The 27th edition of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's 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 Lowe's 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 Lowe's 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.
Monday evening, the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway headed to Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, N.C., for dinner.
Richard Childress Racing has expanded to field four NASCAR Sprint Cup teams in 2009 with drivers Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Casey Mears.
The evening started with an announcement from Pennzoil officials about the companies Clean Change Campaign, an initiative designed to raise awareness about the importance of properly disposing of used motor oil. Richard Childress Racing has pledged to do its part by continuing to properly dispose of its used motor oil, and the four Richard Childress Racing Sprint Cup Series drivers all agreed to do their part by being the first to sign the Clean Change pledge.
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet (ON SIGNING THE PLEDGE): "Caring for the environment is very important and everyone at Richard Childress Racing is proud to support the Clean Change Campaign. We want all race fans to be aware of this issue, and we look forward to working with Pennzoil on this important program.
"In honor of this initiative, Richard, Jeff, Clint, Casey and I are pleased to kick off the Clean Change Campaign by being the first to sign the 2009 pledge. We hope to gather more than 100,000 online pledges this season. When we hit this goal, we plan to auction off the signed pledge signage to help raise money for charity."
(ON WHAT IT'S LIKE RETURNING TO DAYTONA SINCE HIS 2007 DAYTONA 500 WIN): "Last year was a downer just because our car ran so good all week and then it just ran like crap in the race. As we came home and figured things out, that helped us to ease the pain. We honestly felt as we were going into the race last year that the car could win the race and so that always stinks when you have something and it doesn't turn out like you think it should. For the most part, it's the Daytona 500 and everybody goes there and you have all this built up enthusiasm from the year but over the years you learn to kind of pace yourself and you know that the season is not built off of one week even though there is a lot of hype going into that one race."
(ON NASCAR WORKING WITH TEAM OWNERS TO SAVE MONEY): "Last week we had a meeting at my shop [KHI], and [NASCAR] has been willing to participate in those types of things, and listen to the owners. I think they have been, mostly in the Truck and Nationwide Series, really been looking for ways to try and save everybody money and try to run a more efficient sport and for the most part I think they have been doing a good job. They stepped up this year and they said we know you're still going to do all of your little nit-picky testing things but you're not going to do it at our race tracks. I think that for the most part they are doing what they can. Sometimes when you try to back things up it winds up costing people more money than it did, so I think they are just trying to be careful about those kinds of things because the bottom line is that this is an economy that is tough. There's going to be some races where you are going to have tough ticket sales, but I think that the main thing is that everyone needs to adjust to the world. We're not adjusting to a downfall in our sport; we're adjusting to a downfall in the world. It's not just NASCAR - it's a lot of things. Everyone is pulling together from a manufacturer standpoint, we've seen them get back on their feet and really start to get things going again. Obviously it's still tough for them. From a team standpoint, I think it's something where every team in the garage, every organization has looked at how they can tighten their belts and how they can make things better and I think in the end you are going to have a lot more efficient companies. A lot of the fat is going to be gone and things in the end are going to be better.
"NASCAR has been a big part of making sure everyone can do it. NASCAR consistently talks to the teams and talks about how they can save money, how they can make us more competitive. And if there's a rule change coming they'll pull the crew chiefs in the garage and see if that would be good for that particular team."
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet (ON RCR BEING A CHAMPIONSHIP-CALIBER TEAM): "We're proud of what we've done. But it's also clear that it's not enough. There is a bit of anxiety that we've done well, but it hasn't been good enough. Is our good enough as good as it can be? We hope it's not. We worked really hard to be better. We work hard every year to be better. I think for the most part, we have been better each year. It's so competitive and it's so hard to put it all together to win championships. There's a bit of anxiety about how we take that next step. Until we do it, we don't know that we can. I don't want to say we're nervous but we're anxious about it. It's time to get it done."
