Media Tour Notes
Notes and Quotes: Thursday, Jan. 25
Wood Brothers/JTG Racing
The final function on Wednesday night was a dinner at Penske Racing's massive facility in Mooresville, N.C. There, team owner Roger Penske talked about not only his two-car NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series operation with drivers Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, but also the move of his Indy Racing League and American LeMans teams to the 440,000-square-foot building.
Penske said his team is also stepping up its Busch Series effort, competing in 22 events this season with Sam Hornish—the defending Indianapolis 500 winner—as the primary driver. Penske said Kurt Busch will compete in seven Busch Series events while plans for Newman are for five or six races.
Roger Penske (Owner Penske Racing): "We wanted to take advantage of the talented work force in this area. I think this will give us a chance to showcase the talents we have in all forms of motorsports. When you think about racing, I want people to think about Penske Racing. As a matter of fact, we're going to take the remaining 60 to 70 acres we have here and build a test track so we don't have to travel to test so much.
"Our goal here is to take the roughly 70 acres out back and 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 expense we have going 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."
As part of the visit to Penske Racing, a quintet of journalists were honored during the 22nd annual presentation of the Miller Lite Motorsports Journalism Awards of Excellence in honor of Russ Catlin.
The group included a veteran sportswriter who detailed the importance of each NASCAR pit crew members’ role for a story in The Charlotte Observer, and a Chattanooga, Tenn., television reporter who took viewers along as a group of high school students prepared and attempted to race a stock car.
The Miller Lite Motorsports Journalism Awards of Excellence annually recognize outstanding motorsports coverage in five categories while honoring the memory of Russ Catlin, a motorsports journalism pioneer.
Each winner received a plaque and a Rolex watch from Miller Lite NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver Kurt Busch.
The 2006 Miller Lite Motorsports Journalism Awards of Excellence in honor of Russ Catlin winners: Print Daily, David Poole, The Charlotte Observer; Print Other, Seth Livingstone, USA Today Sports Weekly; Broadcast National, Mike Massaro, ESPN "Outside the Lines"; Broadcast Local, Heather Williams, WTCT-TV; Photojournalism, Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
A breakfast hosted by Wood Brothers/JTG Racing and Ford kicked off the fourth and final day of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Media Tour. The breakfast took place at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Concord Convention Center, the tour’s host hotel.
A large contingent was on hand from the team including Len Wood, Eddie Wood, Tad Geschickter and competition director Michael McSwaim. They were joined by drivers Ken Schrader, Jon Wood, Marcos Ambrose, Kelly Bires and Joey Clanton. Mark Martin and Stacey Compton are also part of the team’s driver lineup, but they were not able to attend.
Now based in Harrisburg, N.C., the Wood Brothers/JTG Racing operation will field Fords in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season. Schrader and Jon Wood will share the No. 21 Cup car while Wood will run the full Busch Series season in the No. 47 Ford. Australian Ambrose will wheel the No. 59 in the Busch Series. In the truck series, Martin and Bires will share the No. 21 while Clanton and Compton will split time in the No. 09.
Michael McSwaim (competition director): "We are still building, we’re still adding to our company as a whole. It seems like about every six months we strengthen our organization. We’ve added Scott Zipadelli from Gibbs and he’ll be Jon’s crew chief and Eddie Dickerson just started in our fab shop. We’re growing as fast as we can financially, but we are really excited about how our Busch cars ran at Daytona. The Cup cars ran good in race trim, but we’re not quite there yet in qualifying trim. Our downforce trucks are awesome and our other trucks are getting better. We’re basically building a company from scratch and it’s hard to lure people to come join us until they see we are big, strong and stable, but I think we keep getting stronger month by month."
Jon Wood (No. 47 Clorox/Armorall Ford and No. 21 Air Force/Heinz Ford): "Nervous anticipation is the word as we prepare for my Cup debut at Las Vegas. It’s something that not many people have the opportunity to do and you have to be at your peak when you take on that task. It doesn’t get any higher than driving a NEXTEL Cup car. But with that being said, the Busch Series is just as competitive now and you want to represent your sponsors the best you can. I’m coming into the Cup Series at a bad time because we are limited on testing. I get one Cup test before my first race, so I don’t know what to expect. But it’s an opportunity that I’m going to seize and try to make the best of."
Ken Schrader (No. 21 Motorcraft/Little Debbie Ford): “At first I thought it would be tough when I sit out that first Cup race, but now I don’t think it will be. I’ll be somewhere else racing that weekend, except I’ll get to run Friday, Saturday and Sunday instead of just on Sunday. If I could snap my fingers and go from 28 to 38 Cup races, I’m sure I would. I ran 118 races last year and even though I won’t run all the Cup races, this definitely won’t be a slowing down year." ®®®®®®
Media members stayed at the hotel for the second function on Thursday, a press conference hosted by Evernham Motorsports and Dodge.
Among the participants were team owner Ray Evernham, NEXTEL Cup drivers Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs, and Mike Accavitti, director of Dodge Motorsports and SRT Product planning.
