Goodbye, Gordon; Truex Ready for Fresh Start; Ganassi Teammates Have Early Momentum
Chevrolet Thursday, the fourth and final day of the 33rd annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom, was an emotional one.
For the last time, Jeff Gordon talked about his expectations for the upcoming season. Hendrick Motorsports owner, Rick Hendrick, said he couldn't put into words what Gordon has meant to him throughout the years. With Gordon entering his final season, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Chase Elliot will take Gordon's place on the team beginning in 2016.
"I'm just so thankful to Rick," Gordon said. "I mean, he gave me a chance, you know - I was a young kid - to be a part of this organization. And to know that I've always driven for him throughout my whole career and the success that we've had together and the friendship, partnership, a lot of great, great moments. I just couldn't be more thankful."
Gordon cited a combination of reasons for deciding to retire from full-time racing after this season, ranging from spending more time with his kids to issues with his back. He said he has known for several years that the end would be soon for him. His success on the track in 2014 made him even surer that he wanted to call it quits, though. Gordon is happy to go out knowing that he can still race at a high level.
"It showed me I still got it," Gordon said of his success in 2014. "You can be late in your career and still go out there and get it done and be competitive. So it's motivated me to be that much better this year and really, truly go out on top."
After Gordon's final checkered flag has waved, the 2014 XFINITY Series Champion, Chase Elliott, will round out Hendrick's four-man Sprint Cup team, though he said he could never "replace" Gordon. Elliot said he is happy to have Gordon's approval moving forward, and that he will drive the No. 24 car, per Gordon's request.
"It made me even more excited to be a part of it next year," Elliot said. "And to have him (Gordon) involved, as well, I think he's going to be a huge involvement next year and for many years to come. I'm looking forward to learning as much as I can from him; he's a guy that there's a lot to be learned from, so hopefully I can make the most of that."
It isn't often that Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. take a back seat around the press, but they did Thursday. Earnhardt has a new crew chief in 2015, Grev Ives, and said he is ready to hit the ground running with his new partner. Johnson said his 2014 season wasn't good enough, as he was unable to advance out of the second round of the reformatted Chase, and hopes to get back to his championship standards in 2015. Kasey Kahne is also welcoming a new crew chief this year, Keith Rodden.
Expectations couldn't be higher for Hendrick Motorsports' 2015 season, as Hendrick said he believes this year will be unbelievable for his team and the most competitive the sport has ever seen.
A FRESH START
On and off the track, Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. said 2014 was a season he's ready to put behind him.
From struggles finding the consistency his team needs to contend on a weekly basis on the track to watching longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex fight through ovarian cancer off the track, last year was an emotional rollercoaster for the 34-year-old, Mayetta, New Jersey native.
But like every race season, 2015 offers a blank slate - a new start on all fronts.
Pollex completed her last chemotherapy treatment on Monday and appears to be on the road to recovery.
"It seems like every day she's getting more back to normal and it's only been four days," Truex said during his team's media availability during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "It's been a tough road; it's obviously had some challenges. All in all, she did an amazing job. She's special. The way she was able to get through it, like no one has ever done before, was impressive and inspiring. It's going to make me work harder this year, that's for sure."
Helping Truex reach his goals on the track will be new crew chief Cole Pearn. While Pearn is new to the position, Furniture Row Racing has been grooming him for several seasons to sit atop the pit box.
Pearn, who previously served as the team's lead engineer, said crew chief is a job he's been preparing for his entire life. Growing up, his father raced. Pearn got his start in go karts at an early age. As he progressed through the racing ranks, he became more and more interested in learning as much as he could about the cars. The crew chief job, he said, is the natural next step.
"It's something we've kind of been preparing for the last few years," Pearn said. "I've been trying to take steps beforehand to be prepared. Honestly it's just making the final transition. I'm looking forward to it."
And Pearn won't be on an island as he takes the next step in his racing career. Furniture Row Racing's partnership with Richard Childress Racing began paying dividends late last season, Truex said, and promises to help the Denver, Colorado-based team make strides forward in 2015 as well.
