Media Tour Notes and Quotes - Monday, Jan. 19
The 27th edition of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway kicked off at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Concord Convention Center with a luncheon co-hosted by Penske Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports.
Penske Racing featured Walter Czarnecki, vice chairman, Tim Cindric, president, and Mike Nelson, vice president of operations, alongside the team's trio of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish and David Stremme. NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Justin Allgaier, the team's newest addition, completed the Penske Racing lineup on stage.
Vice Chairman Walter Czarnecki (ON THE ECONOMY'S IMPACT ON THE SPORT): "Our industry has been significantly affected in so many ways, but from a Penske Racing perspective, I think we may be a little bit better served than some of the others. We've been able to keep our teams intact and not had any significant layoffs."
President Tim Cindric (ON WHERE THE TEAM IS NOW COMPARED TO LAST YEAR): "Last year at this time our biggest concern was making sure that we had enough cars and that we understood where the fleet of those cars was going to come from. Now we're at a point where we have that fleet and we've established ourselves on those fronts relative to the rules. Now we're looking at how to get better relative to the others."
(ON RUNNING DODGES VS. OTHER MANUFACTURERS): "I think it's what you do with it. You can have a Toyota, you can have a Chevy or you can have a Dodge and I think you can run at the front or run at the back with any of them. With us, it's really a matter of making sure that we take advantage of it. Dodge has stayed committed. They've stayed aggressive in terms of improving. They're not happy with where we were last year either. We see that in their commitment to the R 6 engine, as well as their commitment to a new aerodynamic nose for this year, and some of the other engineering tools they bring to the organization."
Vice President of Operations Michael Nelson (ON PERFORMANCE IN 2009): "It's all about the numbers. We've got to produce and have a good season. We've got to put the numbers on the board. It's a critical time for us just like everyone. There's not as much out there in terms of opportunities for sponsorship. We've got to work hard to keep the sponsors we have and work hard to attract new sponsors."
(ON SOLID CREW CHIEF BASE): "With Roy [McCauley], Pat [Tryson] and Travis [Geisler], those guys had an opportunity at the end of the year to work together. That's what we're working with. We're excited about the opportunities there and the fact that those guys can work together as a unit, because we have to. We have to be successful."
(ON JUSTIN ALLGAIER): "We're excited about Justin. Justin's a positive guy and a great race car driver. He's the ARCA champion and we're looking forward to running the Nationwide Series with him."
(ON THE TEAM'S BIGGEST CHALLENGE): "I think our biggest challenge is to perform and we're working very hard to do that."
Past Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch will provide veteran leadership at Penske Racing this year as the team tries to improve the level of consistency in their on-track performance.
Kurt Busch, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge (ON BAD DAYS AND HAVING CONSISTENCY): "This sport is the most humbling sport in the world where you can win one day and finish 30th the next weekend. You go through the highs and the lows. You go through the peaks and the valleys. You have to draw a straight line sometimes and realize that a 15th-place finish isn't that bad because you have to gain those points. It's those tough days where the car isn't handling, that a driver can't just pick up a car and wrestle it into the top 10. It takes a crew and quick pit stops and it takes quick decisions by the crew chief to help gain track position because we know track position is key."
(ON THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY): "Every business has been impacted by it. Everyone who goes to work each day feels like they have to work harder if they are going to make that paycheck. That flows into our crew guys, the engineer on our team and the drivers as well. We want to do a better job to get that exposure level for our sponsors to get them to come back again and re-sign and have that family atmosphere like at Penske. That's what helps us feel secure in our place, is the relationships we have as a family and with our sponsors."
(ON THE LIMITED NUMBER OF DODGE TEAMS): "The odds are stacked against us. There are only six of us competing against the Toyotas, Chevys and Fords who have bigger quantities. We have to work together in a sense to be more competitive. One thing that I'd like to see change is to do something with the engine program because that's something we can do internally between the six cars to help us get a horsepower advantage over the rest of the field. Can we share information? It's always tough because you never want to let that information out the door. With us being outnumbered maybe we need to circle the wagons in a fashion where we can work together and make a more positive result."