Accavitti opened the program and recapped Dodge’s 2006 season, which included seven NEXTEL Cup victories and two triumphs in the Busch Series. He also spoke with pride about Dodge finishing second in the NEXTEL Cup manufacturer standings. Accavitti also revealed that if a Dodge driver wins the Daytona 500, he will have his choice of any product from the powerful line of Dodge SRT vehicles.
Following a tradition where Evernham annually uses a unique product as the focal point of his remarks, this year’s prop was an iPod as he discussed the continuing evolution of technology in NASCAR racing.
Ray Evernham (Owner Evernham Motorsports): “When I started listening to music, it was on eight-track tapes. Imagine trying to do your jobs today with an eight-track tape player strapped on your back. It would be a little bit tough. This original iPod still works, but it doesn’t work like some of the new stuff that’s out there. The gains Apple has made in the design and technology in just a matter of months are just incredible. Every person in that organization had to be focused on how to do it better, how to do it faster, how to do it more consistently, and that’s very true of our sport. If you aren’t committed and focused as a team, constantly looking to the future; six, 12 months and even years ahead, you are going to get left behind. At Evernham Motorsports, we are starting to see the investments that we made in people, engineering and technology pay off. We made a significant investment in that technology. Every year the technology budget doesn’t just grow by hundreds of thousands, some times it goes up by millions. Right now Evernham Motorsports has 330 people with more than 50 people dedicated to engineering and design.”
Remaining at the hotel, the next function featured a series of announcements by Lowe’s Motor Speedway and its parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc.
H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe’s Motor Speedway revealed a new nickname for the legendary track in Concord, N.C.
H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler (President and General Manager of Lowe’s Motor Speedway): “Each track has its own personality. It’s like going to a race track somewhere and you can kind of visualize what you’re going to see like Darlington being called 'The Lady in Black.’ Dover is called 'The Monster Mile.’ Fans like that. Something has happened at Lowe’s Motor Speedway the last couple of years since we made the changes to the track. Last year we paved the track and it was a job very well done. It was the first track that was ever computer designed. So things have changed from the past and some weird things have happened the last two years. With that being said, we’ve nicknamed Lowe’s Motor Speedway 'The Beast of the Southeast’.”
LMS officials will use The Beast of the Southeast logo and theme in print and electronic advertising; as part of multiple direct-mail campaigns; and on the track’s web site. An extensive line of The Beast of the Southeast souvenirs is also being developed.
In other LMS news, it was announced that a $4 million frontstretch renovation is part of the construction projects scheduled at the facility this year. The grandstand construction is slated to begin following the May 27 Coca-Cola 600.
Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, announced that Kobalt Tools will be the title sponsor of the track’s March 18 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race. The event will be known as the Kobalt Tools 500.
SMI Founder and Chairman Bruton Smith announced that Bristol Motor Speedway will get a new concrete surface following the March 25 Food City 500. The famed banking will remain the same, but the entire racing surface, track apron, pit road, inside retaining walls and 80 percent of the outside retaining walls will be replaced.
Smith also said Texas Motor Speedway officials plan to fix a slight dip in turns one and two. They will use a unique process called “Concrete Lifting By Structure Urethane” which will in essence “pump” up the surface below the track and ultimately raise targeted areas in the affected 200-foot stretch over the south tunnel.
Following the SMI press conference, the Media Tour buses headed north to Haas CNC Racing’s spacious new shop in Kannapolis, N.C. Following lunch, the team’s NEXTEL Cup drivers, Jeff Green and Johnny Sauter, as well as team officials talked about their new shop and plans for the coming season. It was also revealed that Samsung has joined Best Buy as part of the sponsorship program on the No. 66 Chevrolet driven by Green.
Joe Custer (Haas CNC Racing General Manager): “This is our fourth year in NEXTEL Cup and I think we’ve built a very good team here. We’re fighting the good fight. We have set some high goals heading into the new season and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. We’ve built a strong NEXTEL Cup Series team over the years. This sport has come a long way and we’re going to try and be one of the leaders as we head into the future and I think this new shop is going to help us achieve our goals.”
The 2007 edition of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway ended with a groundbreaking for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte, N.C. Members of the media as well as fans gathered inside a tent along with numerous NASCAR personalities and political dignitaries.
To the left of the stage was the famous No. 43 Dodge formerly driven by seven-time champion Richard Petty, to the right was the late Dale Earnhardt’s famous black No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet.
Among those in attendance were drivers Sam Ard, Buddy Baker, Geoffrey Bodine, Jerry Cook, Tommy Houston, Jack Ingram, Ernie Irvan, Ned Jarrett, Terry Labonte, Randy LaJoie, Richard and Kyle Petty and Rusty Wallace. Also on hand were Speedway Motorsports’ Bruton Smith and H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler; Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series team owners Ray Evernham, Chip Ganassi, Jack Roush, Felix Sabates, Rick Hendrick and retired driving legend turned car owner Junior Johnson.
