Media Tour Notes
Notes and Quotes: Wednesday, Jan. 24
Tuesday night's dinner at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Concord Convention Center was hosted by Dale Earnhardt Inc. as company President and CEO Teresa Earnhardt opened the evening with a brief comment before turning the stage over to NEXTEL Cup drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard.
"We have a lot of news to update our members of the media with since last season and will cover a lot of information," Teresa Earnhardt said before exiting the stage.
One of the first topics to be addressed was the brewing controversy surrounding Earnhardt Jr. and his future at DEI as well as his relationship with his stepmother.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet): "We look forward to negotiating and hope to have something in the next couple of months and put this to bed. We've spoken briefly, but I really don't feel like there's a need for any in-depth conversation tonight about it. We're just focused on next year and winning races. I think we've kind of moved on from my contract issues. (On Kevin Harvick's comment earlier in the day that Teresa Earnhardt is a deadbeat car owner who doesn't spend enough time at the track) Man you're killing me. That's ridiculous. Teresa, like I've said in the past, she's had a full plate. There are a lot of things she's had to be responsible for like the autopsy photos. She's taken care of things for the family as well as this company."
In sponsorship news among the DEI camp, several announcements were made on Tuesday night, including the official promotion of Paul Menard who will be competing for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in the NEXTEL Cup Series aboard the No. 15 Menards Chevrolet. Earnhardt Jr., Truex Jr. and Menard will also compete in select Busch Series races, but the specific number of races for each driver has yet to be determined.
Following the press conference, media members moved to the nearby AMC Theaters at Concord Mills for a showing of the movie "Dale." The first authorized movie detailing the life of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, the move will be shown in race markets throughout the season and will be available on DVD later in the year.
Day three of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway started at the Embassy Suites Hotel with a breakfast hosted by Craftsman, the title sponsor of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Among the drivers on hand to chat with the media were defending series champion Todd Bodine, Dennis Setzer, Ted Musgrave, Tyler Walker, Willie Allen, Brendan Gaughan, Terry Cook, Rick Crawford and Aaron Fike.
Ron Hornaday (No. 6 Allstates Employer Service Chevrolet): "I'm ready to get the season started because I'm the type of guy that lives for racing. I wish we'd never have an off-season. A lot of people complain that the season is too long, but I wish we'd never quit. I'm excited that Kevin Harvick is behind me again this year and I'm looking forward to 2007. To be able to race for Kevin is something that means a lot to me and I owe him a lot because he's given me a chance to win another championship this year in the truck series. We're going to try and do the best we can."
Todd Bodine (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota): "Even though I'm heading into 2007 as the defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, I can't look back on last year because we're all heading into the season with zero points and high expectations. My team has worked hard in the off-season to make sure we maintain our same intensity and focus that we ended up with last year. We feel like we're going to pick up right where we left off, but you can't walk into Daytona thinking you're going to do well just because you're the defending champion. We're all starting at zero and there are a lot of strong teams heading the season. Realistically, anything less than defending our championship will be a disappointment for us here at Germain Racing. That's what we're here for. Our first goal is to win races and then hopefully win another championship."
Ted Musgrave (No. 9 Team ASE Toyota): "I'm really looking forward to Daytona because a lot of people say that's the best race they see all season. I've heard of people buying tickets for Speed Weeks and selling their tickets to the Daytona 500 because they just want to see the truck series race on Friday night. To be honest, I'm the same way because I watch the Daytona 500 from home or listen to it on the radio. It's just good racing and it never comes down to just one truck dominating. There are a lot of rookies making their first start at Daytona and that always makes things interesting. I think we're going to be in good shape, at least I hope so. I just want to start the year out by winning races and being consistent, hopefully if we do that we'll be in championship contention at the end of the year."
The second function on Wednesday took the Media Tour to Roush Racing in Concord, N.C., where multi-car team Jack Roush owner talked about his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series teams and the upcoming season. Roush was joined by his entire fleet of drivers including Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, David Ragan, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.
Jack Roush (Owner Roush Racing): "This is pretty amazing to see this many media people here in one room. We're excited about the upcoming year and I enjoy seeing all you guys that I don't normally get to see all together at one time. We've made a few changes this year and I'm looking forward to it even though we've got a lot of the same drivers and sponsors back in place. Last year was OK for us, but it wasn't a great year overall for Roush Racing. We're hoping we've made strides to close the gap so we can be a lot more competitive. I'm going to look for Greg Biffle for his veteran direction as he is the driver that has been here the longest.
"The Car of Tomorrow has been something I've been pretty pessimistic about and I don't apologize for that. I believe NASCAR has the best interest of all the manufacturers, drivers and fans in mind. It's going to be an interesting year with Toyota coming into NEXTEL Cup. We might have been a little too conservative last year but we're not taking that approach this season. The lights are bright here at Roush Racing and we're looking forward to the new season. We're going to keep our eye on the ball and I feel positive about the initiatives we've set heading into the new season."
JACK ROUSH, Car Owner - Roush Racing Fusions - "We're real excited about 2007. In the interviews that will follow, I'll enumerate all the various changes we made to try to get a competitive advantage, which we didn't have last year. It was OK. It was a great year. OK, it was a good year, it wasn't a great year. We wound up falling short of our mark in several areas, but it was still a year that we can build from and we've taken great steps to close the gap and hopefully get back ahead in some of the areas where we weren’t as dominant as we had been previously.
