Tuesday Media Tour Pit Notes
Monday evening, the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway headed to the spacious new auditorium at Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, N.C., for dinner.
Richard Childress Racing fields the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars driven by defending Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer.
"I see a lot of old friends and faces from a few years ago as well as some new faces," said team owner Richard Childress. "We're excited to have everyone here as we have a couple of announcements to make. We're looking forward to a lot of good things to come out of these announcements that we're going to talk about."
The first announcement was that RCR has joined forces with Rick Howard to field a Daytona Prototype car for a limited schedule in the 2008 Rolex Grand-Am Road Racing Series before stepping up to a full-time effort in 2009. Accomplished road racer Andy Wallace will be the primary driver for the Grand-Am team.
"I think the Daytona Prototype Series is great and I know it's going to be a success," Childress said.
Childress also discussed the progress of Earnhardt-Childress Racing, the joint effort between RCR and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. which builds engines for the two team's Chevrolet Sprint Cup Series entries.
"The RCR-DEI engine program was something that people talked about when we had problems last year, but they didn't really notice when we did well," Childress said. "The last two years our engine program won 44 races in NASCAR's top three divisions. We're going to take things one step at a time."
Harvick said he was pleased with both the team's off-season testing at Daytona as well as the addition to the main shop at the RCR complex.
"I'm excited right now based on all the work we've done in the off-season," said Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet. "I think that right now I'm excited about all the stuff we've done in the off-season. We didn't need an overall overhaul with our teams as much as we just needed to tweak on every little piece and make things better. We had a little different approach because, like I say, we didn't need to turn over everything completely. I'm excited heading into the new year. We had a good test at Daytona and I think we're going to make even more gains before we get back down there in February. Winning the Daytona 500 like we did last year is something I can't even describe. That's all everybody wants to talk about and now I know why.
"Richard Childress Racing has made a lot of investments in this sport," Harvick added. "It seems like no matter what you do in this sport, it's never enough. It never stops. We're going to close the gap and if we don't we're still going to be a pain in the ass to everybody else."
Burton shared much the same view as his RCR teammate.
"It's difficult to adapt to the times," said Burton, who drives the No. 31 AT&T Chevrolet. "It used to be if you were headed in the right direction that you didn't want to change anything. It's not like that anymore. Richard is a perfect example of someone who has adjusted with the times. He's invested a lot of time and money as well as helping to employ a lot of people which helps the economy. It's really hard to understand all the reasons why Richard has made such an investment. It seems like no matter what you do it's never enough."
SPEED Channel hosted the Monday night hospitality event at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Concord Convention Center.
Among those on hand were two-time Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Donnie Schatz, who is a contender for the SPEED Performer of the Year award which will be presented Feb. 7. Schatz had just returned from Australia where he had been racing since Dec. 23.
Jimmy Spencer, Kenny Wallace, Jeff Hammond and Phil Parsons were among the on-air personalities who spent time socializing with the media and SPEED officials announced a new program, "The Humpy Show," slated to debut with a one-hour pilot on Feb. 12.
Hosted by H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, the program will showcase Wheeler's skills as NASCAR's ultimate promoter, storyteller and diplomat. NASCAR legend Buddy Baker and driver Kurt Busch will join Wheeler for the inaugural telecast where the trio will discuss great NASCAR rivalries.
"Without question, ‘Humpy" is one of the true trendsetters in the world of motorsports," said SPEED President Hunter Nickell. "His passion for constantly moving forward with uniquely creative ideas while always maintaining a healthy respect for the past is a philosophy embraced by SPEED. We're thrilled ‘Humpy" is going to share some of his valuable time and insight with our viewers."
Calling the shots behind the camera will be Wheeler's daughter, Patti, whose team from Wheeler TV delivered the idea to SPEED.
Tuesday's NASCAR Sprint Media Tour schedule started with a breakfast and press conference hosted by Bank of America at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Concord Convention Center.
Bank of America officials used the opportunity to reveal the Charlotte-based company has reached a licensing agreement with several top NASCAR drivers to use their name and likeness on a new line of banking products.
"We're here to celebrate a milestone," said Michael Hargrave, senior vice president of global marketing for Bank of America. "We've been involved in a lot of different races across the country and part of why we're in this sport is the popularity the drivers have with their fans.
"NASCAR Banking has thousands of fans who have their favorite driver's picture on their credit cards and checks. Now fans can make race day everyday."
1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace is working with Bank of America and was on hand to talk with media members about the bank's NASCAR program.
"This is amazing and really cool," Wallace said. "I never thought the sport would get this big and now there are a lot of first time fans who want to let everybody know who their favorite driver is."
Following the Bank of America breakfast, media members moved to another portion of the Concord Convention Center where Sprint had constructed a movie theater in order to debut the company's 2008 NASCAR-related television commercials.
Dean Kessel, director of sports marketing for Sprint, revealed that the company had worked with Michael Mann to produce a series of new and exciting commercials.
Kessel then announced that the May 17 NASCAR All-Star event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, formerly known as the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, has been renamed the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. He also said the qualifying race prior to the All-Star event will now be known as the Sprint Showdown.
Media members then hit the road and headed to the new Windshear wind tunnel facility located adjacent to the Concord Regional Airport. The wind tunnel is still under construction, but media members were able to view a car running on the rolling road and then tour the entire facility.
Scheduled to open in April, the Windshear facility is the only commercial full-scale, single-belt, rolling wind tunnel in the United States. The firm's list of clients already includes top level motorsports organizations and auto manufacturers.
The Windshear facility offers 180-mph wind speeds with accurate and repeatable data previously only available to a select few Formula One teams. At the tunnel's top speed, the 22-foot diameter main fan will re-circulate 2.85 million cubic feet of air per minute which consumes seven megawatts of power in the process.