Mike Helton (NASCAR President): “Today is a special day. We set out several years ago with a goal to create a NASCAR Hall of Fame to preserve and honor our past as well as give a glance into the future. Today, we took a very important step forward in making that goal become a reality.”
EDDIE WOOD, Co-Owner - No. 21 Little Debbie Ford Fusion - “We’ve got a pretty broad spectrum in our shop with Schrader being an older driver, that brings a ton of experience and know-how. I’m an old guy, so I can kind of relate to him, so it brings a feeling of calm. Racing at the level we do is a rat race at best. It’s 24/7. It’s everyday. There’s not any timeouts and with all the pressure and stress it’s just comforting to have a guy who has been where you’ve been - been there, done that. We’ve got a lot of young drivers and he can help lead them when they have issues like, 'What are you supposed to do when this happens?’ I’m not talking about driving a car, but just things that you deal with on a daily basis from something simple as media stuff and this and that. How do you handle it?”
AS LONG AS THE PHYSICAL SKILLS ARE STILL THERE AN OLD GUY CAN STILL WIN? “Absolutely. I think so.”
IT DIDN’T HAPPEN LAST YEAR. “I think it’s like riding a bicycle or anything else. These guys can do it at any level. They don’t forget.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS? “We merged last year. We moved into a building in November and started building cars and racing. It was almost like camping out. We didn’t have enough power to do what we needed to do. We didn’t have any heat, but everybody pulled together and got it all done. Now that we’re a year into it, we’re just now being able to start doing what we need to do. Last year, whatever we had we kind of had to use and tweak on it the best we could. Now we’re there. We’ve got most of the people in place that we want, so now we can just concentrate on the race cars and the drivers and put things together. Now it’s just easier to organize everything because the stuff you had to work on just to be there is not there. All of that stuff is taken care of and now we can concentrate on racing.”
JON WILL GET SOME CUP EXPERIENCE THIS YEAR. HOW DOES THAT FEEL? “I don’t think I really realized it until the other day. We were testing Busch cars in Daytona and they went over and got all of our hardcards. I told him I had to go over and get him his hardcard and he asked me, 'What’s on mine? Does it have 21 crew?’ I didn’t know. I didn’t do the licenses, my sister did, and it came back and I looked at it and handed it to him - it had 21 driver. He looked at it and said, ‘Wow. This is cool.’ I think for him it’s a goal that was never really talked about, it just kind of evolved and happened. When he started racing in go-karts and stuff, I had put it off as long as I thought I could. Then Dale Jarrett shows up one day and gives us a go-kart and it was on. I’m really proud of him to drive the 21. Somebody said to me the other day that no one named Wood has driven the 21 since my dad did, so that’s pretty cool.”
DO YOU LOOK AT JON AS JUST ANOTHER DRIVER OR AS YOUR SON WHEN HE’S IN THE CAR? “I’ve owned a lot of his race cars anyways - the late models and things like that – so it’s really not that different. It’s just at a higher level and there’s more to it, more pressure, more prestigious and all that, but he’s still your kid. It’s like someone asked me, ‘How do you deal with the racing and all that?’ The way I view it is that you worry about it because it’s your kid. You worry about it before the race starts like, ‘Man, I hope everything goes OK.’ But once the flag drops it’s all racing, it’s all in. All of that goes away and it’s all about racing and that’s the way I deal with it.”
DO YOU SEE ANY PROBLEMS WITH HAVING TWO DIFFERENT DRIVERS? “No, we did it because that’s the way the sponsorships worked out. So far, which we haven’t got started yet, but I don’t foresee any issues because everybody knows their spots. As soon as we did it, all of a sudden Regan Smith and Mark (Martin) are gonna do it. This business costs so much money now to race that I think you’re gonna see more and more of one particular race team – like one number, and they’re already splitting sponsorships – but I think the future is you’re gonna see them with multiple drivers because every sponsor doesn’t have the same demographic. In our case, you’ve got the Little Debbie people that are with Schrader and then the Air Force with Jon, which they like for recruiting. I think you’re gonna see more and more of that. We had three sponsors last year with Motorcraft, Little Debbie and the Air Force, and we do a lot of paint scheme changing and that’s kind of complicated. With today’s wraps that we can use it makes it a lot easier, but you just have to extend that down to the drivers and the teams and just know where you’re supposed to be and don’t show up with the wrong paint scheme for the wrong race.”
SO YOU’LL SACRIFICE THE CHANCE TO MAKE THE CHASE? “In our situation, and you’re gonna see a lot of this and hear a lot of this all throughout the year, it’s all about the owner’s points now as far as staying in the top 35 and all that. In our building process, we hope to have two full-time and then three and then four of course (Cup cars), so we’ve got to walk before we run and we’re aware of that. We’ve done a lot to get from where we were last year. We were born last year and crawled all year and now we’re walking, so we just have to take it a step at a time and not try to overdue something we can’t deliver. That’s what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to promise something that we can’t do. I want to do what we can do and do it well, and then progress from there.”