"The majority of our sponsors that we had in 2006 are back in 2007. Of course, not to repetitious, but I have to mention my sponsors. I’m real happy to have AAA back; Ameriquest, which made their entry into the Busch Series last year is stepping up with Greg Biffle. I don’t know if Greg is gonna wear this crown happily or not, but he is our oldest driver and has the most tenure with us. Mark Martin will still be around for a couple of races. That was a surprise to me to find that that was gonna happen. We’re all excited about that, but Greg is the guy that I’ll look to, especially for direction. Of course, Matt is gonna be standing right there beside him. Matt has actually been longer in Cup than Greg has, but Greg has been with Benny Parsons - bless his heart - with his support back years ago, we were able to identify Greg as somebody that we should have in our program and, of course, gave Greg the shot that he’d been looking for.
"DeWalt is back. Crown Royal, I’m excited about what we’re gonna do with them this year. Office Depot, Carl Edwards - the promise of 2005 was not realized for Carl in 2006 and we’re putting him back on track for that. The 3M folks will be here. Torrey (Galida) and some of the folks spent two days at a retreat with them in Minnesota and it was great fun. They’ve got great plans for next year and it’s a super company and we’re anxious to move forward with. My friends at Scotts are back. World Financial Group is going forward with us. Northern Tool and Equipment has got a great program and Jackson Hewitt Tax Service is back and, of course, Kraft has been with us for so many years is back with us.
"We’ve got several new sponsors that we’re equally excited about. Discount Tire with their program has made the decision to join us. Dish Network, Arby’s and Sharp Electronics.
"We’re doing exploratory marketing programs with them to figure out how to launch their new programs as well as add momentum and energy to the programs we’ve been involved with. Ford Motor Company, NASCAR and all of you, of course, will be a part of our year next year as the races unfold and each of you find your moment to question us on something that may be contentious, or hopefully give us some credit when unbelievable positive things work out. We look forward to participating with you in all those things and, yes, we’ll be there for the tough days and the tough questions and the bad circumstances as well.
“The Car of Tomorrow, I’ve been guardedly pessimistic about the timing, the necessity and the cost of the Car of Tomorrow. Being totally fair, and I made a comment in this regard which borders, it’s as close as – I don’t apologize for having to spend my money very often, but this is as close you’ll get. The car will be ultimately safer and it should have no long-term ill-effect on the racing as we’ve known it with the car of today. I believe the car will be easier for NASCAR to police. Their anxious to have all of our programs, all of our drivers to be in the biggest ball possible to compete from turn four to the start-finish line at every event. I think the cars will be closer than they’ve been.
“The impact of the manufacturers and their contrivance and the team’s contrivance to exact and advantage for themselves – those prospects will be limited based on what they’ve done. I believe that NASCAR and has got the best interest of all the racers and all the manufacturers as they’ve brought this Car of Tomorrow program on us.
“At the AARWBA banquet the other night, I was aware of what was going on in the room and I saw that Toyota had rented a table from you guys, as Ford had and a number of other folks that supported you, and I held back. I turned one sheet over on my Toyota comments just because I respected the fact they were there and they had been there to support you, but for me and the things that happen technologically with regard to the innovations and the initiatives that other teams took – that we were more conservative on last year – 2006 is clear evidence that the competition is not gonna stand still. They won’t be intimidated for any new team or any new manufacturer that might come in with more money or, on the face of it, would have some of the ingredients to make a better effort or a better program. All of the manufacturers are trying to establish a competitive and strategic advantage for themselves. Some will succeed in time. Most will not succeed initially. Toyota will not find that the established teams and manufacturers will wither in their path as has been the case where they’ve decided to engage elsewhere.
“I know there are probably a lot of you that would like for me to go deeper into that, but I’m just gonna say that nobody is frightened. We’re gonna go to war with them and they should give us their best shot because we’ll be back and giving as good as we take.
“Anyway, we’re glad to be here with you and I guess we’re gonna break out into session here and do some things. It’s thrilling on this beautiful North Carolina winter day to have all of you here with bright, shining faces and be thinking about what’s gonna happen at Daytona and the rest of the year that’s gonna follow. It’s gonna be a very exciting year with a lot of turns that are gonna be unexpected.
“Myself and our marketing folks and, of course, all of our drivers have got to keep their eye on the ball and be vigilant as to the things that we’re here to do. I couldn’t feel more positive about what our prospects are based on the initiatives that we’re able to make, based on the support of all of our sponsors and the support that Ford Motor Company has given us. In this, their time of greatest need, they’re standing shoulder to shoulder with us and giving us everything that would be useful that I could justify."
Q&A SESSION ON STAGE
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Office Depot Ford Fusion – DO YOU BELIEVE IN A SOPHOMORE JINX AND ARE YOU GLAD IT’S FINALLY OVER? “I really wasn’t sure it was gonna happen in 2006. Obviously, it wasn’t what we planned, but that’s how racing goes. You can’t expect anything. There are a bunch of variables you can’t control and I think our Office Depot Fusion team is back and, hopefully, we’ll run really well here in 2007. At the end of the season we accumulated a lot of points and had some better runs, but I’ve learned a lot of different things that can go bad this last season and, hopefully, I can apply what I learned and our team can move forward."