After peeling off the yellow rookie stripe, Sam Hornish is preparing for his second season of NASCAR Sprint Cup competition.
Sam Hornish, No. 77 Mobile 1 Dodge (ON THE TESTING BAN): "I wish we had all the testing we could. I really thought that would benefit me more than anyone else. Now, with not having the testing, at least I'm with a good team that is not trying to cut back their budget. I wouldn't say that we're out there spending more than anyone else, but at least we're able to spend what we have. We're able to take the money that would have been for on-track testing and go to the shaker rig. Sometimes you learn more from that stuff because there are no variables like wind conditions and track temperature and things like that. The biggest [area] that it will hurt me is having the at-track time. But it's the same for everybody."
(ON HIS ROLE IN TEAM MEETINGS AND HIS CONTINUING TRANSITION TO STOCK CARS): "I felt I was very deliberate with what I said. It wasn't any of my opinions; it was what I felt about the car. This is what I feel about the car. This is what I feel it is doing. How can we make it better? Now this season I feel like I'm still going to be like that. I'm always trying to be a mediator and let them focus on the important stuff and keep my opinions out of it. The more you know what you want the more of an opportunity you have to be vocal. At this point in time and especially around last season, I didn't know. In Indy Car, I could get out there and drive for two laps and tell them, ‘this is exactly what I want to do. This is how I want to change it.' But in some way I'm still learning exactly what I want out of the [stock] car and how to tell them to make it any better. That's going to be a big learning process."
After spending much of the 2008 season as a test driver for Penske Racing, David Stremme will take over the reigns of the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge this year.
David Stremme, No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge (ON TESTING FOR PENSKE LAST YEAR): "I wanted to make sure I stayed in the COT car because I'd only run the short tracks with it. To work with an organization like Penske, it was something I didn't think twice about, because it's going to make me a better person. I felt like it did sharpen my skills. It snowballed into where I got the ride there. With the testing being banned, I've already worked within the organization. I don't feel like I've walked in and had to learned new faces and new names."
(ON DRIVING THE CAR THAT WON THE DAYTONA 500 LAST YEAR): "Well Ryan [Newman] did a really good job at winning that race and the driver plays a big part. But I feel I could do the same. When I look at driving the No. 12 car, I think of Bobby Allison and Neil Bonnett and Ryan. I have a strong team behind me and there's no reason why I can't go out and do the same thing."
(ON WHETHER HE'S A DIFFERENT DRIVER NOW THAN WHEN HE WAS AT GANASSI): "Obviously, I'm better. I feel the people that are surrounding me are also making me a better person. A year ago I wasn't sure if I made the right choice by sitting out and not taking certain rides. I wanted to be with an "A team" and I consider this an "A team." If you look at Roger Penske and the history of motorsports and what they have been able to do, I look to try and continue that on. To test for them and then have the opportunity to drive the No. 12, I wouldn't have thought that back in June. I wasn't quite sure where my future was taking me. But now I know. I'm very solid and looking to go to Daytona and try to make a statement more than anything."
(ON THE IMPACT OF VERIZON'S ACQUISITION OF ALLTEL ON THE NO. 12 CAR): "Well it's probably going to look a little different. Obviously, Verizon acquired Alltel and with that, they also acquired a multi-year agreement with the Penske organization. Our car is fully funded and we're looking forward to the NASCAR season. They also have a relationship with Penske on the IRL side too. Considering the existing rules that NASCAR has in place, Verizon was grandfathered in. There will be something on the car; we're just not sure what it's going to be yet. In these times, to have them excited about our NASCAR program and IRL program, we're really happy with that."
For the first time in Penske Racing history, the team will field a fulltime NASCAR Nationwide Series entry in 2009. Justin Allgaier, the 2008 ARCA RE/MAX Series champion, will drive the No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge.