LEN WOOD, Co-Owner – No. 21 Little Debbie Ford Fusion –
WITH UNLEADED FUEL COMING TO CUP THIS YEAR, WHY NOT START WITH THE DAYTONA 500? THEY’RE GOING TO START USING IT AT CALIFORNIA. “I think that’s a case of, ‘let’s don’t mess with the Daytona 500.’ I don’t know that for a fact, but that’s a pretty important race. You don’t want the cars to blow up, but they’ve done a lot of testing with the Busch cars and the trucks. They’ve raced them at Talladega – maybe not 500 miles – but they’ve put enough time on them. I don’t work on engines anymore. I keep up with stuff at the shop and do tuning, although I’ve hired a tuner for this year for the 21, and that will free me up to do a few other things. Then when we have two cars I’ll do one and he’ll do one.”
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS WITH THE UNLEADED RULE? “The concerns I’ve been hearing is like the valve guides – wearing them out. Lead lubricates and if you don’t have any, you’ve got to do something else to offset that, so they’re working towards that. We’re going to the Vegas test next week and we’ve got four cars going. They’re all unleaded, so we’ll get a good look at it there.”
WHAT KIND OF A CHALLENGE IS IT TO GO TO CALIFORNIA AS FAR AS HORSEPOWER AND NOT BEING OFF THE GAS? “We’ll see. They’ve got enough data built up. I think it was a good thing starting in the Busch Series last year and getting a good look at it. This is what we need to do going forward, and Doug and Robert and Jack have one of the best engine shops in the country or in the world for that matter. If it’s not right, they’ll be on it.”
WHAT ROLE WILL GREG SPECHT PLAY WITH THE TEAM? “Greg Specht is helping in the aero department to start with – like an organizational-type guy – coming in and coordinating and double-checking what we’ve been doing. He’s gonna compile data like this car versus this car versus this car – stuff that we really hadn’t had time to do. He’s an organized guy. It’s like a three-month project for the aero and when we get done with that we’ve already talked about what other ways he can help us.”
DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN CONCENTRATE ON RACING ONLY THIS YEAR NOW THAT THE MOVE IS COMPLETE? “Hopefully we can. We moved into a building. They poured the apoxy on the floor in late November. There wasn’t anything in the building. We didn’t have paint booths. We were going to Schrader’s using paint booths. We didn’t have a chassis dyno. We were going to Roush’s to do the chassis dyno, and we finally got all that in by Vegas and the third race of last year. As far as the race team goes, we’re full bore on all of them. Like I say, we have capabilities now. Actually, we could build a car, but it’s easier to buy them. We’ve increased the engineering staff. That’s one of the things we felt we were light on, so we increased that since the end of the season. I don’t know the number, but they said 21. That’s a good number. I don’t know if it’s quite that many, but it’s a lot. Ford offers a lot of engineering services through aero with Bernie Marcus. There will be another guy, in addition to Greg Specht, that will be our Ford contact. He’ll be a Ford guy that will help with information. They can help with so many things – from the brake ducts to cowl induction. They’ve got a lot of guys in chassis development, so we’re working with those guys and Greg will help us make sure we’re using all the information that Ford has available.”
IS GREG FULL-TIME? “I guess you’d call him a contract employee right now, but, like I said, their current project is the aero program and making sure that we’re getting what we need out of that.”
CAN YOU MAKE THE NEXT STEP AS FAR AS COMPETITION? “We’re trying. Hopefully the car of tomorrow will narrow the band on what you can do and make it more competitive. That’s what they keep saying. Let’s say you’ve got four teams or five teams and you’re getting all this information – I read a comment that Jack made where Jamie McMurray doesn’t like the same thing that Matt Kenseth likes in terms of the aerodynamics of the car – well the car of tomorrow it’s kind of gonna be set so it won’t be like you spend time like, ‘Let’s go run this front end or let’s go run that one.’ Hopefully, that will narrow the band on that. First we need to be able to run in the top 5 and top 10, and I think we should be getting closer. Winning, I’d like to. We’re gonna be trying.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR DRIVER LINEUP NOW AND IN THE FUTURE WHEN YOU MIGHT HAVE FOUR CUP CARS AND FOUR TALENTED YOUNG DRIVERS? “That’s what we’re working towards. We have a driver development group with Kelly Bires and Joey Clanton and Keven (Wood) and another kid, Jonathan Cash, who will be running some Grand National E Series. We’ve got to build that team behind us. We’ve done that in the past and then kind of had contracts broken and things like that, but you’ve got to keep plugging at it -- just like Marcos Ambrose and Jon. Hopefully, they’re the next two Cup drivers.”
WHAT ABOUT JON? IS HE MORE OF A YOUNG MAN NOW AND LESS OF A KID? “I think he needs to be just like mine. Keven broke his collarbone, but the things that make them do that, I think, are the same things that make them want to drive a race car. You can’t get on them and you can’t take that out of them. In Keven’s case, he needs to re-focus on what he wants to do and it’s the same case with Jon. I think he went through his play period and it’s time to go.”