JAMIE MCMURRAY – No. 26 Crown Royal Ford Fusion – YOU HANDPICKED LARRY CARTER AS YOUR CREW CHIEF. HOW HAVE THINGS GONE SO FAR? “I had such a great relationship with Donnie Wingo that I wanted somebody that was similar to Donnie and I already had a relationship with Larry through driving Rusty’s (Wallace) Busch car and he actually worked with Donnie at Travis Carter’s years ago. I liked Larry and I felt like we could have the same off-track relationship that I had with Donnie. I never really had that with Bob or with Jimmy. Jack never really gave me a chance to have it with Jimmy (laughter), but I never developed that with Bob. I didn’t realize how important that was to me to have that relationship away from the race track as much as the communication at the track. The thing is with our team this year is it’s not just about the crew chief. We have a different engineer, a different car chief. Actually, Todd Zeigler came over from the 6 car to be the car chief, a different tire guy, there’s a different shop foreman. Our entire race team is gonna be different this year. I have a lot of confidence in all the people and when Homestead ended, I was a little bit worried because we didn’t have a crew chief and without the crew chief, you don’t really have the leader to get the rest of the people that he wants, but after the first of the year when Larry came over and we were able to get a new engineer and all of the new people, I’m very excited about the quality of people. I feel like this year we actually have the people in the right place and have a great group of people – from where it starts all the way up to the crew chief – so I’m excited about that part of our program this season."
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion – WILL THE POINT CHANGE MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE IN HOW YOU RACE? “No. I think you approach them all the same. We all go out to try to win races. The only thing about rewarding more points to winning is that I think it’s cool if you win a race early in the year to be able to take those points into the chase if you make the chase. But I’ve said all along with more points to the winner, I don’t think it’s gonna change the winners of the races. It’s gonna give the winners more points, but I don’t think it’s gonna change the people who win. I go back to where we’ve run second at Indy a couple of times and it could have paid a 2,000-point bonus to win that race and we still couldn’t have won it. We were running as hard as we could to run second, so I don’t think it’s gonna change the winners, but that part of it and carrying those points to the chase will be interesting. You’ll be thinking about that early in the year. If you can pull off a win, you’ll be like, 'Yeah, if I make the chase I get an extra 10 points going in,’ so I guess that’s something you’ll think about if you can win."
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 Ameriquest Ford Fusion – DO YOU FEEL LIKE A MENTOR NOW TO THE YOUNGER GUYS AT ROUSH RACING? “Let’s get the facts straight. Matt is actually older than I am, but I’ve been at Roush longer, so I’ve got him by a year. I do (feel like a mentor). We don’t get the opportunity as much as we’d like, obviously this year being teamed up with Todd Kluever in the Busch car, I’m gonna be able to work a lot closer with him on setups and things like that with him driving that race car with Eddie Perdue as being the crew chief. So that team will stay the same and I think we’re gonna have a lot of success in that 3M Busch car, so I’m looking forward to that. And as much as I can help all the rest of the guys. David Ragan in the 6, I think we’re gonna be able to put a lot of support around him with the meetings that we have at the race track and the shop, so I think it’s gonna be a good season for us. I think the truck teams ran very well last year and I think the Busch cars are gonna be better this year, and I think we’re right on track with our Cup program, so I think it’s gonna be a good year for us."
DAVID RAGAN – No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion – WHAT ARE YOUR REALISTIC GOALS FOR THIS SEASON? “Realistic goals are to go out and, one, put on a great show for the fans and support my sponsors – AAA and Discount Tire – two great sponsors that I’m glad to be a part of the team. But just to improve week in and week out. I’m still a rookie. I just turned 21 a few weeks ago, so I feel like I’m getting a little older and also got a lot more pressure on me this year than the last few years to go out and get the job done, but week in and week out I want to get better. I want to try to win some races in the Busch car. I’m not counting it out in the Cup car. I feel like the team is capable of winning races. Jimmy Fennig has put together a great group of guys for the AAA Ford Fusion team and the main thing is that first half of the year I’m kind of looking at it by running the full Busch schedule and the Cup schedule, at Daytona in July I’ll have a full year under my belt between the two series, so that second part of the year we’re really looking at going out and having a great time on one side of things, but continue the learning curve, improve week in and week out and hopefully come away with a few wins and some good, solid runs at the end of the year.”
JACK ROUSH CONTINUED – HOW WILL TOYOTA COMING IN CHANGE THE SPORT? “I think that question has been asked and answered, but if Toyota is gonna bring about changes in the way we conduct our business – they’ve got the deep pockets and the wherewithal to step outside the box and to pay more for a service or for a technology than sound business practices would otherwise justify, then we’re gonna have an announcement, I think, if things go well, about a new investor in our program to help us – not as a sponsor but as a potential partner – and part of the reason we’re discussing doing that is to be able to feel like we can stand the pressure of having a round of negotiations with sponsors that may not be rich enough to cover everything that we’re spending, or may be ahead of where we are to negotiate with our drivers in the face of offers that they’d have to do other things. I’m definitely preparing myself for a siege and I expect that traditional conventions – where you look at the Wood Brothers and Bud Moore and the Pettys and all these other folks that have made their name in this business down through the decades – they’ve done so based on what the dollar income from the sponsorships and from the prize money would justify. I don’t expect that’s gonna be the case with Toyota. I think that they’ll carry their money and carry their technology and try to put the rest of us in a catch-up scenario, and I’m trying to be ready for that.”
WHO HAS THE FINAL SAY WITH CHANGES TO YOUR TEAMS? “If I understood the question for the matter of making changes within a team am I the ultimate, I try to be a consensus builder. There are times when I’ll say things that will make somebody mad or that will challenge them, so they’ll really tell me what they think and we look for strength of argument and we look for a consensus among the people that are closer to it than I am most days.
I just need to try to figure out what the crew chiefs as a group and the general managers individually think needs to be done, and as long as I don’t see something wrong with it. The senior guy here (Biffle) is gonna have a lot to say (laughing). If you’re a driver like David Ragan and is just getting started or you’re a driver like Carl Edwards, I want to say something about Carl here and he may throw his microphone at me, but in 2005, Carl didn’t have a lot of room to make decisions on his own. In 2006 I stepped back and the team stepped back and Carl, as he got his legs under him, he was able to go out and do things that he wouldn’t have undertaken in 2005. So part of that business of growing up is a matter of figuring out for yourself what the boundaries are and what the limits are and the difference between what you know is right and what you can justify as being the right thing at that time.
