Veterans, Newcomers Eager for 2015 to Start; PRN Offers Unprecedented Access to Media Tour
AFTER ROLLERCOASTER 2014 SEASON, SHR LOOKING FORWARD
There wasn't much room to spare as NASCAR's most captivating team, Stewart-Haas Racing, made its way to the stage during the second day of the 33rd annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom.
More than 200 credentialed print, radio and television media piled into the press conference room at the Charlotte Convention Center, as team co-owner/driver Tony Stewart, defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch sat side-by-side with co-owner Gene Haas. The 2014 season was both celebratory and demanding, as a myriad of on- and off-track issues put the SHR team in the spotlight for most of the year.
"I'm not happy about the last two years of my life," said Stewart. "It's given me more drive and desire to get back to the old form that our fans and sponsors are used to seeing us in. This is probably the most prepared I've been in a while for a season."
Should Stewart get back to championship form then it will likely be his championship teammate that he'll be chasing down. Coming off of the first Sprint Cup title of his career, Harvick is ready to build off his championship season and into a true perennial contender.
"There's a sense of responsibility for the sport, as the champion, to make sure that you represent the sport and do the things you need to in order to grow the sport," said Harvick. "It is way more fun to win the championship than to lose it. That's motivation in itself (to try and win it again). You want to move forward and keep doing your job the best that you can."
A similar mantra is coming out of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com camp. About to begin her third full season in the Cup Series, Patrick has a new crew chief in Daniel Knost, but she doesn't anticipate changing much about her approach to racing.
"Really to continue with the things that were happening and the improvements made in the areas that I was looking to improve," said Patrick. "It's also to develop new relationships. With a new crew chief we need to get to know each other, so I'll be putting a lot of hard work into getting our communication going. After that, it's picking up where I left off (last year) with crew chief Tony Gibson."
Gibson is now on top of the pit box for Busch. Put together for the final three races of 2014, the two had instant chemistry with Busch averaging an 8.7 finish with two top-10s over that stretch.
"We want to continue to build off the success we had from 2014, winning a race and making the Chase, but that's not what we're here to do," said Busch. "We're here to shoot for a championship. We want to build on the team's chemistry, using those last three races with Tony; those are the types of races we know we are capable of putting together."
MWR PUTS 2014 IN REARVIEW
Suffice it to say, the 2014 season was a difficult one, both on and off the track for Michael Waltrip Racing. Not only did both its drivers - Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers - fail to qualify for the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, but Vickers had a major setback in his bout with heart issues. Around the Thanksgiving holiday, Vickers went from attending a photo shoot for his primary sponsor, Aaron's, to the emergency surgery table.
"It was a pretty traumatic event and definitely the worst of all the medical issues I've had to face," said Vickers, whose career has been marred by medical issues since the 2010 season. "I was able to make it through… and the recovery process was like nothing I've ever experienced. But I had really good care and tremendous support from my family and this team."
Back on track with his recovery, Vickers will return behind the wheel of the No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota on March 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In the meantime, team owner Michael Waltrip will be in the pilot's seat for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, while 22-year-old Brett Moffitt will take the reins at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1.
"He's been doing a lot of testing for our team and has won a lot of K&N (Pro Series East) races for our team," said Waltrip. "And he was the driver that everybody at Michael Waltrip Racing wanted to be in that car at Atlanta. We know how much he's helped us … and we're going to reward him for all that work with a chance to drive a winning race car."
Getting back to victory lane is a priority for MWR this season, especially with the new Chase Grid format. That's somewhere Bowyer hasn't been in more than two seasons. But with a revived team focus and structural changes to some behind-the-scenes faces, MWR expects big things in 2015.
"There's no need to sugarcoat anything. Last year (stunk) - for all of us," said Bowyer. "I love what I'm seeing at the shop. We've made some internal changes and I think our cars are headed in the right direction. I'm ready to get to the racetrack."
"This will be our ninth season, so we're trying to build one of the most competitive teams in the sport," said team owner Rob Kauffman. "We're committed to winning. It's not a goal for us, it's an expectation."
ROAD COURSE RINGER
After winning for the first time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2014, A.J. Allmendinger and JTG Daugherty Racing are ready to have even more success in 2015. With a win at Watkins Glen, Allmendinger qualified for the Chase, but was unable to advance to the second round. The whole team is focused on getting better and being able to compete well at every track.
