Jimmie Johnson Motivated to Go for Fifth-Straight Title Day three of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway included a lunch stop at the campus of the top team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Hendrick Motorsports.
And the top driver on that team the last four years has been Jimmie Johnson. He's the winner of the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup championships, and set a NASCAR record for most consecutive titles last year with the 2009 championship.
Hendrick Motorsports honored its fans by asking questions from its Facebook and Twitter accounts, and Johnson was asked about finding motivation after winning four titles in a row.
"Success makes you want to experience more success," said Johnson.
"We've had an amazing run of four years. We certainly want to keep it up, keep it going. I feel very good with the fact that our team is intact and together.
"The things that are coming through the pipeline from Hendrick Motorsports, the unity of all four teams - I know you guys hear it every week, every time a microphone is put in front of us - but that stuff really, really is important and separates Hendrick Motorsports from other teams.
"I'm excited. It's there. There's a desire inside of me to do the best I can week in and week out."
One side benefit of Johnson's titles is the competition could psyche itself out before the season starts. And Johnson said he'll take any advantage - real or imagined - he can get.
"It is a benefit," Johnson said. "It's a short-term benefit. In some ways, it could be bad for us. We've been a motivational tool for a lot of teams over the offseason the last few years. Only time will tell how it really plays out, but I've always been in the other position where I looked up to the guy or team. It's pretty damn cool to be that person right now, so I'm going to enjoy it.
"It's short-lived because we go to Daytona, and you reset and you worry about what takes place there. Three or four races in, we'll know who the players are and what that's going to look like."
Does Dale Earnhardt Jr. Need a Chemistry Lesson?
Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. clearly wants to be one of those players early in 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Hendrick drivers finished first, second and third in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2009, but Earnhardt Jr. wasn't one of those drivers.
"I want to compete and match the progress and success that the rest of the company's having," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I want to be on that level."
How does he get there after a winless season in 2009 that included a crew chief change from cousin Tony Eury Jr. to Lance McGrew?
"I would really like to put together complete races where we're competitive throughout the event and we're able to get finishes that are good finishes, and those are top-fives and wins," said Earnhardt Jr. "Wins are what everybody's out there racing for, but if we could put together complete races without mistakes, without me making mistakes, without issues and problems arising, that's definitely going to signal some progress."
McGrew will begin his first full season as crew chief of the No. 88 team, and he and Earnhardt Jr. are continuing to build their relationship.
"I'm been with some great teams and had some good wins and great success at certain periods of time in my career, but it's hard for me to really be able to point out what great chemistry is just yet," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I get along great with Lance and we have a lot of fun. I think that's important, that we enjoy being around each other. We can kind of build in that friendship and learn from each at the race track and our work ethic and our work habits. All that stuff should eventually work itself out.
"I feel like that we're definitely going in the correct direction which is good compared to the direction we were going last year."
Jeff Gordon Fired up for 2010 season
Gordon believes his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet team is headed in the right direction, too, but he wants more than the one victory he had last season.
"It's been frustrating, for sure," Gordon said. "We pride ourselves at the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet and here at Hendrick - we've won a lot of races over the years. We also know that our teammates are winning races. If we're going to really be a factor in the championship, we've got to win more races."
Gordon also wants his team to remain strong throughout the season, unlike last year when the No. 24 team slipped a tad in the middle part of the year.
"I'm hoping that this year, we can reverse that, that we ramp up as the season goes on and we get better and we put ourselves in a position to win more races," Gordon said. "I certainly think we have that capability still in us. The fire's still there, the desire, the tools that we need, the resources, and the teamwork. I'm just really excited about some things (crew chief, Steve Letarte has) done with this team. We didn't have to do a lot, but I like the things that he's done, that he and I have been closely working on over the offseason."
And that has Gordon ready for his 18th season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"Our DuPont Chevrolet team is fired up," Gordon said. "Steve and I are really getting after things, with how we can be better, really since Homestead."