So there’s a combination of say Greg as a for instance, had final say on what his team was as did Jamie and the circumstance we were in with him, but there are all levels of different involvement for me. But the easiest thing for me is to not have to make a decision, but to let the decision be made by the people that are close and, of course, the drivers, once they get the experience to understand the consequences and the benefit of the things they might do, then to line up behind them and just give them what they need.”
ARE YOU SATISIFIED WITH TOYOTA THAT NASCAR CAN KEEP THE PLAYING FIELD LEVEL FROM A TECHNICAL STANDPOINT? “They certainly recognize that as a problem – the technological capabilities and the amount of challenge they’re gonna see. I regard the car of tomorrow as being primarily NASCAR’s initiative to limit the amount of dollars that can be spent on technology and the benefit that will come from it. The cars are centerline cars right now. You can’t offset the front end. A lot of the adjustment that could be made to the car of today, and I’ll just pick on two of my guys, Greg and Jamie McMurray have demonstrated to me that they don’t want to drive the same car. They want different offsets in their front ends. They want different aerodynamic functional characteristics of the car. The cars are not gonna have that variability and there’s gonna be winners and losers among the drivers. There are gonna be drivers saying, 'Man, this car is just fine. I can do my business with it,’ and there are gonna be others that say, 'Boy, I just need to have more torque in the aerodynamic aspect of it as I enter the corner, or less,’ and they’re all gonna be within a very narrow range. They’re all gonna be the same and the ability we’ve had to change those things, to suit the preference of the driver, we’re not gonna have. But at the same time that I think that’s a real detriment, the difficulty of saying what can you go spend your money with on rolling ground plane, wind tunnels and four-tenth-scale wind tunnels and all that, the benefit from that is gonna be less. So NASCAR is gonna be in a position, say if it’s a five-car, multiple-car team, there are some obvious advantages that we’ve got over a one-car team and those advantages will be diminished by the car of today. But as far as the size staff they’ve got, gosh, I wouldn’t look forward to having more inspectors looking at me and the guys and our cars.”
ARE YOU CONCERNED WITH THE HORSEPOWER OF THE ENGINES? “We’ve got a great relationship with Robert and Doug Yates with putting our engines together. The reason we did that was anticipating the problem of the challenge that Toyota would bring or Honda would bring or whoever the next manufacturer would come in and try to buy their way into the sport, either with technology or with money that they’ve made elsewhere. The horsepower business – the engine Toyota had initially in trucks, they can’t take Cup racing. It’s a diminished engine as they do that. And on the heels of the car of tomorrow, everybody is gonna have to change their engine again. We’ve got an engine change that’s gonna occur in the next 24 months that’s gonna obsolete all of our engines. By the way, our engines are gonna have parameters that will let them make more power based on the fact that our engine design really has not changed significantly from the deck height and the bore centers and the camshaft position and the cooling, it hasn’t changed since back in the late seventies or early eighties. The engine that Chevrolet has today. The engine that Toyota has today. The engine that Chrysler has today are all engines that have been generated from a clean sheet of paper within very broad, wide-open parameters that NASCAR has given. So they’re gonna pull that back the same as they’re doing the limitations in the car with the car of tomorrow, they’re gonna do the same thing with the engine and it’s gonna result in a lot of obsolescence, but with the friends I’ve got on the other side and the talent of Robert and Doug, I’m not at all terrified on what we’re gonna be able to do engine-wise.”
MATT KENSETH CONTINUED -- DOES IT FEEL WEIRD NOT TO HAVE MARK AROUND? “I was just talking to Greg actually when we sat down. I was looking at the pictures on the wall behind all you guys and I was looking at the one from 2000 and I told Greg, I said, 'We’re the only ones left here as drivers.’ When you look at that picture, so with Jeff and Kurt and Mark being gone certainly, we’ve done great things. I think Mark and Jeff have really helped – Jack will even tell you that Mark is a huge part of Roush Racing. Roush Racing probably wouldn’t be exactly what it is today without him, so it’s definitely different without him here, but yet we knew sooner or later he was gonna step back. We thought it was gonna be a lot sooner than what it actually was and he had the opportunity to go do something he wanted to do on a part-time basis, so, yeah, it’s gonna be weird without him here, but yet we’re gonna see him around the garage all the time and I think he’s always gonna feel like a teammate even if he’s not racing here.
GREG BIFFLE CONTINUED – “Yeah, it’s definitely different not having Mark and certainly we were sort of halfway prepared for it because we thought he was gonna be missing in action a year before he actually ended stepping back some, so it was kind of nice actually getting the extra year to race with him, but, like Matt said, he’s in a part-time program, which maybe he’s looking forward to spending some more time doing other things, but we’ll still get to see him around the garage and I think that’s the main thing. We’ll see him some, so it’s definitely gonna be different.”
JACK ROUSH CONTINUED – “Mark is a dear friend and if he hadn’t have brought his enthusiasm and the judgments that he had on what he thought he needed back in the late eighties and early nineties, we certainly wouldn’t have progressed to the point that we are today. Jeff Burton, who isn’t here anymore also, had a lot to do with laying the groundwork in the things I was able to do for and with him and had a great determination on what we are today, but with Greg coming and Matt coming and, of course, Carl and Jamie and everybody that’s gonna follow them, there’s a great future for us and I couldn’t be happier or more proud of the history we’ve had with Mark.