MICHAEL MCSWAIN, Competition Director – Wood Brothers/JTG Racing –
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON JON WOOD? “I think when I first met Jon he was a kid and I think he’s a young man now. I think he’s come a long way and I think he’s matured professionally and personally and now it’s starting to show up in his racing. They had an awesome test at Daytona and we’re excited about our test in Vegas. We’ll just keep taking these little steps and giving him the latitude to develop like he needs to and not push him in such of a pressure situation that he’s in and out like I’ve seen a lot of these young guys do over the years.”
ARE YOU STILL HAVING A GOOD TIME? “It’s a new challenge for me, doing this, and I’m learning as aggressively and as fast as these kids are about racing cars. It’s been fun. I do want to crew chief some more under the right situation, but I want somebody new and young that wants it as bad as I do.” IS THAT JON WOOD? “It may be. It may be a Jon Wood. It may be a Kelly Bires. It may be a Marcos Ambrose. Who knows. When I find him, you’ll see me back on the box.”
EVERYBODY WANTS RESULTS IMMEDIATELY, BUT IN YOUR SITUATION YOU HAVE A LOT OF YOUNG DRIVERS. LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD THREE YEARS FROM NOW DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAM COULD BECOME SORT OF A POWERHOUSE IF YOU EXPAND TO FOUR TEAMS? “That’s our goal. We stepped back and looked and we didn’t have the resources or the money or the super-major sponsorship to go hire Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart or any of these young guys – Jimmie Johnson. So we were like, ‘What we’ve got to do is build our company and build our relationship with our sponsors and all the people out there working on race cars, and we need some drivers.’ So we felt our best avenue was to get stronger in the Truck Series, stronger in the Busch Series, add some Busch East stuff this year, and get these young drivers and mechanics and start working them through the system and try to make a place where somebody can come to work when they’re 18 years old and right out of school and work there until they’re 58. That’s our goal and along the way we want to win some races.”
DOES THE CAR OF TOMORROW HELP SPEED UP THAT TIMELINE? “We’re excited about it. I get a kick out of listening to everybody grumbling and complaining and moaning and groaning about it, but what difference does it make? It’s racing. It’s just another race. Everybody says, ‘Well, we have half the races in this car and half the races in this car.’ That’s crap because for years we’ve had speedway cars and road course cars, short track cars and intermediate cars and this is the car I always take to Darlington, so it’s no different now than it ever was it just looks a little different. It’s still a building full of different kind of cars and you just take the one you’ve got to race.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL WHERE YOU ARE IN THE COT DEVELOPMENT? “We actually haven’t tested one, unfortunately, but, at the same time, the way I try to look at it is I don’t want to test it and start understanding something that I’m not gonna get to race. We have all new, fresh, clean ideas because we haven’t tested one, but the rules are just now becoming solid. So now I feel like when we go to Bristol, we’re taking four cars out there and when we go to Bristol we’ll get a good, solid test out of Bristol and we’ll do some other testing along the way, but we’re excited about it. We’ve got a bunch of new cars built, a bunch of new parts, a bunch of new pieces and we’re really looking forward to going to Bristol.”
HOW DOES ADDING GREG SPECHT HELP YOUR ORGANIZATION? “That’s what we’ve tried to do is we’ve tried to add strength, knowledge and maturity to our group because we do have a group of quite young guys. We added Greg. We added Eddie Dickerson, who had been at Hendrick for 20 years. Scott Zipadelli just came over from Gibbs, he’s Jon’s crew chief next year. We’re adding as much knowledge and as much experience as we can to help our youth develop as fast as we can.”
MIKE ACCAVITTI (Director Dodge Motorsports Operations and SRT Planning)
OPENING REMARKS “We’re very happy that Dodge is the only manufacturer entering the 2007 season with the same driver lineup that exited in 2006. In a sport where consistency is key, we feel this is going to be a competitive advantage.
“I was reading the USA TODAY the other day and a high-ranking NASCAR official was asked about manufacturers leaving the sport. The two manufacturers they asked about were not DaimlerChrysler. I’m very proud that our message is sinking in that we’re here to stay. Our momentum continues to build since we started our racing effort and in 2007 we expect some great things. We’re going to see more consistency in 2007, more wins, more top fives, more top 10s. Our teams and drivers are extremely competitive, and I know every weekend when they go out to win a race.
“I want to make it a little bit more interesting, so for the Daytona 500, the Dodge driver that wins that race, I’m going to give him his choice of a brand new SRT vehicle. SRT is our street and racing technology brand. It’s the other half of my job, and as a car guy I can tell you they’re some of the best driving vehicles on the road and the most fun driving vehicles we make. One of our lucky drivers is going to get his choice of an SRT-10 Viper, an SRT-8 Charger, an SRT-8 Magnum or an SRT-8 Chrysler 300 or even an SRT-8 Jeep Grand Cherokee.”
COMMENT ON TOYOTA “We’ve been fighting with Toyota in the market place for 30 years. It’s not new to me. I’ve been with our company for a long time, and it’s been a harsh reality that we’ve had to deal with the financial strengths of a lot of manufacturers. Toyota right now is in the catbird seat. I’ve been with Chrysler for 30 years this month and our corporate philosophy has always been if we want to get in a money burning contest we’re going to lose every time.