Justin Allgaier, No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge: (ON RACING AGAINST CUP DRIVERS IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES) "If you look at the Penske organization it's typically built from within. It used to be the ABC program, which has now changed. I think that having the experience on that front was something that expedited my process into the Nationwide car. I'm not going to say that having the Cup guys come in isn't a good thing for the sport. This is a great opportunity to work with those guys and a great way for me to lean on my team members a little more. It seems like right now we're really moving forward and I couldn't be happier."
(ON HAVING VERIZON WIRELESS AS A SPONSOR): "It's a great feeling. Verizon Wireless has definitely stepped our program up. I think that if you look at the companies in the world out there to sponsor cars, I definitely have one of the best in the industry. We're glad to have them on board. It looks like right now we are going to have great equipment and will be competitive. I can't thank the guys in the shop enough. They've worked a lot of hours and stayed late a lot of nights. I think going into 2009 we have as competitive a car as ever and hopefully we can keep building on that and run even more competitively than we have in the past."
Members of the media then moved on to the second function of the tour held by Richard Petty Motorsports in another portion of the Concord Convention Center. Foster Gillett and Richard Petty unveiled the new name and logo for Richard Petty Motorsports, a team formed by the merger of Gillette Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises.
NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger and Reed Sorenson were also on stage with several team executives as Richard Petty answered questions about the merger.
Team co-owner Richard Petty (ON THE CHANGES WITH OLDER TEAMS/LOSS OF PETTY ENTERPRISES): "That's sort of like Rockingham went away and Wilkesboro went away. They were the staple of NASCAR 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, so time moves on. Basically time has moved on from Petty, Earnhardt, the Wood Brothers, Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, you name it. They came in, they did their thing and they went on their way."
(IS THAT GOOD FOR NASCAR?): "Yes, that's good for NASCAR because you don't have the same situations year in and year out. You've got new blood. So you've got new ideas and new ways of doing things and I think you get new fans that way."
(ARE YOU CLOSER TO CATCHING THE BIG TEAMS?): "I think we are the closest we've been since they started doing their thing. When they all came in we were at the top of the heap and they were chasing us. Then we were running even and next thing you know we fell off the hill and they took over. By joining with George [Gillett], I think this puts us back. There are four or five real top teams and we are the sixth one now. We are not the 15th, 20th team which we were before I joined with George. Hopefully it will make George's team bigger as well."
Managing owner Foster Gillett (ON HOW THE DEAL CAME TOGETHER): "I think the seed was laid a few years ago when Richard [Petty] and George [Gillett] struck a friendship. That was really created by Ray [Evernham]. We grew in great respect for the Pettys and what they did and what great partners they were of ours when we were separate organizations. I think it was a natural fit. The two families decided that this was the right thing to do."
(ON THE MERGER AND NAME CHANGE): "All of our employees got a wonderful boost today when they realized that they went to work yesterday for Gillett Evernham Motorsports and today they are working for Richard Petty Motorsports. I can only imagine what it would mean to work every day to try and help Richard and his family be as successful as they deserve to be."
The team announced that Reed Sorenson will drive the famed No. 43 Dodge in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition in 2009.
Reed Sorenson, No. 43 McDonald's Dodge (ON KEEPING THE PETTY NAME ALIVE IN NASCAR): "In NASCAR, I think it means a lot to Richard [Petty] and everybody that has been involved in the Petty organization from the beginning. If that name disappeared from NASCAR it would be a pretty bad deal. I know it means a lot to Richard and now it means a lot to us. We're part of the Petty name now. We can share that feeling with him now and everybody is glad to have him on board."
A.J. Allmendinger will join the newly-formed Richard Petty Motorsports as driver of the No. 44 Dodge in select races this year.
A.J. Allmendinger, No. 44 Valvoline Dodge (ON WORKING WITH ELLIOTT SADLER): "I have no problem with Elliott. If he has a problem with me, whether it's from the All-Star race last year or whatever, that's fine. I've never once had a problem with him. I just want teammates that are fast and that I can go out there and learn from. I might not be the youngest teammate here, but I'm definitely the one with the least experience. I still have a lot to learn from Kasey, Reed and Elliott."