Mark made it clear to me as he let me know what he wanted to do that he wanted to remain my friend and he would take a phone call from me anytime, day or night, on any subject that suited my purpose – technical or personal. The first call that I got at New Year’s was from Mark Martin wishing me and the team luck as we went forward.
Of course, it was a surprise to me. I didn’t realize that negotiations were occurring, but I think it was a 30-second discussion between Torrey and Geoff Smith and Robin (Johnson) and the guys with Mark to discuss his coming back and running a couple of Busch races. He was excited about that and he has told me that if I had room for him in a truck, that he’d like to drive a truck again too. He’s real excited about what he’s gonna do with Bobby Ginn and with the MB2 guys as they look at building their program, and he thinks he can be beneficial to that to a great extent than he could have additional effect on our program. I would be happier if I would have had a chance to negotiate for that same circumstance myself. I don’t know that I could have done for him what he’s having done in his other part-time program, but certainly the personal relationship has not diminished. We’re gonna miss him, but he won’t be far away and we can reach out and touch him if we need to.”
GREG BIFFLE CONTINUED – HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU CLICK WITH A CREW CHIEF? “I’ve watched Pat (Tryson) for some time. I paid attention to what he was doing and I like Pat’s style – the way he works on the race cars, always watching them through the wind tunnel. They’re the first ones in line for practice every week. His team is organized and I liked the way that Pat operated. It was a crew chief inside our company already that made it a lot easier transition and it was one I was happy with. Pat and I have hit it off fairly well and I’m looking forward to getting the season start. One thing that I felt was real positive is the brand new car we built and took to the wind tunnel for Las Vegas, he was completely disappointed about. He said it was terrible and, 'I’m not gonna take that race car.’ So he hustled and got another one finished up and got it to the wind tunnel and the numbers were within his standards, he was happy with it and that’s the car we’re gonna take to Las Vegas – the second car – to test with and that kind of dedication to not being satisfied with something – wanting to have the best – that’s the kind of person I like to work with and I think we’re gonna have a good season together.”
JACK ROUSH CONTINUED – CAN YOU PAINT THE FINANCIAL PICTURE OF A RACE TEAM AT THIS POINT AND IS IT TOYOTA FORCING YOU TO LOOK FOR AN OUTSIDE INVESTOR TO HELP TAKE THINGS UP TO THE NEXT LEVEL? “Anticipating the challenges that Toyota was gonna bring with regard to the financial structure – the way the business works – I think that things will stabilize and neutralize over a period of time. NASCAR will not let things stay out of whack for very long. They’ll find ways to diminish the effect of money that is spent as time goes on, but if they do take an initiative and if it is something that hasn’t been anticipated or the extent to which they do it may be beyond expectation, it’s gonna take some time for things to adjust and considering a partner that brings in some more energy. The one thing about, of course the partner we’re talking to is the Fenway Sports Group and John Henry, and they’ve got millions of sports fans in the northeast that are not a hotbed for NASCAR interest.
We’ve got the opportunity to attract the attention now for our sponsors and for our drivers and, for that matter, for all of NASCAR, a lot more energy to the things we’re doing. That could offset some of the financial energy that a company like Toyota could bring as they bring the resources that they have not garnered from the sport, but from the success of their automobile business elsewhere. John Henry is a great guy. Of course anybody that has watched the Red Sox has been, I think, impressed with their tenacity and the way they’ve dealt with their frustration over a period of time and they have been eventually prevail. Well, he’s behind that. He understands how hard it is.
How hard you have to try to do something that’s really difficult in sport and he’s real unique in that regard. For me to have a chance to be able to bounce the ideas that we’d have and the strategies we might be considering – to bounce them off Greg and Matt and Carl and Jamie and everybody else, that’s super to do that, but to have somebody else that has got more skin in the game in terms of their financial interest, and to get their perspective, is gonna be comforting to me. Sometimes I’m just not sure what to do. You ask the business managers and the financial people and do a survey of the sponsors and it’s just not clear, and to have another guy I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with that can give me his perspective from another point of view will be great fun.”
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY AS AN OWNER? “What I would do as a manufacturer, of course, is different than what I would do as an owner, but as an owner my strategy – I came here in ’88 – was to identify some vertically mobile and exceptionally competitive and enable people with the right skill sets. Of course those people were Mark Martin to drive the car. He was frustrated and he was able and he was motivated and, of course, Robin Pemberton, who had grown up in the Petty organization to be a crew chief and he came from DiGard and was at odds there or at least had prerogatives there, and Steve Hmiel, who of course now is an important part of the Earnhardt organization. But I identified people that I thought had the skill sets and the judgment to not only help me make decisions that would be technically correct, but were also politically astute and knowledgeable with the rhythms of NASCAR racing.
I really hadn’t been close enough. That was just my judgment that’s that what I needed to do. And, of course in addition to that, there was the money. I made a nest egg. As I started, I had enough money that I had garnered away from my engineering business that I could race for two years without sponsorship based on the spending levels that I’d expected. There’s no way for somebody to come in that says, ‘I’ve got all this ambition, motivation, and commitment and personal energy to do this thing.’ You’ve got to have great people that are knowledgeable and you’ve got to have enough money on your own to get the thing started. I look at drivers that come in. Pete Shepherd, down at the other end there, we took him last year down to Martinsville and he did just an awesome job. He was 19 years old with almost no experience and he was in the top of the 25 people we had there, he was in the top two or three right on the track. I asked him, I said, ‘Pete, have you been around a track like this? Have you been to Martinsville?’ And Pete said, ‘No, I’d never been there.’ I said, ‘What have you done?’ He says, ‘Well, this is the biggest race track I’ve ever been on.’ So my next question was, ‘OK, Pete. Who has been buying your tires?’ He said, ‘We’ve got a deal with Canadian Tire,’ and this and that. I said, ‘No, no, no.
