Tag:2012 Sprint Cup Media Tour
Posted on: January 26, 2012 4:38 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 5:15 pm

NASCAR "State of the Sport:" more of the same

By Pete Pistone

Brian France addresses the media to close out this season's media tour. (AP)

CHARLOTTE - Last year's annual NASCAR "State of the Sport" session that traditionally closes the Sprint Media Tour was loaded with changes and modifications for the 2011 season.

That was a far cry from what took place at this year's presentation.

NASCAR CEO Brian France didn't announce one significant move for the coming campaign and quite frankly that's a good thing.

After a season that saw eighteen different winners, five first time winners, a championship decided by a tiebreaker and some of the best on track competition in several years staying the course was the right thing to do.

"Last year at this event, we announced a number of changes we believed would build interest in story lines and most importantly would make it easier for fans to understand the championship race," France said.  "We're very pleased with how all those changes played out."

The decision to not change anything dramatically for the 2012 season doesn't mean NASCAR isn't continuing to look for ways it can improve the sport. France admitted it's an ongoing process but there aren't one or two things the sanctioning body is focusing on at this point.

"Well, I don't know that there's one big thing that we're pointing towards," he said.  "What I can tell you is all the things that we're doing that we've announced today and have announced in the past.  I can tell you that the industry has never been more united to growing the sport of NASCAR on everyone's behalf.  And that's going to be our job."

"Obviously you've heard a lot about digital and social media as an enormously important place.  We've reformed our communications efforts to reach more fans.  So you're going to see us and the entire industry get more aggressive.  You're going to see youth initiatives.  You're seeing the fruits of diversity start to be right around the corner.  That will really advance us if we can get a breakthrough, which I'm very confident we will, at a national level.

"So there are a lot of things out there that are all going to point to us being able to either grow our audience with a new demographic, whether it be a younger demographic or more diverse.  We're doing the things that we think you have to do to put yourself in a position to grow in the future, even though when I say grow in the future, it is a very, very difficult landscape for any sports property to build on.  It's just very competitive."

There were a few news items sprinkled through the session including a private test to be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway next week for the four current manufacturers to shake down their 2013 Sprint Cup models. Ford released its new Fusion earlier this week, the first in what is expected to be a series of unveilings from Dodge, Chevrolet and Toyota of cars that bear a much closer resemblance to their street version counterparts than the current Cup car.

Although the testing ban will remain in effect banning teams from tuning up at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, teams will get one day sessions at Kansas Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway to prepare on those speedways' new pavement as was done last year at Phoenix.

France did address the earlier news of the week regarding NASCAR no longer fining drivers "secretly" with all such penalties now to be made public. However he made no bones about the sanctioning body's stance to protect its credibility should drivers step over the line in NASCAR's view.

"If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we're going to deal with that," France said.  "You know, we have to deal with that.  And I think what's really interesting is I can't tell you how many owners or drivers come up to me and say thanks for doing that because some of these comments were irresponsible and unhelpful to growing the sport.

"Now, having said that, we give the entire industry an unprecedented amount of -- we're not talking about who's critical of NASCAR.  You can be critical of things you don't think we're doing well, in particular a race call.  You can say I don't think I was speeding; I disagree with that.  We understand that.  It's when you go after the integrity of the sport is where we will step in, and they will be public."

So the NASCAR you saw in 2011 will be pretty much the same this year. France won't rule out any more tweaks as the season rolls on but overall the sport's head is happy with the way things are going after the changes made twelve months ago.

"….You're right, the format, the wild card, the points, simplification of that, the feedback on that from our fans, the media and others, all of that was right on point," France said.  "So we're pretty pleased with where things are in general."

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Posted on: January 26, 2012 3:07 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 4:29 pm

Penske expecting big things in 2012

By Pete Pistone

CHARLOTTE - Penske Racing put two cars in the Chase last season and won five Sprint Cup races.

The team expects similar success in the coming year.

The addition of A.J. Allmendinger to team up with Brad Keselowski has team owner Roger Penske bullish on the prspects for the coming year.

"We've already seen Brad and A.J. work very well together at the Daytona test and the communication between the two was just excellent," Penske said at Thursday's Media Tour gathering. "We made great strides last season on our pgoram and we're feeling very confident about continuing that success in 2012."

Keselowski, who inked an extension with Penske, will remain in the Miller Lite No. 2 Dodge for the forseeable future thanks to the company also deciding to continue its sponsorship of the team. Keselowski sees it as a vote of confidence.

"It's great when a company like Miller supports what you do and stays connected with a company like ours," said Keselowski. "The Penske Racing team does such a tremendous job of putting the business element of this sport together that gives us the resources to go out and be competitive. That's a tremendous vote of confidence to know we have that kind of support and we can go out and do our jobs."

As for Allmendinger, he's already at home with Penske after coming over from Richard Petty Motorsports a little over a month ago. He and new crew chief Todd Gordon, who was elevated from Penske's Nationwide Series program to work with Allmendinger, have created a tight relationship in a short period of time."

"A.J. is a very gregarious person and his enthusiasm for what he does is contagious," said Gordon. "We went to Daytona for the test and really got a lot done and we just kind of clicked. It's going to be fun working with him along side Brad and (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe)."

