Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour Highlights

Thursday afternoon the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour wrapped up with NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France's annual state of the sport address at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. However, the week was full of team visits, sponsor announcements, some baby news and an over-use of the word "excited."

There is a lot to work through from this week's Media Tour in Charlotte, and over the coming days and weeks, stories gathered from the numerous interviews and announcements will be coming your way.

For the time being, here are some of the biggest highlights from the week:

  • Danica Patrick announced she would skip the Indianapolis 500 this year to run the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Stewart-Haas Racing. She also firmly believes she has a shot to win the Daytona 500, channeling Trevor Bayne's unexpected win in last year's race.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing introduces Darian Grubb and Jason Ratcliff as new crew chiefs on their Sprint Cup Series teams. Grubb, Ratcliff and Dave Rogers are working closely together to provide a new direction for the organization as a whole. 
  • Clint Bowyer will not let new owner Michael Waltrip drive one of his dirt cars. "You used to be a good driver, now you're a good owner," Bowyer joked. "Let's stick with that." 
  • Mark Martin is extremely comfortable with his schedule at Michael Waltrip Racing and eager to help the team grow. He explained that in the future he could be interested in helping a smaller team with their growth in the sport outside the race car. 
  • Team owner Chip Ganassi was clearly upset with his team's performance in 2011, saying it was "pathetic" give the "ability and resources" within the team. Despite the poor performances of both cars in the stable, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has a full line of sponsorship lined up for both the No. 1 of Jamie McMurray and the No. 42 of Juan Pablo Montoya
  • Charlotte Motor Speedway may have three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events throughout the year, but the calendar is stacked full with other events - 114 in all. Along with the NASCAR Sprint All-Star  Race, Coca-Cola 600 and Bank of America 500, the track will play host to a Fan Appreciation Day on March 17, as well as a Vietnam Veteran Welcome Home event on March 21. For a full list of events, head over to
  • Roush Fenway Racing drivers Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards were the first no-shows of the week. Kenseth was dealing with a family issues, while Edwards was on vacation. 
  • Team owner Jack Roush is very eager to win his 300th NASCAR race, which will happen the next time one of his cars goes to Victory Lane. 
  • Roush Fenway Racing has poured a lot of resources into the No. 16 team with driver Greg Biffle, after a disappointing performance in 2011. With the contraction at the team, Biffle will now enjoy many elements from the now-defunct No. 6 team, as well as increased engineering. 
  • Ford became the first of the four manufacturers to unveil their new 2013 car design for the Sprint Cup Series. The new Ford Fusion is sleek, sexy and looks like a race car. "This thing is bad ass," Greg Biffle said. The other manufacturers are also working on their new cars, with their announcements taking place in the coming weeks.
  • Nationwide Series veteran Kenny Wallace will attempt to make the Daytona 500 with RAB Racing, using former Red Bull equipment. Running for the Nationwide Series title, Wallace would also like to see NASCAR limit the involvement of Sprint Cup Series teams in the Nationwide Series to allow for better parity among the teams. 
  • The fallout from Kurt Busch's departure from Penske Racing has taught the former champion that he was "doing a lot of things wrong" over the past few seasons. Teaming up with James Finch's Phoenix Racing, Busch understands his chances for success are still high at tracks like Daytona, Talladega and Bristol, but there will be struggles throughout the year as well. 
  • Kentucky Speedway spent about $10 million to improve the parking and traffic situation at the track that marred the speedway's inaugural race in 2011. Track owner Bruton Smith said thanks to the work the facility is better prepared, and ready for a second chance at its inaugural race. 
  • Regan Smith recently shot a video in Colorado with professional skiers, in which he drove the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet through the snowy mountains of Colorado. During the first day of shooting, Smith wrecked the left side of the car, but was able to finish the project. 
  • Furniture Row Racing's competition director Mark McArdle is confident in his team's ability to improve upon 2011. A lot of that confidence comes from the team's partnership with Richard Childress Racing. "Think of Furniture Row as the fourth car in the RCR operation," he said. 
  • Not even Kasey Kahne can get out of jury duty. The newest Hendrick Motorsports driver was unable to attend the team's media day event as he was in his third day of jury duty. 
  • Rick Hendrick is extremely confident in his organization's ability to contend in 2012. The long-time owner explained he expected all four of his cars to make the Chase and one of them to win the title, otherwise he would be disappointed, saying he "never had all four teams this strong."
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked crew chief Steve Letarte to stay hard on him this year, explaining he was worried his crew chief would become too comfortable with him and not keep the pressure on. Earnhardt Jr. explained he wanted Letarte to serve as a "field general" on team and expected the results to show. 
  • Those at Hendrick Motorsports are already benefiting from the addition of crew chief Kenny Francis. One of the hardest working and most respected crew members in the garage, Francis has already been able to contribute significantly to the entire organization in their short time together. 
  • Drag racing a V-6 Ford Mustang at the zMAX Dragstrip is pretty bad ass.
  • NASCAR is to eliminate the practice of issuing secret fines to drivers. Any fines handed out from the sanctioning body will be made public.
  • Richard Childress was on a charity fishing trip, becoming the fourth no-show of the Media Tour. 
  • Elliott Sadler will compete in the Daytona 500 for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 33 car with Kroger and General Mills as the sponsor. Brendan Gaughan will pilot the No. 33 for the next four races of the season with South Point Casinos on the hood. Gil Martin will serve as crew chief for all five races. 
  • The final piece of the puzzle came together about Kevin and DeLana Harvick's decision to give up Kevin Harvick, Inc. when Kevin announced his wife was 14 weeks pregnant with the couple's first child. Don't expect to see DeLana in a firesuit anytime soon.
  • Walmart will sponsor veteran Bill Elliot in the No. 50 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 7. This will mark the first time the major retailer will sponsor a car in the Sprint Cup Series.
  • Brad Keselowski is comfortable leading the Penske Racing organization, saying sometimes you have to "step up in the pocket" and take charge. Both he and crew chief Paul Wolfe inked contract extensions at the end of the 2011 season, while Miller-Coors extended their partnership with the team as well. 
  • NASCAR admits it would like to return to the traditional pack racing at Daytona and Talladega and eliminate the tandem draft utilized in recent races. Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's president, competition and racing development, explained the rules will not be able to "totally eliminate" the two-car draft, and that it "will be a tool" used by the drivers. NASCAR has also eliminated driver-to-driver in-car communication that has allowed the tandem drafting to flourish.
  • The use of electronic fuel injection (EFI) will eventually make its way into the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. 
  • While the practice of secret fines has ended, Brian France explained fines will still occur if someone makes disparaging remarks about the sport. "If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we'll deal with that," he said. "We have to deal with that."
  • NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps feels the lack of consistent sponsors on a car "clearly hurts" the casual fans of the sport. With sponsorship deals now coming in blocks of races, color schemes and sponsorship for one driver often changes multiple times a year. Phelps said they are working with teams, tracks and broadcast partners to build on the identity   of the drivers, and that NASCAR would also increase the use of drivers in their promotional content. 
Look for more in-depth stories on these topics, and many more, in the coming days and weeks as the official start to the 2012 NASCAR season quickly approaches. 

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