Before you started getting your legs under you, who bought your tires,’ and he said, ‘My grand dad did.’ As an owner, you’ve got to have money that you made some place else, that you’re willing to put at risk, and as a driver getting started you’ve got to have somebody that makes an investment in you. Just wanting to do it is necessary, but it’s certainly not sufficient. In terms of a manufacturer and what I’d recommend to somebody like Toyota that would come in, I’m naturally supportive of Chevrolet and Dodge and Ford and the people that have been traditionally been there. If a new manufacturer comes in and has the prospect of decreasing the viability of their traditional involvement, and NASCAR would let that happen, I think that’s a mistake for our sport and it’s not good for everybody that’s involved. But for Toyota to come and Honda to come and Nissan, and for GM to open up their product lines and let Buick and Oldsmobile and Pontiac to race with us again, all of that is just great stuff. If it’s done in a manner that doesn’t upset the financial business, where the businesses still work for the sponsors and work for the teams and work for the drivers and everybody at work – if that balance is upset, then there’s chaos. If a manufacturer is able to bring that on us, then it’ll be some time before we’re able to re-establish an equilibrium and let things really be predictable.”
TOYOTA HAS COME INTO SOME OTHER FORMS OF RACING AND SPENT A GREAT DEAL OF MONEY LIKE IN FORMULA ONE AND STILL HASN’T WON A RACE, SO WHY ARE YOU SO SCARED OF WHAT THEY’LL DO HERE? “Did I say I was scared? I’m long on the feud and I don’t back away from a good fight if it’s for a good reason. Why am I so worried? If they want to come back and at the end of Greg’s or Matt’s contract with me and if they want to offer them twice as much money, which they’ve got the ability to do, then I’ve got to go back and say that my business, on the very best scenario, is a three to five percent profitable business. So if I’ve got to come back and have an influx of money coming from another direction that causes me to operate in the red in terms of what I have to spend versus what I’m able to raise, if I have to go 20 percent upside-down, then I’m faced with the same scenario that I did when I came in in 1988 – how long can I stay and what’s my confidence it’s gonna turn around? So the competitive side, the technical side or even the matter of the human side.
Greg or Matt or Jamie or Carl going forward are not gonna want to be part of this unless I do things to support them. I know when John Reiser was alive and we were up to our last contract with Matt and thinking about what Robbie wanted to do, the reason they made their decision as they told me was that I would get for them whatever they needed. Well, I may not be able to do that if the stakes raise beyond my means. If there’s some anxiety, that’s the only anxiety I’ve got. The fact that they have doubled what other teams have traditionally spent in Formula One. What does that mean to me in the short-term? That means it’s gonna be potentially different, but the idea of having me work as hard as the guy that’s got my job in one of the ownerships of the other team, they’re not gonna outwork me on things that I recognize as important.
The effort that we will make to keep our drivers happy and to avail ourselves with the technologies, nobody is gonna make a greater effort than that. I expect to hand Toyota their head over the short-term, and then it’s just a matter of what happens in the long-term as it relates to where they spend their money and the kind of upset it makes in the way we do our business.”
For lunch on Wednesday, the Media Tour stopped at Hendrick Motorsports in Concord, N.C., where team owner team owner Rick Hendrick discussed his four-car NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series operation. Hendrick's NEXTEL Cup lineup for 2007 includes defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears.
Rick Hendrick (Owner Hendrick Motorsports): "We're excited about the new year even though we're still trying to celebrate winning the championship. Last year was awesome because we had three of our teams in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup and Jimmie ended up winning it for us. We've had a lot going on in the off-season trying to get ready for this season. One of the biggest things we've been working on is the new Car of Tomorrow and I think we're going to be in good shape. I know you guys have heard how excited everybody is going into the season, but that's the way I feel. It's going to be super competitive. There were a lot of good teams that didn't make the Chase last year like Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards and they're going to be hungry. It's going to be a dogfight but I don't see any reason why we can't put all four of our teams in the championship hunt this year."
It was also revealed that in addition to his NEXTEL Cup effort, Kyle Busch is planning to compete in 18 Busch Series races this season.
The Hendrick Motorsports chaplain announced that instead of giving out the usual gift bag with hats, shirts and the like, the team was going to use the money to make a donation to the American Cancer Society and the Connie E. Parsons Memorial Scholarship Fund in honor of the late Benny Parsons and Bobby Hamilton Sr.
The final Media Tour function on Wednesday afternoon was back at the Embassy Suites where members of Joe Gibbs Racing, including owner Joe Gibbs and NEXTEL Cup drivers Tony Stewart, J.J. Yeley and Denny Hamlin, conducted interviews.
Joe Gibbs (Owner Joe Gibbs Racing): "For me, it's a little bit unusual to see where we're at now, and that's probably because I get to see two sides of the sport of football and racing. When we started in racing, we only had 17 employees and now we have about 400 people working for us. That's really a credit to the sport and its fan base. We look at those people as family. We want them to be successful and want to stay with our team for their entire careers. The growth has been amazing and I still don't think this sport has seen its best days yet. I think the sport really needs to have a track in the Midwest and in the New York City area. I think that's important for our sponsors to make things even better than they are now. I'm really excited about our future because we have a great group of drivers. We want to be on the forefront and keep trying to do our best. We as a family have always put everything back in the race team."
