LARSON EAGER FOR ROOKIE CAMPAIGN
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates was the first stop on Tuesday’s edition of the 32nd annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the team’s rookie driver Kyle Larson was quick to share his excitement about his rookie season.
“This year is going to be really special being my rookie season in the Cup series and being a part of the 25th year with Chip Ganassi Racing and Target,” Larson said. “I’m really excited to get this whole season going. I’m excited to work with Chris (Heroy, crew chief) and everybody on the team and Jamie (McMurray). I listen to him talk about how he feels that the organization is probably in the best spot it’s been since he’s been there. That makes me even more excited just because he’s got a lot of experience here and in the Cup Series.”
McMurray, driver of the No. 1 Cessna/McDonald’s Chevrolet, said his team worked through some challenges last season and is eager to get a fresh start with a lot of new personnel this season.
“When I look back at last year one thing that we haven’t really talked about is our organization, last year was challenging, for different reasons,” he said. “One is because one of the drivers knew that he was leaving in August or so and then Bono (Kevin Manion) we obviously made a change at crew chief, and so we’re going through this transition of one driver leaving and a crew chief leaving. And this sport is hard enough when everything is going right but when you add some of that in it makes it even more challenging.”
Despite a lot of new faces around him, McMurray is optimistic about finding success in 2014.
“Quite a few changes to the 1 car this year, a lot of new crew guys, new engineer, a new car chief and a new crew chief,” he said. “The transition of Keith (Rodden, crew chief) coming in has went better than what I expected. It’s been easier. He’s really fit into our shop. I think one of the best parts of Keith coming in is that he already somewhat understood the simulation program we had. So there’s all good stuff on that side.”
AT RCR, IT’S ALL ABOUT FAMILY
The Richard Childress Racing program on the second day of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway was all about family.
“This is probably the most exciting year I think for RCR, bringing Ryan Newman on, Paul Menard for his fourth year and bringing Austin (Dillon) aboard, moving Ty up,” said team owner Richard Childress. “But it’s all about the people. The people in an organization is what makes it and what Mike Dillon (Vice President of Competition) and Eric Warren (Director of Competition) have put together, what Richie Gilmore and the guys have put together in our engine shop, it’s amazing to stand back and watch what all is going on.
The newest member of the RCR family, Ryan Newman, said his transition to a new team has been smooth and he’s excited about what’s ahead for his No. 31 Caterpillar/Quicken Loans/WIX Filters Chevrolet.
“I feel like it’s a unique situation for me; first time in my career I’ve been put together with an organization, a team, that’s already established,” Newman said. “When I started at Penske we built a team and when I went to Stewart-Haas we brought an existing team over and pieced together a bunch of guys. This time here it’s really about getting to know the people, the names, the faces and creating that communication from my standpoint and the easy part is it’s already established on their side from Luke’s (Lambert, crew chief) and his leadership and all the other guys.”
Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon, who will bring the iconic No. 3 Dow/Cheerios Chevrolet back to the Sprint Cup Series for the first time since Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001, said if the recent tests are any indication, he’s got a fast car for 2014.
“We’ve got two tests now under our belt with a really solid team,” Dillon said. “That’s what I’m most excited about is the experience that they’ve put around me with the team that we’ve got with Gil Martin (crew chief) and the guys. I feel like there’s no weak link on that team and just after two tests that we’ve had I’m really excited about how fast our cars have been. Eric Warren and the whole gang have really worked hard putting some speed into RCR this year and I feel like it’s going to show up.”
The family rivalry extends to the Nationwide Series as well, where Ty Dillon will take the wheel of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/WESCO/Yuengling Light Lager Chevrolet. The younger brother of Austin said he hopes to one-up his older sibling with a Nationwide Series championship in his rookie campaign.
“I guess the only thing I got over on him last year is I won two races and he won only once, Ty Dillon joked. “But I really wanted to match what Austin did with his guys in the Truck Series. Maybe we can try to one-up him this year and win Nationwide championship first year out.”
Despite the uncharacteristically cold temperatures, the horseshoe pits, grilles and beach balls decorating the entrance to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Center on Tuesday certainly gave the allure of the ultimate summertime backyard experience.
That’s the theme for this year’s NASCAR Sprint All Star Race – held on Saturday, May 17 at the 1.5-mile superspeedway – which will feature a new blockbuster schedule that includes moving the Sprint Showdown to Friday, May 16, before the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200.
“The NASCAR Sprint All-Star race was the race that first turned on my lights as a fan of this sport when I was younger,” said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Adding the Sprint Showdown as part of our Friday lineup is going to give our fans more bang for their buck and create much less confusion on Saturday by getting the field set on Friday night. The Sprint All-Star Race is the best race for a new fan.”
The field for Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race will be set by the popular three-lap qualifier that includes a mandatory four-tire stop and no pit road speed limit. Friday’s winner and runner-up, as well as the Sprint Fan Vote winner will also have the opportunity to make qualifying runs.
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race will again be run in five segments, including three 20-lap segments that allow for optional pit stops during the breaks; a fourth 20-lap segment that will set the field (based on average finish of the first four segments) for the final mandatory four-tire pit stop; and a 10-lap fifth segment that will be winner-take-all.
“Charlotte Motor Speedway presents challenges that you don’t get at other tracks,” said Kurt Busch, winner of the 2010 Sprint All-Star Race. “It’s a very racey racetrack, and that’s why it deserves the All-Star Race.”