Allmendinger was happy to get a chance to get behind the wheel of the car during the Daytona test and get accustomed to his new surroundings.

"It was good to get out there and knock some of the rust off from over the holidays, especially with my new team," said Allmendinger. "The No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge definitely had a lot of speed, especially in the two-car draft. I'm expecting a different rules package when we go back next month, but I think Brad and I will have great shots at winning another Daytona 500 for Penske Racing."

Keselowski agrees with his new teammate and in terms of what kind of style racing we'll see at Daytona, whether it's the two car tandem or pack drafting, he really doesn't care.

"Heck I'd go 300 mph if I had to just to win," Keselowski said.
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Posted on: January 25, 2012 8:46 pm

RCR No. 33 set for first five Cup races

By Pete Pistone

WELCOME, N.C. - Richard Childress Racing will run a fourth Sprint Cup entry in the first five races of the 2012 season beginning with Elliott Sadler behind the wheel of the No. 33 Chevy in the Daytona 500.

RCR announced its plans to run the fourth car in addition to the full-time three car driver lineup of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard during Wednesday's visit to the team's headquarters as part of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour.

Sadler will pilot the car, which earned guaranteed spots in the opening five races of the year thanks to former RCR driver Clint Bowyer's Top 35 points finish a year ago, in the biggest race of the year at Daytona.

"To say it's a dream come true is not saying enough," said Sadler, who will run a full Nationwide Series program for the team. "When Richard (Childress) called me into his office and asked if I wasnted to drive in the Daytona 500 I wanted to hug him."

Brendan Gaughan, who will split time in RCR's Nationwide and Caping World Truck Series programs in 2012, will take over the No. 33 Sprint Cup ride for the next four races after Daytona.

"I can't thank Richard enough," said Gaughan. "Yeh, I'd say it's a dream come true to go through some of what I've dealt with in my racing career and wind up at a place like RCR."

Harvick also announced during the night's presentation that his wife Delana was fourteen weeks pregnant with the couple's first child.

Burton cracked after the announcement "Who's the father?"

Ah teammates.

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Posted on: January 25, 2012 3:07 pm

Positive outlook for JTG Daugherty

By Pete Pistone

CHARLOTTE - While on track success stories have been few and far between, JTG Daugherty Racing remains optimistic about what lies ahead.

The single car Toyota team returns veteran Bobby Labonte as its driver this season, who is now paired with crew chief Todd Berrier formerly of Richard Childress Racing. The two have already formed a solid relationship in a brief period of time and Labonte believes their veteran presence as well as management's continued support will be beneficial to improving the team's performance.

“It’s got its pros and cons," Labonte said of being a solo car effort going against the mammoth multi-car operations.  "It’s definitely not going to be easy, but there are a lot of things that we can do as a small team thatwill make some differences.  The great support of Toyota and their facility and what they give us is like being a part of a bigorganization.

"It’s just now that Tad (Geschickter, team owner), Jodi (Geschickter, team owner) and Brad (Daugherty, teamowner) have to put the funding into it to make that happen.  There are a lot of good things with that and I think that’s a plusfor us.  With a small group -- everybody has to pull their weight.  I do believe there is a challenge for us, but at the same time we’ll have to hit everything right and if we do then we’ll have more success than not."

Berrier spent his entire career with RCR, one of the sport's powerhouse organizations. But now he moves to the smaller-sized JTG team and admits the transition has taken some time.

However he is enthused about the resources and support he has at his disposal.

“I’ve been a part of things smaller than this up to things larger than this," Berrier said.  "It is cool to know that we do have a small group ofpeople and we all impact it a lot.  If one person lays out of work today -- everybody is going to have to work five minutes tomake it up.  Before, when you grow these things into monsters, you can have 10 people lay out and you didn’t even knowanybody was missing.  The only thing different is that we have resources and pretty much the same resources -- I think withToyota and their backing and the things they support us with, it’s no different than what I’ve been used to."

If all pans out, JTG Daugherty will expand to a two-car effort next season and in fact may field a second entry in selected races this year.

Labonte says the best way to reach that goal is to perform in 2012 and is encouraged by the propsects.

"I think every Sunday -- no differentthan any other team, we’ll give it our best and have some races that we know we will have more confidence going into," he said.  "All in all it’s going to be a great way to build our race team into a bigger team next year as well.” 

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Posted on: January 24, 2012 4:06 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 4:07 pm

Ganassi calls 2011 effort "pathetic"

By Pete Pistone

CHARLOTTE - Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing suffred through a disappointing season in 2011.

Neither Jamie McMurray or Juan Pablo Montoya won a race and both weren't anywhere close to competing for a berth in the Chase.

But don't take my word for the poor assessment of EGR's performance. Listen to what team owner Chip Ganassi had to say at Tuesday's session on the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour.

"Hopefully this is the last time I have to say we finished 21st and 27th in the points last year," Ganassi said. "... pathetic for a team with our ability and resources."

Ok Chip tell us how you really feel.