The team revealed season plans for several of its young drivers including Joey Lagano, Mark Davis and Aric Almirola, Kevin Conway, Brad Coleman and Marc Davis.
Z-Line Designs announced it will sponsor Busch Series rookie Kevin Conway in the No. 18 Chevrolet for eight races as well as be the sponsor for Tony Stewart in the Busch Series race at California Speedway in February and Denny Hamlin at Richmond in May. Carino's Italian Grill will sponsor Brad Coleman in the No. 18 Chevrolet in at least 10 of the rookie's 17 races this season.
In addition to a full schedule in the Busch Series, Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said there were plans in the works to put Aric Almirola in several NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events.
Lagano and Davis will be competing for Gibbs in the NASCAR Busch East Series in 2007.
Joe Gibbs Racing also announced a new association with Starter, a leader in developing licensed and innovative team apparel and footwear. The partnership is designed to provide a "Living Laboratory" for Starter to apply its experience working with world-class athletes in other sports to the needs of the drivers and crews.
ROGER PENSKE (Chairman Penske Corporation)
OPENING REMARKS “Motorsports is a big business today, and I think you have to maximize all of your resources. We did that when we were in the speedway business. We certainly had the chance to partner with Bruton and obviously Speedway Motorsports. Today I think it’s about technology transfer. We hope with the amalgamation of all of our teams here at this shop in Mooresville (N.C.) we’ll be able to see the technology transferred from NASCAR to Busch and Indy car. When you look at a NASCAR car and you put a decal on it for the headlights and a couple of other things that make it a car, but underneath that body there’s a lot of work today. I think the real key to all racing teams’ successes when we moved into North Carolina we saw Hendrick, Roush, Ganassi and many other people who have been so successful.
The Wood Brothers, Leonard and those folks have been my friends forever. We wanted to come here also and take advantage of a great work force and have the opportunity to go racing. We really have a great team of drivers. When I think back Ryan (Newman), that new point system would have been pretty good for us a couple of years ago. Rusty would say the same thing if he were here tonight.
“I look at the 2007 season and we’re going to compete in 90 races with 159 entries, obviously expanded schedules with our IndyCar Series and American LeMans Series. Sam (Hornish) will be competing in a broader program. He’ll be competing in some Busch Races. He had an opportunity to find out what it was all about last year. We cut it short and sweet, but that’s how it starts. I’m sure Kurt knows what that’s like. Helio (Castroneves) is going to compete at Sebring, and we’re going to be busier than ever. I think it’s important when we think about the ability to build a shop like this and bring great people in it’s because of our great sponsor teams. Longevity is certainly a key for us as we go forward. We’ve got to make commitment to our drivers and other people on our team, and we can’t do that is you don’t even have a sponsor at the end of the year and you’re looking at January and February going to the first race.”
COMMENT ON COT “I’ve said it to a number of people. I think what it’s going to do is it’s going to take some cost out. Obviously there’s a cost of developing. We were able to test that car for three or four days at a short track, take the car to Daytona and run 191 mph). When NASCAR gets the rules just right, we’re going to see a safer car and one that we can take to multiple types of circuits. You walk around and see the cars we have, hopefully we can reduce that by 50 percent. The good news is we’re supporting it (COT) and I like the conversation about the car. We’re in the game, and we think it will run a lot of people closer together.”
DO YOU SEE A FORMULA ONE START IN YOUR FUTURE? “I don’t think you’ll see Penske Racing, in this decade, in Formula One. You never know though, but I doubt it very much.”
COMMENT ON NEW POINTS SYSTEM “Taking the 400 point cap off doesn’t make a lot of difference, but the fact they’re going to have 12 competing will make it better and also for our sponsors. When you’re not in it, it puts a dampener on some of the things you might be doing with your sponsor. On the other hand, it gave us a chance to try some things. Mike Nelson had a chance to crew chief a couple of the races. We use it as a proving ground if you’re not in it, but I think the change is very good and I take my hat off to Brian (France) for making a few course corrections and not overhauling the system.”
COMMENT ON BUILDING A TEST TRACK “Our goal here is to take the roughly 70 acres out back and we build a test track. We’re in an exploratory stage today. I’d like to see an oval with a big skid pad, also a road course would be intermingled within the oval side. I think the cost we have to go to tests and the fact we can use this for customer entertainment, for our sponsors, maybe police academies. It’s like when we built the wind tunnel people said no one would use it. I can tell you it’s being used every day. I think this is an opportunity for us to extend our commercial relationship within the sport. We really haven’t said how big it is, but it’ll be bigger than a half mile. Let’s put it that way. Maybe we could build a Bristol here, but I don’t have enough room for the stands. I’m not going into the track business. Don’t get the wrong idea. This will be a test facility.”
KURT BUSCH (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger)
OPENING REMARKS “It was a pleasure to drive the car that fast (at Daytona), to be able to do homework with NASCAR on the car of tomorrow, it’s a pleasure to assist them and to work for such a great organization as Penske Racing. With our new Dodge Avenger and Charger, we’ve got quite a bit of work ahead of us getting the car up to speed. We continue to gain speed in each of our test sessions. With Mike (Nelson, No. 12 crew chief) and Roy (No. 2 crew chief McCauley) working and burning the midnight oil, it gives Ryan and I confidence to know when we show up at the race track the cars will be closer. Everybody continues to pull in the same direction, it’s a great motivation. The speed we’re carrying showed at Daytona. I’m impressed. I can’t wait for Las Vegas next week. We’ll get to see all the teams and how the stop watches click off there. Then we head back to Daytona for Speedweeks. We’ve got some important things ahead of us. We look forward to the challenge.”
