drove this four-lane race, I ran in here and I was like Tom Cruise on Oprah, jumping up and down, screaming. Everyone said, ‘He went nuts,' because it was that exciting and thrilling."

Compton said the idea of a four-lane national event started when Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. built The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"Bruton doesn't like to mess around," Compton said. "I was driving up for our first event there, and I was mobbed by reporters when I got out of my car. I said, ‘What's this?' They go, ‘Bruton just announced you're going to have a second event.' I said, ‘We haven't even had our first event.'

"That's how he works. At the time, we weren't sure how to do (four-wide), to be quite honest. There's a lot more to it than meets the eye."

How will the event work?

· Qualifying will be conducted in all four lanes

· Each category winner will be determined in three rounds of eliminations

· The first two drivers across the finish line in each of the first rounds of eliminations will advance to the second round

· The first two drivers to cross the finish line in each of the second rounds will advance to the final

· Each final round will include four drivers, with one driver as the winner and one as second, third and fourth

The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series' passes will be conducted in the traditional two-lane format, running some classes in the left two lanes and others in the right.

McMurray vs. Montoya?

Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray are now teammates at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, but after a race last year at Bristol Motor Speedway, they were mortal enemies.

"We had a thing in Bristol," Montoya said. "He had old tires, I had new tires. You had about 15 cars in a line, and I got there and I ran out of patience."

Montoya punted McMurray in Turn 2, causing McMurray to spin out.

"When you're not teammates with somebody, and you get wrecked, you're pissed," said McMurray. "I don't know how else to say it."

But time heals all wounds, apparently.

"I tried to talk to him afterwards, and he was mad and didn't want talk about it." Montoya said. "I was OK. You're not here to make friends. But we have a really good relationship and we understand each other."

And it came none too soon for Montoya's Chase chances.

"We race every single weekend, and it takes about two more weeks before someone else makes you mad," McMurray said. "You're not thinking about the other guy. Probably in Juan's case, it was good that Ganassi hired me because the Chase would've been hell."

NASCAR Looking for New Sprint Cup Series Director

CEO and Chairman of NASCAR, Brian France, announced Thursday that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director John Darby would be promoted from his current position to a role at the NASCAR Research and Development Center.

"John is going to be transitioning here to the R&D center to have a bigger role with the company, but not the role of series director," said France. "But John, thanks for everything you've done to make racing great."

Darby's new title will be Managing Director of Competition and he will be able to go into that position once his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director replacement has been found.

"I'm not going away," said Darby. "I'll still be as deeply involved in NASCAR racing as I always have been times four."

His new position will give him a role in all of the sanctioning bodies of NASCAR - from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to the K&N Pro Series.

Darby will assist in finding his replacement, but a timeline has not been set.

"I think more importantly than a timeline for a new director, is actually taking the time to find the right director," said Darby. "That person has got to have some qualifications that not only include the competition side of what we do.

"There's a lot of parts of a series director's job that is more personal than that. It's one on one with the people in the garage. Every Friday we open up, you're almost the mayor of a little city."

Who Was the First to Hire John Darby? Bruton Smith

While Darby transitions to a new job, Bruton Smith recalled the first job Darby had as a teenager.

"John is from Rockford, Ill., and I used to live there," Smith said. "When John was 14 years old, I gave him a job. I had a Mercedes/Volvo dealership. We hired him to wash cars, and he did a damn good job.

"I didn't realize it until one day John walked up and told me."

Litany of Rules Changes in NASCAR for 2010

NASCAR officials unveiled a host of rules changes and adjustments for the 2010 racing season during the session at the NASCAR Research and Development Center:

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will eventually replace the wing on the back of the car with a spoiler. No timetable was announced, though NASCAR has a test scheduled for March 23-24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR will no longer police bump-drafting at Daytona and Talladega.

"We will put it back in the hands of the hands of the drivers and we will say, ‘Boys, have at it and have a good time,'" said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition.

Because of gradual changes to the Cup car, NASCAR will use a larger restrictor plate at Daytona and Talladega, increasing the size of each of the four openings to 63/64ths of an inch.

