Notes and Quotes #4: Drivers, Teams Eager to Prove Themselves in 2013
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013
PIT NOTE #4
2012 Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski “Hungry” at Penske Dinner – On Wednesday night of the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Mooresville, N.C., Mayor Miles Atkins showed the area’s appreciation for Penske Racing by presenting Roger Penske and 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski with ceremonial keys to the city.
Mark Frissora, CEO of Hertz, briefly talked about his company’s 2013 sponsorship deal with Penske and gave it some historical perspective.
“The Hertz and Penske racing partnership goes back to early 1980s when we were actually the primary sponsor of Penske’s Indy program,” Frissora said. “We’re really excited to rekindle that relationship.”
Keselowski was asked how he planned to win another championship in 2013.
“Stick to what got you where you are at – hard work, dedication to people,” he said. “Ford is special to us because of their people and their commitment; that’s a key piece. What we did last year is not good enough. We have to step up another level. We know our competition is going to do the same. I’m not happy being a guy that wins one championship and goes away quietly. Look at some of the additions we’ve made [for the new season]. Bringing in Joey Logano, working on the Nationwide program to solidify two programs, having Ryan Blaney be part of that – that shows the commitment we all have to improving. I know that Joey and Ryan bring some youth and fresh ideas to make the team better. They might go out there and beat my butt, but I’m going to surround myself with the most talent because that’s what got us where we are today.”
When asked about his tendency to say what is on his mind, Keselowski said, “I care about this sport. I don’t want to be the champion of a sport that isn’t as strong as it can be. I want to be a leader in this sport, quite frankly. In order to do that, I’m going to have to be vocal.”
Logano, who just joined the Penske team for 2013 after driving off and on for Joe Gibbs Racing, was asked how it felt to start his new job.
“The move is going great so far,” he said. “Coming into a championship-winning team is a huge privilege. [Logano’s crew chief] Todd Gordon and I are learning each other at a very quick rate. I feel we have a lot of similarities.”
Ryan Blaney, who became the youngest NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner ever in 2012, will drive for Brad Keselowski Racing in the new season
When asked about his expectations for 2013, Blaney said, “I’m shocked that I’m up here (surrounded by so many accomplished drivers). Being able to drive for Roger Penske and Brad and his truck program has really meant a lot, seeing they have faith in me and put me out there. They definitely have the best people here to help a young guy learn.”
Small Teams and Big Dreams for Ford Racing – Ford Racing held a working breakfast for media on Thursday morning. On hand were drivers from Richard Petty Motorsports, Wood Brothers Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Germain Racing and Roush Fenway Racing, fielding questions during the final day of the Sprint Media Tour.
With team owner Richard Petty holding court among a throng of reporters, RPM driver Aric Almirola sat just a couple of seats away with only two members of the media. But that suits Almirola just fine as he hopes to sneak his way into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“I think we need to be in the top 15 in points,” said Almirola, who finished 20th in points during his first full season in the Cup series last year. “I feel like if I can run consistently inside the top 15, and we can win a race, with this new points system anything is possible – maybe even a wild-card spot.”
Marcos Ambrose, who picked up his second career Cup win last season and finished 18th in points, has goals similar to those of his RPM teammate.
“We want to compete for a championship – plain and simple,” said Ambrose. “I think we have a great team and a lot of continuity. There’s no reason we can’t make that jump (to the Chase).”
Germain Racing’s Casey Mears talked about the importance of taking his game “to the next level,” while David Ragan noted that running for a smaller team like Front Row Motorsports has given him perspective on just how tough it is to win in the Sprint Cup Series.
“You need to manage your expectations,” said Ragan, who is in his second full season with FRM after spending five seasons at Roush Fenway. “Instead of running for a championship and wanting to win six or seven races, our goals are top-15 and a top-20 points finishes, which is the hard part. But on a smaller team you’re also able to pay attention to smaller details you might not on a bigger team, and that’s an aspect I like.”
That isn’t the case for Trevor Bayne, who will be looking to pick up where Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (now running a full-time Cup schedule) left off as a back-to-back champion for Roush.
“Ricky did an amazing job, and I’ve got some big shoes to fill, but I enjoy that kind of pressure,” said Bayne. “(Ricky) left me with a terrific team and our goals are the same as his were, and that’s to bring home a third straight championship in the No. 6 Ford.”