WILL RACING THE COT SO EARLY BE AN ADVANTAGE? “I think so. They’re going to hand out points at the end of the race and they’re going to hand out a trophy. Going to victory lane is key for everybody at Miller Lite and Penske, so when you keep a position attitude you can’t help but work harder after each race. I ran three tests in a row with the car of tomorrow in the off season and then jumped back in the regular car and I felt like I was too far to the left. We went to one composite seat at Penske Racing. If Ryan, Sam or Helio want to drive, they’re in. What we do is change foam, and me being the skinny guy, I get the most movement with the foam. I can move myself back to the left a little bit and get that nice cushioning on the right side of the car.”
COMMENT ON POINT SYSTEM “My take is a positive one on how the sport has changed itself when we did introduce The Chase for the Cup format. It creates a playoff atmosphere to invite more teams in. It helps with the percentages. In the NFL you have eight teams that go to the playoffs, but you have 30 that actually put their helmets on and go compete. At NASCAR we have 43 teams that compete for a win, for a title. With 12 spots open you have a better percentage for more competitive teams. To have a win means something. To have multiple wins, that should separate you and give you an advantage going into the playoffs. It’s almost like you’re the No. 1 seed and you’re playing the No. 6 seed. I like the difference in it, and I think it will only add to the aggressiveness on the track.”
WHAT DID YOU LEARN LAST YEAR? “Sometimes you add all the ingredients into the same box and you can come out and dominate like five freshmen in NCAA basketball. The success could go straight through the roof. You’re going to have your good times and you’re going to have your bad. For us we started strong. We ran well at Daytona and had a win at Bristol early on. That was somewhat the adrenalin rush of switching to Penske Racing. It’s a better program. I’m completely satisfied with my change. What we learned from last year, we developed our setups and got them up to speed. There’s no telling where we were at the beginning of the season, but where we ended up and not making The Chase, advanced us to 2007 -- especially with a fresh outlook on the car of tomorrow. We’ve come a long way in one year, and those are the victories we took away from last year, obviously developing a crew chief. When you can get over that chemistry, you have the comfort zone to go out and know what each other is thinking all the time.”
WHY ARE YOU SO HAPPY ABOUT THE COT? “It gives you an opportunity to look at a new car and what can it do to help us get to victory lane. The car is not going to do it on its own. We have to develop it. We have to test it, and other teams have to do it as well. If we’ve got two cars here, we’ve got to put that much more emphasis on it because we’re competing against teams that have four cars or five cars. We won’t take the COT to Vegas. When the season starts at Daytona during Speedweeks we’ll probably drop down to Lakeland, Fla., and do a test with our COT. We’ve got a stiff agenda, and we are sticking with it. Each time we go to a new track we’re faster.”
RYAN NEWMAN (No. 12 Alltel Dodge Charger)
OPENING REMARKS “We put a lot of time in testing this off season, just trying to work out some kinks we had last year. The car of tomorrow has been good from a testing standpoint. The COT has been a good experience from a testing spointpoint. I think we’ve got seven or eight tests in it. We’ve had some good tests in it. I think for the first time ever the 2 and 12 took the same car to Phoenix one week to Daytona the next week. It’s probably been about 20 years since this has happened. It’s been good – the reaction of the car, it’s a little bit different from the aerodynamic perspective than the car of yesterday. Everything is good. We had good intermediate testing in the off season. I look forward to the entire situation. We’ve made some improvements.”
COMMENT ON NEW CREW CHIEF MIKE NELSON “We’ve worked together for the last six plus years. Whenever we made a decision about the race car it was all three of us, me, Matt Borland and Michael, in the same room talking about the setup, talking about air pressures and whatever else. I’ve got a great relationship with Michael. I’ve never had to deal with it myself, probably the easiest transition a guy could have in my position to go to a new crew chief. I extremely look forward to it. He’s done a great job assembling people and making the racecars go faster. That checklist will be very short by the end of the year.”eam
COMMENT ON IMPROVEMENT “I thought we did a good job working as a team, but in the off season we got a new outlook on the situation. Michael and Roy McCauley are working great together. The engineers work great together. I thought we were doing things good, but now we’re doing thing great I feel. Both on the racetrack and off I think we’ll look stronger and be stronger.”
COMMENT ON DAYTONA TESTING “We had the same cars as we did last year. We worked on ‘em. Fortunately, I made it through most of the crashes last yeas, so we were able to massage on the cars we had.instead of building new cars. Sometimes that just creates another situation. Still a big thing at Daytona is what’s underneath the hood, and our Penske/Jasper horsepower should be good.”
COMMENT ON OFF SEASON “I’m a little relaxed. I’d still like the off season to be about a month longer, but that’s just because we’re building a house and have a lot of things going on. We want to be 100 percent prepared for the season. The Vegas test will be a big eye-opener for everybody.”
WILL YOU MISS MATT BORLAND? “I’ll miss him as a friend do bout. We’ll have Michael there, and Michael isn’t replacing Matt Borland. Michael Nelson is Michael Nelson. We’re going to go out and do our best like we always do. Roger Penske has a saying that effort equals results, and we’re putting a lot of effort in.”
HAVE YOU REMEMBERED HOW TO DRIVE? “I remember how to drive. The tough part about a season like 2006 is getting the confidence back on the team. Last year was fun for about three weekends. Hopefully 38 weekends will be a lot of fun this year. I guess part of fixing the problem is understanding it and where it’s coming from. Everything goes in a cycle. We’ve got to put the work in and make an effort.”
Error processing SSI file