“We never have enough money as the other guys. I hate to use the analogy, but it’s we have to work smarter. We have to figure out a way in our business every day on how to outmaneuver the competition. That’s what’s going to have to happen with the race teams. It can no longer be we’ll just throw more money at the problem and it’ll go away. The money is going to be fixed, and the teams are just going to have to figure out how to make the cars go faster and how to employ technologies to achieve better results with the same resources. Here again, this is what we do every day in the car business.”
RAY EVERNHAM (Owner, CEO Evernham Motorsports)
“The Dodge Avenger reminds me of six or seven years ago when we did this with the Intrepid. We had 500 days to develop the car and motor and things like that. I think everybody knows we had about 460 days, so we had 40 days in the bank. We don’t really need to use those 40 days in the bank with Dodge engineering and all the teams working together to develop this car. We were able to do it a lot faster than we did the other one, and we did it with teamwork. We were also pretty proud of our technology at that time.
“If you’re not committed and constantly focused as a team looking at the future – six, 12 months, even years ahead to gain that advantage you’re going to be left behind. At Evernham Motorsports we’re starting to see the investment we made in people, engineering and technology pay off. We’ve made a significant investment in that technology. Every year that technology budget doesn’t go up by hundreds of thousands, sometimes it goes up by millions. When you look across the board, most big companies spend two-three percent on research and development. That tells you what direction racing is going.
“We’ve grown as an organization since those early days. Right now Evernham Motorsports has 330 employees and more than 50 people are dedicated to engineering and design. We also introduced a unique team structure for the 2006 season with a team director, car director and an engineer. I know some of the folks in this room didn’t think that would work, to make decisions by committee. I think that some of our performance last year proved them wrong. We’ve still got to continue to tweak and work on it, but again, I believe that’s going to be the way of racing in the future.
“2006 was the best performance year ever for Evernham Motorsports. Every year since 2001, we’ve won poles and visited victory lane. For the last four years we’ve wrapped up the season with a driver in the top 10 in points, and we’re proud of that. This year we went to victory lane six times with the Cup car, two times with the Busch car and that was a record for us. We also won eight Cup poles, a couple of Busch poles, 13 top fives, 29 top 10s and I want to congratulate our drivers Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs, along with our team directors – Kenny Francis for the No. 9, Josh Browne for the No. 19, and Rodney Childers for the No. 10 and our new team director for the Busch Series, Mike Shiplette.
“Our goals for 2007 are going to be simple. We want to see all three of our NASCAR NEXTEL Cup cars in victory lane. The No. 9 is a proven winner and we want to continue to improve on that, and I believe the No. 10 and No. 19 have amazing, incredible potential. It’s our goal to make sure Scott Riggs and Elliott Sadler reach that potential. We want to have all three of our teams finish in the top 15 in points with two of them in The Chase.
“We want to improve our consistency across the board from pit stops and engine reliability to driver performance. We want to do that from our plate races to our road races. We feel like our plate program and our road racing program have been two of our Achilles Heels. We also had some DNFs last year with crashes and blown engines that kept our cars from being higher in points. We also want to be the first team to put the Avenger in victory lane.”
KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)
WHICH DODGE WILL YOU PICK AFTER WINNING THE DAYTONA 500? “I would take the SRT-8 Jeep Grand Cherokee. I’ve already got the Viper. They gave me one for winning the most races last year.”
WITH 12 TEAMS IN THE CHASE HOW MANY TEAMS WILL REALISTICALLY BE GOING FOR THOSE 12 SPOTS? “I’d say right around 12. I would say going into Richmond you’re not going to have the closeness we had last year. That’s my personal opinion. The last few years I don’t remember more than 12, maybe 13. Last year it was more like 11. The drama is going to be in The Chase this year, not getting to The Chase.”
COMMENT ON ROAD COURSES “The road courses are definitely my weakest link. Last year we qualified fifth and second at the road courses. It’s not about making a lap. It’s not about making a lap. I can make a lap around them. It’s just about putting the full race together and just being able to go fast the entire race. It’s something we need to figure out as a team. We’re going to test more on road courses this year. We’re going to try to be more prepared when we go to Sears Point and Watkins Glen.”
COMMENT ON SHORT TRACKS “I think (short tracks) were a struggle at the start because the cars were so heavy and so much different from anything I’ve ever driven. We haven’t won at any short tracks, but the last two year we’ve run up front at a lot of them. I’m getting better setups now for the short tracks. I don’t think the car of tomorrow will be a huge deal at Martinsville. It’s a pretty short track. “
COMMENT ON POINTS SYSTEM “It would have been a big benefit for us last year. I think it’s a neat rule. It’s fine. It’s something different. It puts a little more on winning and the consistency isn’t quite as big a deal, but it’s still going to be huge. Consistency is going to be a big part of winning the championship, but also winning races is going to be a little bit bigger, too.”
HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE YOU DON’T LOSE YOUR EDGE ON THE INTERMEDIATE TRACKS? “We definitely don’t want to lose anything on my best tracks. I’ve always been better on those types of race tracks. It’s a momentum type track. The goal would be to do the same amount of testing on the mile and a half tracks and do more testing on the road courses and short tracks. We’ve already started that, so hopefully that’s the key to having a better season and finishing better in the points.”
COMMENT ON COT “Personally I like the car we drive now, but we have a new car and that’s the way it is. We’ve done some short track testing with it. I haven’t done anything over a mile yet. On the short tracks it was fine. I think it’s going to be just fine at Martinsville and Bristol. We’ll figure out the rest as we go. I think it’s a safer car and it’s the car of the future. We’ll just have to like it and get used to it if we want to run well in Nextel Cup.”
WILL YOU HAVE TO BE REALLY CAREFUL NOT TO WRECK THE COT IN THE FIRST FEW RACES? “You could really get behind in a hurry, and the thing of it is the car of tomorrow isn’t even done yet. We don’t even have templates to know what we’re supposed to run. Teams are limited for sure. You crash one at Bristol, you’ll have another one so you’ll run that at Martinsville and hope you don’t crash one there in practice because you’d probably be out. The teams have to build them under a lot of rules and not know all the rules. It’s a tough spot. Hopefully they’ll figure out exactly what they want and what they want the car to look like soon so the teams can finish these things up and be prepared. We’ve got a really big test coming up and we don’t have the car ready yet.”
SCOTT RIGGS (No. 10 Valvoline/Stanley Tools Dodge Charger)
WHICH DODGE WILL YOU PICK WHEN YOU WIN THE DAYTONA 500? “I don’t know. I’m a family man, so I’ll have to pick something that’s big enough to hold the whole family. I’d probably pick the SRT-8 Magnum. When Mike announced that, Jim Rocco from Valvoline said he was going to take the car home. As long as I got the trophy and picture, I might let him.”
HOW MANY TEAMS WILL REALISTICALLY BE GOING AFTER THE 12 CHASE SPOTS? “I think 16 or 17 teams are capable of being a Chase contender. Just because they went from 10 to 12 doesn’t mean all of our good teams are going to be in now. I think a lot of good teams will emerge this year. Even with those 12 spots, I think someone who was in that top 10 last year won’t be in the top 12. It’s just too competitive with too many good teams.”
COMMENT ON TOYOTA “I want to outrun everyone, and when it comes to the last lap I want to outrun everybody even if they’re in a Dodge. I want to win races. I don’t think a different manufacturer will create any more competitiveness among the drivers. I think NASCAR does a good job of making sure anyone can’t come in and just out dollar any other manufacturer or team. It takes so many people working together as a team to be competitive at this level. I don’t think a manufacturer coming in with a lot of money is something that’s going to dominate our sport. NASCAR’s rules and restrictions are going to prevent that.”
HOW TO YOU TEST THE COT WITHOUT TIRES? “We’ve been testing older tires for a long time. As long as you go out there and get a baseline and you make changes and go faster it’s an improvement. You can’t compare yourself with what someone else did last week at the same track, but you can learn.”
WILL YOU HAVE TO DRIVE THE COT DIFFERENTLY? “When you have a car with such a different shape than we’ve had in the past, it’s still going to be the same thing. You’re still going to try to get maximum downforce with as little drag as you can and you’re going to try to push the car to the earth as much as you can and get as much grip out of the tires as you can. If they make us run wooden wheels and wagons, we’ll still work as hard as we can to make it work. You’re still going to be racing. It’s going to be a lot different behind and around other COTs than the cars we have right now. I think the COT cars are going to make us all work in different areas that we’re not used to working in. It’s going to be different geometry starting off from scratch. We’re more or less traveling the cars like we used to – not very far. We can’t travel the car because of the splitter. The wing on the back is going to be the entire downforce adjustment instead of going back building a car with different downforce and sideforces. You’ll be able to adjust it right there at the racetrack. In some aspects it’ll be easier to work on, but it’s still different so that’ll make it more difficult.”
WILL THE COT BE HARDER TO REPAIR DURING THE RACE? “We’re going to have to work in areas and put more time and emphasis on repairing our cars and how the car is actually going to be bolted together better than our other cars. It’s easy to put piece of valance across the front or a blade on the back for a spoiler. Now you’ve got a wing you’ve got to bolt on and a splitter that’s got to bolt on. We’re going to have to have our cars like Legos almost where you can actually bolt on an entire front bumper. You’re going to have to have some way where you can bolt on an entire deck lid along with a wing at a fast race. It just puts more emphasis on engineering to figure out ways to do things like repair cars. I’m hoping not to knock off a wing, but if I knock off a wing, I hope our guys at Evernham Motorsports have figured out a good way to put it back on quick.”
WILL YOU HAVE TO RACE THE CAR BEFORE SOME QUESTIONS CAN BE ANSWERED? “You’re going to do a lot of monkey see-monkey do. If somebody comes out with a new idea and you see it and you think it’s better than your idea you’re going to put it on your cars. We’re all going to be learning. We’re all learning as much as we can by ourselves testing. When you get to a race situation that’s where you’re going to be able to bank on a lot of ideas and a lot of different thoughts will start coming into play. We’ve got to run it, so let’s start thinking about what we need to do to race it. OK, it’s ugly and we don’t like it, but like a wooden wagon, but it’s ‘what can we do to make it go fast?’ Automatically your competitive nature comes out and you start thinking about it. If they came up tomorrow and said they were not going to run the COT anymore, I don’t think anybody would be crying about it because we love it so much.”
ELLIOTT SADLER (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)
WHICH DODGE SRT ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE WHEN YOU WIN THE DAYTONA 500? “I don’t know. That’s pretty cool. Mike Accavitti was nice enough to give me a 500-horsepower signing bonus when I signed with Evernham. He gave me an SRT-10 truck. I like the Viper. If he’s willing to stick a Viper out there, that’s a little extra incentive. I might have to make sure that Josh (Team Director Browne) and the guys put a little extra bumper in front of this thing. That’s cool that Dodge will reward their drivers that much. They definitely create a team atmosphere and support their team owners and drivers a lot. I’ve been very impressed with that since I’ve been over here. To put something like that on the line, that’s pretty amazing. They want to win the Daytona 500 pretty bad. I did not know about it until you guys just heard about it. That’s pretty cool.”
WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE EVERNHAM OPERATION? “The different things I see at Evernham Motorsports is Ray has a lot of fire and a lot of intensity. I think he stays ahead of the learning curve better than anybody I’ve ever been around. I think he showed it when he was crew chief with Jeff Gordon. He was very innovative and he shows that in his race team. The biggest difference I saw when I walked into Evernham Motorsports was these guys were prepared for the future. They’re not going to let anything slip through the cracks. They’re going to get every ounce of engineering help and speed out of their car every week. These guys are ahead of the learning curve. Not only are they preparing for the races three weeks from now, they’re preparing for things happening a couple of years from now.”
COMMENT ON YOUR NEW ATTITUDE “I wear my feelings right here on my sleeve just like a lot of people do. I’m not ashamed to show you what my real attitude is sometimes, but I have a different sway about me this year. I’m very happy. My personal life is the best it’s ever been. I’m very happy with my family and the stuff that’s going on around me back home. I really think I’ve got a great support group around me. I’ve got great teammates. Ray just wants to win. He’s got the same attitude I have about it. Second is no good. Losing is no good. If we’re not in The Chase we’ve pretty much had a terrible season. That’s the attitude he’s had, and that’s the attitude I have. I’m not a field filler, and I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to ride around and finish 20th and go home. I love having that attitude right across the desk from me. It’s made me happy, and I can’t wait to go to the racetrack. I would be very nervous telling you guys all this stuff if I thought I couldn’t back it up. I’m pretty relaxed and happy about it. I honestly think we’re going to be in The Chase. I don’t think it’s going to be a big feat for us. I think it’s going to happen, and I think we’re going to win some races. I think we’re going to run up front, and I’ve got a good feeling about it. You’ve got to feel like you’re coming to a gunfight with a gun.
That makes a big difference, too. It’s a big learning curve to go from one organization to another. I’m glad we got to go through that last year. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the team. We went out the first time at Michigan and qualified second and finished 10th. That to me eased the pain right there. The learning period was not that long of a time, and that meant a lot to all of us. The best day in Elliott Sadler’s life last year was when I went to Michigan and qualified second and ran in the top 10. I’ve got a lot of great things going on in my life right now, and I think it’s reflecting. Life is great right now. I think for the first time I see the glass as half full instead of half empty. I’m a very pessimistic person, a realist is what I call it, but sometimes it’s pessimistic. This year I’ve just got one of those crazy feelings. I’m pretty close to becoming domesticated. It’s something that hits you like a ton of bricks and it’s definitely hit me. I’ve definitely found someone I want to settle down with and raise a family. I think that has a lot to do with the attitude I have right now. She’s shown me the brighter side of life and what life’s all about. It’s gonna happen pretty quick. I’m definitely off the market.”
HOW MANY TEAMS DO YOU THINK WILL SERIOUSLY COMPETE FOR THOSE 12 CHASE SPOTS? “I’d say 16 or 17 spots with teams legitimately chasing that dream. I can sit here right now and name off a lot of teams that can be racing for it. I’m glad they made it 12 spots. It was a shame last year that Tony Stewart missed it. He was deserving pf a spot. I think 12 is a good number. I don’t want to add any more to that. I don’t want to dilute. We’re going to race as hard as we can. I don’t care what you put in front of us. If it’s a 12-ounce ribeye, we’re going to race as hard as we can. I don’t think you can create harder racing, but I am glad to see them rewarding winning more than they do. Stick and ball sports are one winner and one loser. Racing is one winner and 42 losers. If you can beat 42 guys you deserve a bigger reward than everybody else.”
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