"I don't see us as a one-car team, really," Truex said. "We have teammates with RCR and their other allied teams and I think that really worked well for us last year. Because of things we did that we didn't do well or we didn't do right, we couldn't take advantage of that team atmosphere but I thought it really worked well if we can do things right, and we started to see that at the end of the season. I feel like the teams worked well."
ONE CAUTION FLAG SHORT
Richard Childress Racing will field seven full-time teams in 2015: three Sprint Cup and four XFINITY Series cars. In the Sprint Cup Series, Austin Dillon returns after finishing second for Rookie of the Year, Paul Menard goes into his fourth season with RCR and Ryan Newman will try to make his way back into the Chase, after narrowly missing out on last year's championship despite never winning a race. Newman finished second behind Kevin Harvick at the season's title race in Homestead.
"We were one caution flag short," team owner Richard Childress said when asked about Newman's 2014 campaign during Chevrolet Thursday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "But that was history; we're looking at the future. We all know we have to win races to get in the Chase and that's our goal."
Newman obviously wishes he could have brought home the gold last year, but said he had never had so much fun while not winning races. He feels like his team grew and experienced a lot in 2014 and talked about how much fun it was building the relationships that he did.
"We did the best we possibly could and came up a little bit short, but I have no regrets about any part of it," Newman said. "I think we all did an awesome job to get to where we were. Our theory was always fight and we never quit fighting and we never will. I know that if and when we win, it's going to be spectacular."
Second-year driver Austin Dillon is glad to have his first year in the books and wants to step his game up in year two. Dillon was under a lot of pressure driving the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet in 2014 but feels like he has moved past it and is ready for what's ahead.
"This year, I think we've got to start getting crazy," he said. "I think we've got to make things happen. We need to be in the Chase; we need to be a part of the chaos at the end of the year. I think having that rookie year and that experience has allowed us to now go out and compete and really start making a name for our team and our crew. It's time to make a fire."
Paul Menard will drive the third car for RCR in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but will also compete part-time in the XFINITY Series in the No. 33 car along with Austin Dillon and Brandon Jones. Austin's younger brother, Ty Dillon, is entering his second season in the XFINITY series. Brendan Gaughan and Brian Scott will both drive full-time as well, completing RCR's four-car XFINITY Series squad in 2015.
It was also announced that Grainger will be the primary sponsor of Newman's no. 31 car and WIX Filters has come back to be a sponsor of Newman's again.
BUILDING ON MOMENTUM
There are moments during the course every season that can provide a boost or shot in the arm to a driver or team. For Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, that moment might have come before the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season has even gotten underway.
Cup drivers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson helped CGR win the Rolex 24 at Daytona last weekend. The victory not only earned everyone their own Rolex wristwatch - which they displayed proudly during Chevrolet Thursday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom - but it etched McMurray's name into the record books. McMurray became only the third driver in history to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Daytona 500, joining Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as the only other drivers to do so.
"I never had the dream of winning the Rolex 24, so to have that chance is big. It's probably my favorite race and the one I look most forward to," said McMurray. "It's a great opportunity to bond and really come together as a team."
McMurray is hoping that the win will help the team gain a significant amount of momentum as the 2015 NASCAR season nears. McMurray finished 2014 earning four of his seven top-fives in the final 10 races of the season, while Larson closed out his season with five finishes of sixth or better over the final 10 races en route to being named Rookie of the Year.
"I'm so happy I'm a part of Chip's team. They make it a lot of fun to drive for them," said Larson. "Hopefully 2015 goes a lot better than last year. I'd like to get a couple wins and go for a championship."
Sabates echoed those sentiments.
"I've never guaranteed anybody anything in all the years I've been in racing," said Sabates, "but I'm going to guarantee both of these guys are going to make the Chase."
QUOTES OF THE DAY
"It's kind of hard to come to the podium after Chip (Ganassi) because he said pretty much everything that can be said about the racing operation. So I'm here today to talk about Cuba."
- CGR co-team owner and Cuban-born Felix Sabates
"To everyone's surprise, I did miss a left-hand turn."
-Jimmie Johnson explaining why he got lost during a recent half-Ironman