Following the lead of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series will implement a limit of 15 crew members for each team at every race. Included in that 15 are driver, crew chief and spotter.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will use double-file restarts in all races this year. The series will return to standard pit stops, allowing four tires and fuel on all stops. To help keep pit crews at the six-person limit, NASCAR unveiled a new fuel dump can that eliminates the need for a catch can. The truck teams can also begin use a spec engine at every track a mile and a quarter or less. 

Developmental Series Gets a New Sponsor

K&N Engineering Inc. will be the title sponsor of NASCAR's top developmental series, formerly known as the NASCAR Camping World East and West Series, beginning in 2010.

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series will continue to crown champions through separate schedules on the East and West Coasts.

K&N will make its on-track debut as the series entitlement sponsor at the 2010 NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown - NASCAR's prestigious postseason event, which has earned the moniker of the "Daytona 500 of short-track racing." The event is scheduled for Jan. 29-30 at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) and will air live on SPEED and SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.

Showtime Announces New Show NASCAR Insider

During a Thursday morning breakfast at the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Showtime Sports announced its new show, "NASCAR Insider."

Each week the show will show bring viewers highlights from the previous race weekend and analysis from racing experts. Hosting the show will be Chris Myers, and Randy Pemberton, Brad Daugherty and Michael Waltrip will serve as analysts.

"We're going to do as much as we can and we're bringing you the inside scoop," said Waltrip. "I'm just absolutely thrilled to be a part of it."

"NASCAR Insider" will premier Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 10 p.m. ET and will run for 38 weeks.

MWR on the way up?

Wednesday night's festivities included a stop at Michael Waltrip Racing in Cornelius, N.C. Driver David Reutimann had a breakthrough season in 2009, winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, two pole awards and posting five top-fives and 10 top-10 finishes. He said he believes MWR continues to move toward the top of the NASCAR echelon.

"We're definitely getting closer," said Reutimann. "To say that, ‘Hey, we're there' - I don't know that any team in the garage can say that they're there, especially judging from the last couple of years. But I definitely think we're a lot closer, and we have more of a clear-cut direction of how to get there.

"Where before, we didn't have that clear-cut direction. Now we know the directions we need to go to, the things we're constantly developing, building our own pieces and parts, doing things to do things a little bit better - like the Hendrick organization is doing."

MWR has a technical alliance with JTG Daugherty Racing, whose driver, Marcos Ambrose, also had a breakthrough season last year. Ambrose had four top-fives and seven top-10 finishes and ended up 18th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. The Australian driver said he is aiming a bit higher in 2010.

"We want to keep that bell curve on the way up," said Ambrose. "We want to win a race and contend for the Chase. We feel like we have the team behind us. We have sponsorships in place, and we have a great partnership with MWR. There is no reason why we shouldn't contend for the Chase."

SPEED TV Partners with NASCAR Hall of Fame

SPEED TV will get the exclusive rights to broadcast the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, as well as the inaugural induction ceremony in May.

Winston Kelley and other SPEED reporters will be broadcasting live for the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame on May 11. On May 22, Kelley will also host a show that will air prior to the ceremony.

Related to this news, SPEED will be airing an hour-long documentary for all of the five inductees, including Dale Earnhardt, Bill France Sr., Richard Petty, Bill France Jr. and Junior Johnson.

Additional programming will be added to SPEED's lineup as the opening and induction ceremonies near.

Jimmy Spencer gets show on SPEED

Former NASCAR driver Jimmy Spencer will host a new show that will air Monday nights on SPEED called "What's the Deal?" The 30-minute talk show will feature special guests including some of his fellow SPEED commentators.

"Wendy (Venturini) will be on, Johnny (Roberts) and Kenny (Wallace)," said Spencer. "I know none of the drivers will come on, they don't like me.

"This is a pretty big undertaking for SPEED to give me a shot at a show." Spencer jokingly added. "It didn't even cost me that much."

"What's the Deal?" premieres Feb. 15.

Quotes of the Day

Michael Waltrip on his work in television: "I've been real lucky because I don't do a whole lot of work. I just sort of show up and say, ‘OK, how's my makeup look?'"

Michael Waltrip on being a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner: "I would say that it's been much more challenging. Specifically, it's been a lot more expensive than I thought it would be...Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has got nice jets. Roger (Penske's) got a big boat. I thought, ‘Well, heck yeah I can do that.' I didn't realize that they had those things because of other businesses."