It is in fact refreshing to hear a team owner tell it like it is the way Ganassi did on Tuesday. There's no reason to sugar coat the fact that a team many predicted would be a factor in 2011 simply failed to live up to any expectations.

After McMurray won three races the previous year including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, he appeared to be on an upward trend to carry that succes into 2011. Unfortunately he never came close to replicating that kind of success.

Ditto for Montoya who was trying to recapture the magic of 2009 when he did qualify for the playoffs. He too failed to succeed and went through a coupl eof crew chiefs as the team tried to right the ship.

Ganassi points to his team not making more changes as a reason why it's playing catch-up heading into the new campaign.

"The one thing about sports is that it's constantly changing," Ganassi said. "You have to change with it and you have to change fast. I like to think I can shift gears and change directions as fast as anybody, but we got a little bit behind the curve, in terms of performance, and it's because we didn't change with the sport."

So Montoya has another new crew chief in Chris Heroy, the organization made other management changes including bringing in long-respected Max Jones to oversee the day-to-day business operations and Ganassi is hoping to see better days ahead.

"Certainly after the year we had, we had to start over in a lot of areas," he said. "We made some changes in the team. We feel pretty good about them. Like so many other sports, racing's about momentum. We want to start out fast, and certainly success can breed success."

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Posted on: January 24, 2012 3:42 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2012 6:18 am

Ford debuts 2013 Sprint Cup car

Posted by Pete Pistone

Greg Biffle, Right, ClimbsGreg Biffle Drives
(Greg Biffle drove the new-look Fusion out at Tuesday's media event)

CONCORD, N.C. - Ford unveiled the 2013 Fusion that will compete on the Sprint Cup Series Tuesday as a media event held in the infield of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The car was designed by the manufacturer in hopes of bringing back brand identity and manufacturer awareness to a NASCAR fan base that has grown tired with the current homogenous-looking Cup machines.

"We wanted Fusion to be the car that helped return 'stock car' to NASCAR," Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing said. "I think fans, when they see the car, are just going to smile and cheer. It is going to reengage them with the sport and make the sport better because there is just something natural about seeing race cars that look like cars in their driveways." 

Initial response from drivers has been positive including Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne's take on the new car.

“The coolest thing about it to me is that the Fusion looks like you just took that production version and put a race kit on it," Bayne said.
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Posted on: January 23, 2012 8:40 pm

Rude awakening for Denny Hamlin

By Pete Pistone

CHARLOTTE - Denny Hamlin got a wake up call in 2011 and he knows it.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver said he feels more energized than ever heading into the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season due in part to how disappointing last year was for the driver who nearly won the championship the season before.

"I think you need a season of getting your ass kicked for people to wake up and realize that maybe we're not as good as what we thought we were," Hamlin said Monday at the JGR media session. "At JGR, we got our tails kicked. Kyle (Busch) won four races, but when the Chase started, we all stunk." 

Hamlin and the FedEx No. 11 team struggled nearly from the start of the season with only bursts of success throughout the campaign, which did include a victory as well as a berth in the Chase.

But there was none of the swagger or performance that Hamlin had the prior year and suffering through the disappointment was something he says he'll never forget.

"You work harder when you get beat up, not only the team, but the driver," Hamlin said. "When your cars aren't as good, that forces you as a driver to make up for it. You've got to get better. And I realized those weaknesses that I had last year." 

Going forward Hamlin has a new crew chief in Darian Grubb who is fresh off his title-winning year with Tony Stewart.

Hamlin believes that fresh face on top the war wagon as well as a new approach to how the team will do business will make all the difference in the world.

"We're going to go to the racetrack with completely different race cars," Hamlin said. "I can't get a lot in depth with it, but some of the things we're building in our race cars are some of the things I've wanted for a long time, but it's been hard to get past the departments here and there." 

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Posted on: January 23, 2012 4:32 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 6:12 pm

Kyle Busch understands change is needed

By Pete Pistone

CHARLOTTE - Kyle Busch has learned from the mistakes he made last season and ready to make a fresh go of it in 2012.

Busch said during Monday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour he knows he can't continue to display the kinds of emotional actions that led to so much controversy - and trouble - last year.

"I've got fans all the time that tell me they don't want to see me change," Busch said. "I've tried to keep that, but ultimately, it's not going to work. If you keep getting in trouble, you're not going to be here very long. I'm trying to change something." 

His much-publicized incident with Ron Hornaday during last November's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway got Busch parked for the following Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race.

That incident led to a number of follow-up actions that ultimately will see Busch curtailing his driving outside of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Sprint Cup ride in 2012.

Although Joe Gibbs Racing management hasn't officially commented on Busch's limited Nationwide Series schedule this season, which will see time spent in a Kyle Busch Motorsports entry for 13-15 races but no truck series starts, it is speculated sponsor M&M's also had a say in the decision.

Busch insists he has support from his race team, sponsors and most importantly his family and friends that have helped him work through the situation and concentrate on moving ahead in his life both professionally and personally.

"I'll tell you what, I didn't have much work to do with the people that were closest to me," Busch said. "Those people are the utmost supportive of me and who I am and (Busch's wife) Samantha and our relationship. You kind of have a family-type relationship with those folks and they know who you are as a person." 

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