Boasting an impressive resume that includes covering motorsports for DirecTV, SPEED, FoxSports1 and the Performance Racing Network (PRN), Wendy Venturini will make history this season when she becomes the first female to co-anchor a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series broadcast. Venturini will co-host the OSRAM SYLVANIA 300 on Sept. 21 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“I’m hoping it will give listeners a unique and different perspective that they’ve never heard before,” said Venturini. “I’m thrilled to have such an opportunity.”
It won’t be the only ground Venturini breaks this season. PRN also announced the launch of “Racing Home,” a new web series that will debut on Jan. 30 on GoPRN.com and iTunes. The series will feature behind-the-scenes interviews, focusing on the families and friends behind NASCAR’s biggest stars.
Venturini will have an expanded role beyond the new web series and historic broadcast at New Hampshire, as she will co-anchor the NASCAR Nationwide Series broadcasts for PRN from Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
FOCUSED ON A CHAMPIONSHIP
Officials from Furniture Row Racing participated in the mid-afternoon session of the 32nd annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Martin Truex Jr. (who joined the program via Skype from his vacation) takes over driving duties of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet for the 2014 season. Furniture Row Racing is located in Denver, Colo., and is the only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team headquartered west of the Mississippi. The team is also the only single-car team to earn a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (2013).
“I think every team in the garage area, especially with the new format that’s coming out, everybody wants to be in that Chase and everybody wants to race for a championship,” said Truex Jr. “At the end of the day we all talk about it. That’s what we’re here for is to race for a championship.”
Truex Jr. said he’s learned a lot about his new team over the off-season that gives him a lot of enthusiasm heading into 2014.
“I think that the coolest thing about this team is they’re such a close, tight-knit group of guys and they’ve come so far as a race team,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to being a part of that and trying to help ‘em grow to that next level.”
30 YEARS AND COUNTING
Rick Hendrick is all about numbers. With 218 wins and 11 championships in 29 years racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Hendrick Motorsports enters its 30th season with four of the biggest names in the sport – all vying to add to that win total and bring home an 12th championship.
“The tread is just about worn off of my tires,” said Hendrick during his teams’ media availability on Tuesday. “I remember being the youngest guy on pit road, now I’m one of the oldest. It’s been a great trip.”
But what sounded like a man ready for retirement quickly transitioned to a team owner that is ready to tackle NASCAR’s newest challenges and changes.
“I think this is going to be one of the best seasons we’ve seen in NASCAR in a long time,” said Hendrick.
Six-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson wasn’t shy about his thoughts regarding NASCAR’s changes to qualifying and the Chase format, saying it crossed his mind that the modifications were being made to impede his dominance over the series. But he also realizes that change can sometimes be a good thing, even if it’s at his expense.
“At the end of the day, my focus is on what’s best for our sport,” said Johnson, who has won six of the last eight Sprint Cup titles. “I was shocked to hear what was proposed, but if that’s the bullet we need then so be it. We need the grandstands full and we need people watching at home and the sponsors to be happy. That’s what it’s all about and it’s our job as drivers to figure out how to win.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. also admitted that he hasn’t always surrendered to change easily. But now that it’s here, he’s fine with it.
“I wasn’t really excited about change that much until a lot of change started happening, so I guess I had to get used to it,” said Earnhardt, collecting laughs from media and his teammates. “Now let’s change it all. No, but I’m all for it and it should be a lot of fun – I think it’s going to be fun for the drivers, too. A lot of times we change these things for the fans, but I think this is something the drivers are going to enjoy as well.”
Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, who have both admitted that they’ve struggled with consistency over the last couple years, see the positives of NASCAR’s alterations, specifically with qualifying.
“I like the qualifying format and that we have several opportunities to try and post that one fast lap,” said Kahne. “I think that helps me a lot.”
“I’ve been a huge fan of F1’s qualifying format for years,” said Gordon. “I love that qualifying procedure and I think it’s fantastic that we’re going to start utilizing it.”
In spite of all the changes NASCAR is making, when all the dust settles it’s about who’s standing in victory lane. And more often than not, it’s a strong qualifying effort on Friday that can make the difference between a win and wreck on Sundays.
“You know, we have 198 poles,” said Hendrick, noting his teams’ total NASCAR Sprint Cup Series poles in 29 years of racing.
It’ll be under a new format by the time the team reaches 200, but that doesn’t matter to Rick Hendrick. After all, he’s all about numbers.
GAS ’N GO
– Kasey Kahne will be teaming up with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at a charity golf tournament at the end of June. The fundraiser, which is known as The Drive, will take place on June 23 and 24. All money raised will benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, Wash.
– One of the most popular names in country music today, Jake Owen, will headline the NASCAR All-Star Backyard Experience pre-race concert on May 17 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 90-minute concert will take place in the infield between Turns 1 and 2 and will be free for fans with the purchase of a ticket. For an extra $20, fans can purchase a “Golden Ticket,” which provides front-stage access.
– Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch have a wager on this weekend’s Super Bowl. If Kahne wins the bet, Busch has to wear a Russell Wilson jersey and Seahawks hat during one day of Speedweeks. If Busch wins, Kahne has to wear a Peyton Manning jersey and Broncos hat.
QUOTES OF THE DAY
“You think I’m going to answer that?” ~ Rick Hendrick, when asked who he thought would win if the final race of the season came down to his four drivers.