As part of the visit to the Windshear facility, Haas/CNC Racing Sprint Cup drivers Scott Riggs and Jeremy Mayfield were on hand and did numerous interviews about the coming season.
"I just want to be more competitive and consistent as a driver because I know this team has shown those traits," said Riggs, who will drive the No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevrolet. "I want to continue what this team has been doing since last year with their Car of Tomorrow program. This team has a great relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and that's going to pay off for all of us. By working closely with Jeremy, I believe we're on the right track to raise the competitiveness of this organization. It feels good to be with a new team that has a lot to prove. The team is still very young but despite that they look at this as a goal they have with no limits. The future is wide open and there's no telling what we can accomplish. There are no boundaries of what we can and can't do. It's all about what it takes for us as a team to be competitive."
Mayfield admits his excitement has brought a feeling of rejuvenation after being released by team owner Ray Evernham before the end of the 2007 season.
"I'm ready to go racing again," said Mayfield, driver the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet. "This is more than a breath of fresh air because I had a lot of things going on like my dad passing away. It's seemed like there were a lot of things that just really seemed to get stacked on each other. Finally, you're just like ‘whatever' and you become numb to it. Now all that stuff is behind me. I'm moving on and looking forward to the future. I know before the season starts you guys in the media hear all the drivers talk about how excited they are, but I really am and I feel good about it.
"For me, it's all about racing becoming fun again because that's what I really wanted to get back to," Mayfield added. "I don't have to worry about a sponsor leaving in the middle of the year or some guy saying this or that about me. All I ever wanted to do was race and help put on a good show. Now I feel like that's the position I'm in. I'd say it's been since 2005 that I've had fun. There's no pressure on me and I don't have a ton of bricks on my back like I used to. It's just a lot of little things and we all know in this sport how important the mental part of things can be."
The NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway then returned to the Embassy Suites Hotel and Concord Convention Center for a luncheon hosted by Dodge.
After lunch, five journalists were honored during the 23rd annual presentation of the Miller Lite Motorsports Journalism Awards of Excellence in honor of Russ Catlin.
The group included a veteran sportswriter whose feature story for USA Today explored whether popular Indy Car driver Danica Patrick could win in the open-wheel series, a Charlotte television reporter who gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look at ABC's coverage of the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and an ESPN feature producer who profiled 1992 NASCAR champion Alan Kulwicki.
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.
The entries were submitted to the Indiana University School of Journalism, whose faculty members selected the winners.
Each winner received a plaque and a Rolex watch from Miller Lite NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch.
The 2007 Miller Lite Motorsports Journalism Awards of Excellence in honor of Russ Catlin winners were: Nate Ryan of USA Today in the Writing - Daily category; David Caraviello of NASCAR.com in the Writing - Other category; Drew Gallagher of ESPN's "NASCAR Countdown" for the Broadcast - National category; Blair Miller of WSOC-TV (Charlotte) in the Broadcast - Local category; and David Griffin of NASCAR Scene in the Photojournalism category.
Dodge Motorsports brought its drivers, team owners, crew chiefs and corporate officials together at the hotel for the final Tuesday afternoon function of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Mike Accavitti, director of Dodge brand marketing and global communications, said the upcoming NASCAR season will be one of a turnaround for the of Dodge drivers and teams.
"Last year, we didn't live up to expectations both on and off the track," Accavitti said. "We have a new car this year so that's something we're going to be dealing with. Last year, we had an old and a new car so we were dealing with a lot of change. We have also changed our corporate structure and we had lost focus. The new structure we have in place is supportive from the top all the way down. With all that behind us, we can't wait to get the year started. Our mission is to win races and we fully expect to have at least one Dodge team battle for this year's championship. We have all the teams in place to make that happen."
One participant in the Dodge function-George Gillett Jr.-was a newcomer to the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour after he joined Ray Evernham as a partner in Gillett-Evernham Motorsports during the 2007 season.
"We had a 100-day plan from the very start," Gillett said. "Now that it's the 2008 season, we're all ready and looking to have a big year. Having said that, I want to note that I am an optimist so I'm excited about the upcoming season because I believe we're going to have a good year."
Several Dodge Sprint Cup drivers also expressed their eagerness to get the 2008 season underway and show their improvement.
"I think the biggest thing for me this year is to make the chase for the championship," said Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge. "I want to win races, but I know at the end of the day it's all about being more consistent regardless of the situation. If I finish 30th, I've got to realize that that's better than being 43rd. Once we make the chase, hopefully we can run well in those last 10 races. My main goal is to get in the championship battle."
Elliott Sadler echoed the assessment of his Gillett-Evernham Motorsports teammate.
"As a goal this year, Kasey and I both want to be in the championship race," said Sadler, driver of the No. 19 Best Buy Dodge. "Both of us have been in it before so we understand what it takes and how proud it makes our teams and sponsors. How we can do that and help each other is what we've got to figure out. As a driver knowing that's the way we both feel is a pretty good feeling."
Penske Racing driver Kurt Busch is another competitor who is looking forward to seeing how the 2008 season unfolds.
"We just want to build on the foundation that we already have in place here with this team," said Busch, who drives the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. "We finished seventh in points last year, but we want to be even higher than that. We want to be more consistent because we found out last year that it's hard to play catch-up when it comes to gaining lost ground in a championship race. We want poles and wins but most importantly we want consistency. Those are a lot of wants, now we have to go on and back up what we're talking about."
NEWS AND QUOTES FROM TUESDAY NIGHT'S FUNCTIONS
WILL BE INCLUDED IN WEDNESDAY'S NOTES