Roush Fenway Racing is “Driven” in 2013 – Founder, CEO and co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing Jack Roush could think of no better way to celebrate 25 years of motorsports success than to spend Thursday morning of the Sprint Media Tour with a room full of racing media at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.
“I’m as enthusiastic and as driven as I’ve ever been to take our absolute best effort to the racetrack every race,” Roush said. “We’re anxious to add to our win total – we’ve got 311 NASCAR wins, if my information is correct, and seven championships. We’re anxious to build on that in our next 25 years. Everybody in my generation in management, we’re anxious to take the brightest and most enthusiastic young folks that want to get involved with stock car racing and channel their efforts to let them realize their dreams and have the same success we’ve had. Vicariously, I enjoy that very much.”
The team’s stable of drivers then filed into the spotlight with Roush: Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Rickey Stenhouse Jr., Trevor Bayne and Travis Pastrana.
Roush described his 2013 roster as a “dream team.”
“When I started in 1988, I couldn’t wait to get started with multiple cars and multiple programs with the depth and experience and potential this group has. It just makes me feel really gratified and that my life’s work has been successful.”
Biffle was asked for his thoughts on doing something that no one has accomplished in NASCAR – winning championships in all three of the top series.
“Winning a championship in the Sprint Cup Series alone is a heck of an accomplishment,” Biffle said. “I’ve been able to win the Truck and Nationwide seasons – not like Rickey, not back to back – I was able to win the championships on my way up through the ranks. It would be something special have all three – be the first guy to do it.”
Stenhouse Jr., who is making his move to Sprint Cup for 2013, said, “Having teammates (like these) is going to be a lot of fun this year. I think our expectations are to go out and compete for wins and have a strong Roush Fenway team. I hope I can do my part to contribute.”
In a one-on-one session, Pastrana was asked about the biggest adjustment he had to make to go from Supercross racing to NASCAR.
“Patience,” he answered. “Those first couple of laps I took with a race car, I dented in some part of a car that affected the handling. That surprised me every time – ‘That little dent right there is the reason we don’t have downforce on the front?!’ From action sports from where everything is adrenaline to (a sport where I have to have) patience. You have to get there. You have to make it in a good position to take that green-white checker – that last 20 or 30 laps. Everyone’s like, ‘Aren’t you bored out there?’ I’m like, I’m white-knuckle grip out there. I got tendonitis in my right elbow with my first Nationwide race.”
Ford Racing Revs Up Race Charlotte Race Fans – Following the Roush Fenway Racing media availabilities, members of the Ford Racing team, including 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Travis Pastrana, Joey Logano, Rickey Stenhouse Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne and others took their rides to the streets of Charlotte in a horsepower-fueled parade that echoed throughout Center City.
Following a brief lap through the streets, drivers lined up for a Ford Racing team photo as fans lined the sidewalks outside of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Veteran Kenseth Brings Experience in New Role at Joe Gibbs Racing – There are a lot of new faces at Joe Gibbs Racing, but these guys aren’t rookies.
Matt Kenseth, 40, joined the JGR family after 12 seasons with Roush Fenway Racing. Despite not yet taking a single green flag with his new team, Kenseth is already feeling right at home, joking with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch about which driver will deliver Gibbs his next championship.
“Didn’t you already win a championship,” NASCAR Nationwide Series teammate Brian Vickers said in defense of Kenseth.
“That was a long time ago,” Busch quipped.
Jokes aside, Gibbs said Kenseth brings an added element to his race team that has everyone around the shop excited about the prospects for 2013 and beyond.
“Adding Matt is a big deal,” Gibbs said during the final stop of the four-day NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think he’s somebody that we all respect. I know that Denny, Kyle and Brian do. It’s a thrill for us to have him on board… This is probably the most excited I’ve been going into a season.”
Vickers, who joins the full-time ranks of Gibbs’ Nationwide Series stable, said he hopes teaming up with Kenseth (and their shared sponsor Dollar General) will return them to the glory both experienced in 2003 when Vickers claimed the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship and Kenseth was crowned the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ.
JD Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, also introduced the media to the newest member of the Gibbs Racing family, Taylor James Hamlin.
“It’s been a great week,” new father Denny Hamlin said. “I’m very tired, but she’s perfectly healthy. We’re excited to have her.”
Taylor was born Jan. 20 at 20:20 (military time for 8:20 p.m.) and measured 20 inches long.
“We squelched the rumor that Denny will now be driving the 20 car,” JD Gibbs said with a smile.