Penske Racing South hosted the Wednesday evening portion of the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour at the Rusty Wallace Inc. shop in Mooresville, N.C. The event included the 19th annual presentation of the Miller Lite Motorsports Journalism Awards of Excellence in honor of Russ Catlin, as well as a visit with members of Penske Racing South and Penske-Jasper Racing.

Team-owners Roger Penske, Don Miller and Doug Bawel were joined by drivers Rusty Wallace and Brendan Gaughan, and crew chiefs Larry Carter and Shane Wilson. As well, Ryan Newman and crew chief Matt Borland were available via satellite from California Speedway where they were testing.

The first order of business was the presentation of the Miller Lite Motorsports Journalism Awards of Excellence in honor of Russ Catlin. Winners were Liz Clarke (The Washington Post) and Godwin Kelly (Racing Milestones) in the print categories; Rob Nelson (SPEED Channel) and Chuck Howard (NBC-6 Charlotte) in the broadcast category; and freelance photographer Earl Ma, who won in the photojournalism category for a picture which appeared in National Speed Sport News.

Next on the agenda was a question-and-answer session with key team members.

ROGER PENSKE (Team owner): "I see a great group of drivers and I see some tremendous teams. To win the championship it's going to take consistency. It's going to take reliability, and it’s going to take strategy…They say good people are the ones you want to associate with. People that work hard. Teams that succeed are the teams that work hard. Over the years I’ve picked up people that haven’t gotten to the top and given them the chance to succeed. We’ve seen that in both our Indy car and our NASCAR team. We try to pick people that are committed, that are loyal and that have integrity…It’s a people business. You have to be sure you pick the right people, and you have to lead those people. We have leaders sitting up here tonight. Not everybody can be a leader. We have to sort out who is going to lead and who is going to follow."

RUSTY WALLACE (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge): "I’ve always been an opportunistic person. I like to win and I know how to win. Last year when the season ended I was beat up. I was black and blue, and I was embarrassed. Now, I’m ready to get back on track and kick some butt."

RYAN NEWMAN (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge): “To be recognized as a potential champion, it does feel good, and that’s something we want to live up to, because that’s what we set out to do is win the championship. We’ll go after it as hard as we can.”

BRENDAN GAUGHAN (No. 77 Kodak Dodge): “Looking in the back of this room, I see Rusty Wallace’s name on a Dodge. Next to it, I see Ryan Newman’s name on a Dodge, and then there’s a third Dodge with my name on it sitting next to theirs. That’s pretty special.”

 

The final day of the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway began with breakfast sponsored by M&Ms, and featuring driver Elliott Sadler and his crew chief, Todd Parrott. Sadler’s Robert Yates Racing teammate, Dale Jarrett, was on hand for the one-on-one portion of the program.

ELLIOTT SADLER (No. 38 M&Ms Ford): “I’m more optimistic this season than I was last season. From what I have seen in the shop this winter and what they’ve done to our cars, and how the 38 and the 88 ran at Daytona, and how the cars drove, I think we’re going to show our strength right off the bat at Daytona…(The new points system) I’m for it. I’m still young in this sport. Because of that it’s probably not that hard for me to grasp something new. I think it is a great decision for NASCAR. It gives more sponsors a chance to market their products late in the year and it gives more drivers a chance to win the championship.”

DALE JARRETT (No. 88 UPS Ford): “I was fortunate to at least win a race early last year, and I was able to keep that streak going. But it is difficult in this sport anymore. The competition gets tougher every year. If there are 43 teams, there are probably 30 that on any given day if they get everything going their way, they can win the race. 2003 was the longest year I can remember, but it’s over now and we have a lot of exciting things happening at the shop that makes the new season exciting…I think if we just go to the race track and do what we are capable of doing, things will fall into place.”

 

The tour then hit the road for a visit to Roush Racing’s spacious complex near the Concord Regional Airport. Team-owner Jack Roush and drivers Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle were on hand. Truck Series drivers Jon Wood and Carl Edwards also participated in the program.

JACK ROUSH (Team owner): “We’re excited about 2004. All of our crews are still in place. We haven’t had a big transfer of people this winter, and that really helps…I’m really excited about what they are doing with the points. To build the season to a crescendo of excitement late in the year will be good for the fans and good for the sport. I support it…The first 26 races look more desperate to me than the final 10 races.”

MARK MARTIN (No. 6 Viagra Ford): “I am really excited about my team. We’ve been testing a lot, and it’s a pleasure to work with these guys. The new Taurus is working well and we should have a lot of steam under the hood.”

MATT KENSETH (No. 17 DeWalt Ford): “I’m sure it’s (changing the points system) something they’ve been thinking about. I’m sure they would rather the champion win five or six races. But I think what they really wanted to do is keep the interest up through the end of the season because of television ratings and trying to compete with football.”