"I think Richard [Childress] recognized three years ago that there was a hole that had to be filled. Richard is smart enough to know that you don't fill that hole overnight that it's going to take time. I think it weighs on Richard when we're not competitive and it really bothers him. Richard is also realistic. Who would have walked in here three years ago and said, ‘you guys will be making chassis?' You know, it didn't look anything like that. Today, a lot of people are assuming that we're going to be in the Chase. We don't. We know that's a lot of work ahead of us. That's a big difference.
"Richard is a smart guy. He knew that wasn't going to happen overnight. But there is time. You can't always be building. There comes a time when the rubber meets the road and you have to put championships together, and we haven't done that yet. So there is no question there is some anxiety about that."
Casey Mears, No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet (ON UNDERSTANDING THE COT): "This is what we have. It really is and that's not in a bad way. Everybody has the same thing. We're working hard with it. Everybody is narrowing in. I think at the start of last year and some of what Jeff [Burton] was staying up on stage early is very true. I think you saw a lot of guys running away with races, really finding something and taking off at the beginning of the year, and hitting on things early. I think that towards the end of the season you saw that tighten up a bit. All the teams are starting to learn and understand these cars better. I think that it's going to be a lot tighter throughout the whole season. This car possesses new challenges, still. Where we're constantly going to try and get better and evolve it. We're going to work hard.
"Obviously, with the testing being different now it's harder to make those big gains early. But it's definitely getting more fun to drive.
(ON HOW FATHERHOOD HAS CHANGED HIS LIFE): "Just for the better, it really has. It's funny. When you talk to fathers that have kids and they tell you, ‘it's going to change your life. We can't explain it, it's just going to change your life.' That's pretty much what everybody said.
"The moment that little girl came out, it definitely changes your life and your prospective on things. When I saw drivers that had kids, I thought that it probably would slow you down a bit. You don't want to take the risk or the chance. To me, it's the opposite. I want her to have the best things in the world. For her to have the best things in the world I have to be successful. So it kind of drives you to work harder and be more focused. You want to provide for the little girl. You want them to be proud of you, so it's a whole different drive than what I've had before."
(ON IF HE'S SURPRISED THE OPEN WHEEL DRIVERS HAVE STRUGGLED IN NASCAR): "No, not at all. It's a totally different car, a totally different series. The approach to the race weekend is different. The only thing that is the same between the open wheel car and a stock car is they both have a steering wheel, four tires and an engine. Everything else is different. I know when a lot of these guys came over, I expected to see them struggle. I did when I first came over. I've been in the fortunate position where guys have given me time to build up and learn. These guys just aren't getting the time these days. You've got sponsors who are paying a lot of money and they want results now. The times of sticking with a guy for a while just aren't there anymore."
Clint Bowyer, No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet (ON HIS OFF SEASON): "The month of January, I don't know what happened, but I've only been home like 4 days the whole month so it's been busy."
(ON TESTING DURING THE OFF SEASON): "We went out to Phoenix and tested out there in the desert. Just working on some superspeedway stuff. We needed to do that, whether we just needed to go set up in a parking lot and go through the motions of a weekend, we needed to do even the things like going out to dinner. Even the things that may not pertain to the competition side of things, but just the camaraderie of the group, and just getting to know each other. I think it was a good thing and I'm looking forward to Daytona."
(ON HOW MANY GUYS FROM THE NO. 07 MOVED TO THE NO. 33 WITH HIM): "Just one. One guy. So it's going to take time, I'm not going to lie. I think I'm a realist and it's going to take a little time to gel and to learn each other. I really feel like that this is a combination that can be really successful. Not that we didn't have success with the Jack Daniel's Chevrolet, because we did. It's all about racing for a championship and I've thought about it a lot over the off-season and about being nervous to leave your group of guys. But if you look at Dale Earnhardt, he won championships with quite a few different crew chiefs. I'm a firm believer in that you get out of it what you put in it. We all have to work hard at it and the guys have been so hard in the shop and everything else. I have a lot of confidence in Shane Wilson and he is very organized. Since they announced this deal and picked the crew chief, he's had a plan."