"He's a road-course ringer," crew chief Brian Burns said of Allmendinger. "This year is our turn to make sure that we're consistent at all the tracks we go to. Our biggest focus is being consistent. We know that being part of a championship team, everywhere that you unload, you want to have the expectations that you can win."
Allmendinger is happy to have his first win in the books, but also emphasized performing better at non-road course tracks. He said he needs to do a better job of qualifying and restarting at the more traditional tracks. The overall feeling is that his team is headed in the right direction, though.
"When we run our best," he said, "you know we can compete in the top 10. And that's what we've got to do consistently a lot more."
HScott Motorsports is excited to add a second car to the team, welcoming Michael Annett and his Pilot Flying J Chevrolet. Annett and fellow sophomore teammate Justin Allgaier will make up the two-car squad in 2015. Allgaier was the lone HScott driver in 2014 and is happy to have a teammate this year.
"I think having a teammate is paramount to have somebody that you can bounce ideas off of and compare to on a race weekend," said Allgaier. "Last year we were kind of on our own island. We weren't able to really push the envelope because we were so focused on working and trying to learn."
Annett said he is definitely a little nervous heading into 2015, but is certainly ready for the challenge that will be his second year on the circuit. Team owner Harry Scott is excited to have Annett aboard, but also admitted it has been a bit hectic putting everything together so quickly. The team is still searching for a crew chief - and even a car number - for Annett and hopes to find a veteran to help the second-year driver.
"Someone with some experience in the Cup Series is going to be huge," said Annett, when asked about what he's looking for in a crew chief. "There aren't any rookie strikes left on the card, but obviously still just my sophomore season so you'd like to have some more experience on the headset and in the pit box."
Scott said he believes his team has the potential to be in the top 20 consistently this year.
NBC SPORTS UNVEILS FRESH FACES FOR 2015
Eight and a half years was too long for NBC Sports to be away from NASCAR. They're back in the game now, though. Beginning with the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona on July 5, NBC Sports will broadcast 20 Cup races and 19 XFINITY races in 2015. Showcasing the second half of the NASCAR season, NBC Sports is the new home of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.
NBC Sports was excited to show off its new NASCAR talent in Charlotte on Tuesday during the second day of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. Jeff Behnke, vice president of NASCAR at NBC Sports, was joined on stage by racing legends Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty, who will both be NASCAR analysts moving forward on NBC Sports.
Joining via live stream from the NBC Sports studio in Stamford, Connecticut were new play-by-play announcer Rick Allen and recently retired driver Jeff Burton as well as Steve Letarte, former crew chief for Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The trio will be in the broadcast booth calling the races from July through November.
Krista Voda and Nate Ryan are also joining NBC Sports' NASCAR team, providing pre-race and post-race coverage on air and online.
NASCAR America debuted as a daily talk show on NBC Sports in 2014 and will welcome a new host, Mike Massaro, in 2015. NASCAR America will have daily look-ins and interviews at many of the race shops thanks to the help of their NBC Sports' Charlotte-based studio.
Everyone involved with NBC Sports' re-entry into NASCAR is extremely excited for what lies ahead. After the newly formatted Chase brought such excitement in 2014, everybody is expecting even more in 2015, with Dale Jarrett being one of the format's biggest advocates.
"Whenever you have made things more difficult for the drivers, it's more entertaining for the fans," Jarrett said. "And I think that's exactly what this did."
Be on the lookout for NASCAR on NBC during the second half of the 2015 season.
ACCESS, ACCESS, ACCESS
Performance Racing Network is giving its fans unprecedented exclusivity looking ahead to the final two days of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. As it has already this week, PRN will provide a live online video stream, bringing NASCAR fans at home or work even closer to the action from their favorite drivers and teams.
The live stream can be found at GoPRN.com/shows/stream/ and will also be archived on the GoPRNLive YouTube channel after the event.
Wednesday and Thursday will be jam-packed with some of the biggest names in the sport, including drivers from Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and many more. For a full list of drivers, fans can view the lineup here at http://bit.ly/1EnphtL
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"It allowed me to not be asked anymore 'when am I going to be the next first-time winner?' So I was just happy about that."
- A.J. Allmendinger on his first career win in 2014