JEFF BURTON (No. 99 Roush Racing Ford): “It’s (not having a sponsor) certainly not the position you want to be in. Fortunately, we have a strong company that can absorb some of that. I think the sponsorship thing will happen. It’s just unfortunate that it is not here now, but it is my intention to go out and compete for the NEXTEL Cup championship. I have to let Geoff Smith focus on the sponsorship end of it, and I have to focus on racing and making sure the team stays focused on racing.”

KURT BUSCH (No. 97 Sharpie Ford): “We need to compete at every type of race track that we go to. We need to go to Richmond and be as competitive as we are at Charlotte or some other place. We’ve run well at both of those places, but not all the time. We need to get more consistency in our performances no matter where we are racing.”

NOTE: Kurt Busch will be attending next week’s Super Bowl in Houston as a guest of one of his sponsors.

GREG BIFFLE (No. 16 National Guard Ford): “I love to race. It kills me to sit at the race track on Saturday when they’re running the Busch race. We’re done at 11 o’clock and then we don’t get on the track again until 1 o’clock on Sunday, so what else am I going to do? It kills me to sit there and watch those races. So we figured, if you are going to do 26 Busch races anyway, why not try to do the other six or seven and try to win the championship.”

 

The lunch stop took the Media Tour to the NASCAR R&D Center, located across the road from Roush Racing in Concord, N.C. Gary Nelson, NASCAR managing director of Research and Development, explained the type of work which is done at the facility, showing off some of the machines and equipment. Thirty-nine people work in the building which opened just more than a year ago. After lunch, Nelson, along with NASCAR President Mike Helton, NEXTEL Cup Series Director John Darby, Busch Series Director Brian DeHart, Truck Series Director Buster Auton and Director of Event Logistics Gary Stewart participated in a question and answer session, which focused on competition-related issues.

As part of the discussion it became known that NASCAR officials will use five different hand signals (similar to those used by basketball and football referees) on pit road this year in an effort to give competitors, fans, media and television viewers a better, and more immediate idea of what types of officiating calls have been made during pits stops. Details of those hand signals will be announced later.

In addition, it was learned NASCAR has hired an EMT who will travel to all NEXTEL Cup Series races and work on behalf of the sanctioning body.

MIKE HELTON (NASCAR President): “We’ve used hand signals up and down pit road a lot. The idea is to be able to communicate to the teams on pit road what is going on. The fans will also be able to pick up on the signals, and obviously television and radio networks will pick up on it too. We want to convey quickly what is going on if we have a violation in the pits…Our use of an EMT is to supervise and monitor the standards that we ask the tracks to provide. We still feel our way of asking the tracks to provide the best local doctors and safety crews available is the best way to go. It will also provide a familiar face for the competitors to recognize, someone that they can communicate with.”

 

The UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway concluded at Hendrick Motorsports. Team-owner Rick Hendrick and drivers Terry Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch fielded a variety of questions form the media.

RICK HENDRICK (Team owner): “Last year was a great year for us. We had three guys in the top 10, we finished second in points and we won the Busch driver’s championship. It’s exciting to think about that and the fact that we haven’t had any changes to this team during the off season...In most businesses after 20 years, you can rest on your laurels, but that’s not the way it is in this sport. You’re only as good as your last race.”

TERRY LABONTE (No. 5 Kellogg’s/Got Milk? Chevrolet): “I think the cars are easier to drive today than they used to be. Back when I started, we had bias-ply tires, we didn’t have downforce and we didn’t know what a wind tunnel was. I think the cars were definitely harder to drive back then.”

JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet):”I feel really good about where our race team is. We haven’t had anybody leave during the off season, and we’ve only made our team stronger. We talked about things that we didn’t do well last year, and have tried to rectify that…(On the new points system) I think the only other thing they should do is give something to the guy that worked his tail off to get the point lead after 26 races. But the end of the season is always good for us, and those tracks are always good tracks for us.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet):”Regardless of which way the points would have been awarded this year, we were going to be a contender for the championship. I can’t wait for the season to start and start collecting points…(New tire and spoiler rules) I think if we are able to have races decided by the racing on the track and not by taking two, four or no tires in the pits, we are all in favor of that. I’m excited knowing we are trying to eliminate some of the guess work.”

BRIAN VICKERS (No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet): “We’re going to go after the rookie-of-the-year title, and we want to win a race. Last year we almost got that pole at the end of the season, and we want to win one this year. Most of all, we are going to try to earn experience, and the respect of our fellow competitors.”

KYLE BUSCH (No. 84 CARQUEST Chevrolet): “It’s been a short road to get here to Hendrick Motorsports. That’s something I never dreamed would happen this easy. I owe that to Rick and Ricky because they really poured their hearts out for me.”

End of the 21ST annual UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway.