Note: For a full photo gallery of images from Monday's NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, click here.

MWR Prepares for 2012 With New Additions Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer

During a dinner visit to Michael Waltrip Racing Monday evening, media were treated to talk show-style interviews with Michael Waltrip as host and all three MWR drivers as interviewees. 

Waltrip began the evening by announcing his optimism for the season.

"I’m excited that we are one of the two tier-one teams with Toyota," he said. “I love who we are.”

He went on to talk about his personal plans for the season. He hopes to strike a deal that will put him in the driver’s seat for his 27th consecutive Daytona 500. He is also the newest addition to the FOX broadcast crew as part of the Hollywood Hotel for the first half of the NASCAR season.

Waltrip kicked off his the talk show with his first guest, new driver Clint Bowyer and a unique 5-Hour Energy toast. Bowyer spoke about his enthusiasm for this new chapter in his life and career in 2012, his first season at MWR. Bowyer will pilot the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota and he attributes this easy transition to his new team to the guidance of MWR Competition Director, Scott Miller. 

“I am very relaxed coming to MWR,” said Bowyer. “The comforting factor of coming to a new place is when the captain of the ship is someone I am comfortable working with.”

Miller and Bowyer worked together during Miller’s time as competition director at Richard Childress Racing. Bowyer spoke highly of his new team members as well, specifically Mark Martin, who is also new to the MWR stable for 2012. 

“Mark is someone I look up to and respect,” said Bowyer. “I almost shy away from him, like 'this is Mark Martin’.”

Martin will share driving duties in the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine with Waltrip. However, Waltrip had some advice for the NASCAR veteran on how to win the Daytona 500. 

“Early on in the race, just eliminate half of the field,” said Waltrip.

Martin believes tandem racing will be back at Daytona. 

“We can’t unlearn tandem racing,” said Martin. “Once we learn how to get 10 mph, we can’t unlearn it.”

As the youngest driver at MWR, Martin Truex Jr. plans to learn a lot from his new teammates and make the most of his 2012 season.

“These are all my make or break years,” said Truex, driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota. “You are only as good as your last race. I’m not here to float around. I know what I can do in a racecar. We need to finish the deal this year.”

SPEED’s Ackerson Outlines Coverage Plans for 2012
During the final session of Monday’s NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, SPEED announced plans for coverage of the 2012 NASCAR racing season.

Scott Ackerson, SPEED’s new interim president, was on hand to discuss the cable network’s outlook.

“Our mission will be one of storytelling, production and making sure people know who these drivers are,” said Ackerson. 

He emphasized that SPEED would be focusing on entertainment and teaching viewers about the sport.

Barry Landis, FOX coordinating producer, discussed the changes for FOX’s coverage of NASCAR races. 

“We are going to ensure that viewers continue to have a front row seat for every race through our coverage,” said Landis.

Landis announced that FOX will add Michael Waltrip to their list of on-air talent in the Hollywood Hotel and will allow Jeff Hammond to “be unshackled and free to roam.” Hammond will be in the garage area, bringing fans behind the scenes at all tracks. However, Landis reiterated that coverage of the race on the track will be the priority.

In the final announcement of the evening, Leigh Diffey and Andy Lally discussed Saturday’s running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Lally, who has three victories in the Rolex 24-hour endurance race, spoke very highly of the competition in the 2012 event.

“I believe that this will be the most competitive GT class that has ever run a 24-hour race,” said Lally. “We’re going to see a scrap. I wouldn’t be surprised to see eight-to-10 cars on the lead lap with an hour to go.”

30-Year Media Tour Veterans Honored 
In the 30-year history of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, only seven people have taken part in every event. Those seven - Bill Funderud, Bruce Martin, Bryant McMurray, Bob Moore, Al Pierce, Thomas Pope and Deb Williams - were honored Tuesday morning during a special breakfast that included discussion of media Tour memories. 

Speedway Children's Charities Celebrates 30th Birthday
Speedway Children’s Charities will celebrate its 30th birthday in 2012 with a year-long celebration that will include parties, giveaways and much more. 