Starting his sixth Sprint Cup Series season in the No. 9 Dodge, Kasey Kahne talked about his desire to win the Daytona 500 and his team's new name.
Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Budweiser Dodge (ON THE PROSPECT OF WINNING THE DAYTONA 500): "It would be a dream come true. As a race car driver, as a NASCAR driver, that's a race that I want to win. I'll try as hard as I can for as long as I can to win that race. If things work out right, hopefully I will."
(WHAT CAN YOU LEARN FROM RICHARD PETTY): "I think it's just neat to have him part of it. To have somebody like Richard who has won so many race and has done so much for the sport, to be with us. He came to a test a couple of weeks ago. He was there and interested in what was going on and a part of it. That's pretty neat, to have an owner right there."
(ON THE NEW TEAM NAME): "The name Richard Petty Motorsports is a great name to be behind and to be part of. I'm happy it's Richard Petty Motorsports and I'm excited to be part of that. I can't wait to win some races and get Richard back in the winner's circle as an owner."
Elliott Sadler, the fourth driver in the Richard Petty Motor Sports stable was not in attendance at the media function. The driver of the No. 19 Best Buy Dodge is out of the country on his honeymoon.
CEO Tom Reddin (ON RICHARD PETTY WORKING WITH THE TEAM'S DRIVERS): "Richard Petty is very excited about working with the ‘kids' as he says. He's got a number of young kids now that he can coach. He's big on the difference between drivers and winners and helping the drivers figure out how to become winners and not just great drivers."
(ON PLANS FOR A.J. ALLMENDINGER): "We are talking closely with sponsors for A.J. We are really close to getting a deal done. There may be a few Nationwide races as well."
(ON RAY EVERNHAM'S ROLE WITH THE TEAM): "Ray will maintain his minority ownership stake and he will be a consultant for the company. He wants to back it down a few notches."
Following the Richard Petty Motorsports event, media members went to another portion of the Concord Convention Center for a Speedway Motorsports, Inc. discussion with general managers from seven of the company's eight NASCAR tracks and Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith. The panel answered questions on a variety of topics surrounding the economy, ways to attract and retain race fans, track improvements and reduced ticket packages.
Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of SMI (ON ): "We'll be doing more for the race fans than ever before. We're going to let them know how much we appreciate them in many ways. We'll be working really hard and we're going to come up with some innovation to fill those seats."
Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway (ON HOW LMS IS REACHING OUT TO FANS): "Other than reducing prices, when you are talking about bringing more to the fans, we are going to say yes when we said no in the past. We are going to do everything we can to bring the garage to the fans. We are going to have more opportunities for interaction with the stars of the sport. We are going to provide opportunities for the fans to get into areas they haven't been into before. We have a fan council that has been super helpful in bringing us ideas and thoughts from the overall fan base. One of those is the payment plan that we've put in place at Charlotte Motor Speedway."
Eddie Gossage, president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway (ON CHANGES AT TMS): "In this time when everybody is giving bailouts to banks and mortgage companies, we asked ourselves, who's truly giving a bailout to ‘Joe the fan?' We decide we're going to do that. We've eliminated 21,000 seats at Texas Motor Speedway. We believe that increases the value of the remaining seats. It's kind of like OPEC - reduce the supply and it increases the value. We've taken all our backstretch seats that remain and the price there on the backstretch is now $20 for a reserved seat and $40 for the upper rows. So you can see NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 2009 in a reserved seat for as little as $20. I don't know anyone else in sports that's doing that kind of thing. We've also offered up to our friends for the first time ever, you call us and tell us what kind of payment plan you want to put in place. Whatever you want to do, we'll work it out with you and tailor it to suit your needs. We've had a tremendous response on that. In the next week or so we're going to be announcing some concession price changes as well. Overall, right now it's a buyers market for race fans."
Ed Clark, president and general manager of Atlanta Motor Speedway, Chris Powell, executive vice president and general manager of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Jeff Byrd, president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, Steve Page, president and general manager of Infineon Raceway, and Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway also took part in the SMI panel.