As part of the celebration, SCC will host its final Racing for Kids motorcycle raffle, with the winner taking home a 2011 Harley Davidson Fatboy motorcycle painted by NASCAR artist Sam Bass. This will be the final time SCC hosts the Racing for Kids raffle in honor of the organization’s 30th birthday. 

The charitable group, which was started by Speedway Motorsports Inc. Chairman and CEO O. Bruton Smith, will play host to the Renegade Playground Challenge, a 5k obstacle course mud run, Sept. 29 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The event will include a mix of running, climbing, crawling and jumping in a mud covered course. 

Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards was also named the 2012 national spokesperson for SCC for the fourth consecutive year. In addition, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas Sadler, the executive director of SCC, will be the honoree during the SCC Charlotte Chapter Gala on May 25.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Welcomes New Sponsors
When most NASCAR teams are struggling to find enough sponsors to complete their entire Sprint Cup schedule, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has managed to re-sign its current sponsors and add a few new ones.

Current team sponsors Target, Bass Pro Shops and McDonald’s will return to EGR next year to sponsor Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray. Joining them as one-race primary sponsors on McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet are new backers Belkin, LiftMaster and Banana Boat. 

With the addition of these three new sponsors, team co-owner Chip Ganassi proudly announced Tuesday during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway that the team has sold sponsorship on both of the EGR cars for every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 2012. 

“How about my sales team? There are no primary placings available on our cars,” Ganassi said. “They’ve brought back (our current sponsors) and brought these new people to the sport. I want to give a call out to our sales guys. What a great job they’ve done.”

With every sponsorship opening now filled on both the No. 1 and No. 42 Chevrolets, the focus moves to the performance of the team on the race track. The team is coming off a disappointing season where Montoya was 21st and McMurray 27th in the final Sprint Cup standings. 

“Really our season (2011) started out OK and just slowly got worse,” McMurray said. “Chip made a lot of good changes and brought a lot of new people in. I think our excitement comes from the changes we made.”

Those changes include a new crew chief for McMurray’s teammate Montoya. After working with interim crew chief Jim Pohlman toward the end of the 2011 season, EGR hired former Hendrick Motorsports engineer Chris Heroy to work with Montoya in 2012. 

Blake Shelton to Perform Pre-Race Concert at the May 19 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race 
Charlotte Motor Speedway officials took the stage Tuesday morning to preview the facility’s action-packed, 114 days of at-track events and excitement for 2012, highlighted by the announcement that three-time GRAMMY nominee and CMA Male Vocalist of the Year Blake Shelton will perform a pre-race concert prior to the running of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 19.

Among those energized about the 2012 year at Charlotte Motor Speedway was Marcus Smith, track president and general manager. 

“We are really looking forward to 2012 because we have more packed into our schedule at Charlotte Motor Speedway than ever before,” said Smith.

New events at the facility for 2012 include Mayhem @ the MAX: bracket racing for amateur racers, junior dragsters and street cars at the Bellagio of drag strips, zMAX Dragway. Also, the new Vietnam Veterans Homecoming Celebration on March 31 at Charlotte Motor Speedway will include live music, military salutes, displays and demonstrations that will honor those who served.

Yet another new event is the Labor Day family festival at the superspeedway that will serve as the kick off to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The festival on Sept. 9 will include live entertainment, activities and exhibitions that showcase Charlotte and the Carolinas. 

However, for Charlotte Motor Speedway nothing is more exciting or bigger than the 10 days of racing and family entertainment that roar into Charlotte every May. The Coca-Cola 600 will be back for its 53rd running on May 27. Speedway officials announced LiftMaster as the Pole Day sponsor, which will kick off the Coca-Cola 600 race weekend. Coca-Cola and the speedway will enhance the infield fan experience with new entertainment activities. Newly-renovated sections of the infield will allow for more motor home camping in prime HDTV viewing areas. New on the HDTV for fans coming to the speedway in May will be a movie series, co-sponsored by Coca-Cola and the History Channel.

Finally the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race will take place on May 19. The 2012 edition will promise to bring all the same racing excitement but with new entrants, including Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose, David Ragan and Trevor Bayne who will take their shot at running off with the $1 million prize. 

Presented by Target, the Blake Shelton concert will take place in the infield between Turns 1 and 2 before the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and is free with the purchase of a race ticket. Fans can purchase a special Golden Ticket upgrade for just $20 to secure a prime location with special access to a reserved area directly in front of the stage.

Roush Fenway Racing Ready for 2012 After Off-Season Restructuring
During a lunch visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Speedway Club, Roush Fenway Racing presented their plans for 2012 to media members. 

RFR president, Steve Newmark, discussed the team’s heart-wrenching end to the 2011 season, with driver Carl Edwards tying for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship with Stewart-Haas Racing’s Tony Stewart, and also discussed RFR’s reenergized hopes for 2012.

RFR’s stop on the NASCAR Sprint Media also focused on its celebration in 2012 of 25 winning years as a team. 

“It’s not just about being around for 25 years, it’s about being on a level of success for 25 years,” said Kevin Woods, senior director of corporate communications for RFR.

He attributed Roush Fenway Racing’s 25 winning years and more to come to four parts that he believes the organization stands on: performance, people, innovation and partners, including newly signed sponsor, Best Buy.

Team owner Jack Roush spoke about the team’s 299 wins, pointing out that RFR has won races with 17 different drivers, which he attributes to the managers and coaches.

Robbie Reiser, RFR’s general manager, detailed the off-season restructuring process the team endured during, which included its consolidation down to three Sprint Cup Series teams from four and a shuffling of personnel. In 2012 RFR will field three NASCAR Sprint Cup teams and one full-time Nationwide Series team for defending series champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. RFR will also field a partial Nationwide schedule for 2011 Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne, however the team is hopeful that sponsorship can be secured so Bayne can run a full season.  

Roush Fenway drivers, Bayne, Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle, spoke about their 2012 outlooks.

“My guys are hungry this year,” said Bayne. “We got a taste of victory at Texas and we are ready to go after it this year. We learned how to win in 2011. I think a lot of guys can run good all year long, but winning is like that hard edge to cross over.”

“We are coming off of a championship year,” said 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Stenhouse. “There is no reason why we can’t backup our championship again this year. We have a strong program that would give any racecar driver confidence. I feel like we can win 6-10 Nationwide Series races in 2012.”

The most revamped team at RFR, the No. 16 3M Ford, has not left driver Biffle with any doubts about his 2012 season. He said he is looking forward to the Bud Shootout in Daytona to shake out the bugs and make all of the mistakes that are common with new teams, but that he hopes to avoid during regular season.

Roush Fenway driver, Matt Kenseth, was absent from Media Tour due to a family emergency and Carl Edwards was out of the country.

Ford Racing Reveals 2013 Ford Fusion Sprint Cup Entry
Ford became the first of the four NASCAR manufacturers to reveal its 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entry to the public Tuesday, with Roush Fenway Racing drivers Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. taking a pair of new 2013 Ford Fusion racers for a quick spin around Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

The car features more brand identity than manufacturers have been allowed to incorporate in years past, a theme which is expected to continue when Dodge, Chevrolet and Toyota reveal their new looks in the coming months. 

“Really the project at Ford started when we introduced Mustang into (the NASCAR) Nationwide (Series),” said Jamie Allison, director of Ford North America Motorsports. “That was a tipping point for this sport. The reaction we got from Mustang was tremendous.

“But we always said that was a great first step. We, along with NASCAR and the (other) manufacturers, wanted to go further in the Sprint Cup Series,” Allison said.

Ford staffers spent the last year designing the new Fusion before bringing it to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Tuesday’s reveal. Flanked by drivers Biffle, Stenhouse, Trevor Bayne, Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola, David Ragan and David Gilliland, the car garnered its fair share of praise from the crowd. 

Once the formal portion of the unveil was over, Biffle and Stenhouse took a pair of the new entries to the track. It was the first time the new car had seen track time. 

Quotes of the Day
Chip Ganassi, when asked about the possibility of fielding a Formula One team in the future: “There was a time in my life where I would have thought about that. When I start to think about that now, I go lay down until that feeling goes away.”

Steve Newmark, Roush Fenway Racing’s president: “I think the one lesson we learned at Roush Fenway Racing in 2011 is that every point matters. Our goal for 2012 is one more point. We need to get that last point at Homestead and be on that podium.”