Mark Martin gets New Sponsor, Keeps Shirt on
The familiar blue and yellow paint scheme of the No. 5 Chevrolet driven by Mark Martin will be no more as the Hendrick Motorsports driver will have a new primary sponsor for the 2010 season in GoDaddy.com.
Although Kellogg's did not continue their sponsorship with Martin's car, sponsors CARQUEST Auto Parts and Delphi still remain.
"It's exciting. GoDaddy.com has got some really cool stuff," said Martin. "It's a little bit edgy and brings a little bit of edginess to the No. 5 car, which is different than you've seen in years."
The edginess he may be referring to is the new lime green, black and orange color scheme adorning his Chevrolet or perhaps the sponsor itself.
JR Motorsports driver Danica Patrick, who also has GoDaddy.com as a sponsor, has been featured in the company's commercials, but Martin has yet to star in one himself.
"We worked on the possibility of doing one together with Danica and that hasn't worked out with timing and scripts, but it will happen," said Martin. "It's just a lot going on. Everybody is going in different directions. It just hasn't happened yet."
During the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour stop, a media member jokingly asked Martin whether GoDaddy.com had asked him to wear a bathing suit, referring to one of Patrick's commercials.
"They haven't asked me to take my shirt off yet," Martin replied.
Gordon spent part of his off season in the Bahamas with wife Ingrid Vandebosch and their daughter, Ella. Team owner Rick Hendrick was there, too, and apparently has photographic evidence of Gordon giving a smooch to a sea creature.
"I've got a really good picture of Jeff kissing a seal," said Hendrick.
"I knew that was blackmail when it was happening," Gordon responded.
Anything Goes on the Last Lap?
Johnson said Martin had an interested way to tweak the yellow-line rule NASCAR uses at Daytona and Talladega. On the last lap, Martin says, the rule should be eliminated.
"In a perfect world, no, I wouldn't have that," Martin said. "But if we're trying to really treat the race fans, I'm willing to wreck from Turn 4 to the start-finish line on the last lap for the show. I just don't want to have to do it for the first 10 laps. I want to get at least that close to the finish before all hell breaks loose."
Such a rule would keep "NASCAR out of the doghouse," said Earnhardt Jr.
"You just hate to see races finish like where Regan Smith was sort of denied a win - you can make an argument for both cases," continued Earnhardt Jr., referring to the controversial finish between Smith and Tony Stewart at Talladega in 2008. "But you don't want to have to make that argument. You want to leave that up to who crossed the finish line first, not how they did it."
Charlotte Motor Speedway announces Legends race with $1 Million purse
Charlotte Motor Speedway will hold a new event in 2010 with the addition of the inaugural $1-million-purse Legend Cars race to be held July 15-17.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers David Ragan and Joey Logano along with rising stars Kenzie Ruston and Daniel Hemric were on hand as Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, made the announcement.
"We're going to have up to 1,000 cars enter. It's going to be an amazing show," said Smith. "I can't wait to see what happens."
For years the speedway has held Legend Cars racing at its Summer Shootout Series, but this marks the first time a Legend Cars race will have a purse of that amount.
Ragan, who is currently driving the No. 6 UPS Ford for Roush Racing, had great success racing a Legends Car before eventually making it to the Sprint Cup Series.
"I think that's pretty exciting for anyone to race for a million dollars," said Ragan. "I've learned that Marcus and Mr. Bruton (Smith), you guys like to do things that are big and exciting - from the Coca-Cola 600 purse, to Bristol Motor Speedway, and down at Atlanta and Texas."
Ragan even hinted that he would enter the race since it happens to be on an off weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"I can't speak for Joey, but I'm gonna be there," said Ragan, referring to Logano. "I'm sure there will be some Cup guys who come. I'll have to talk to Joey and see if I can be the car owner and split the winnings with him."
Likely to enter the race will be Ruston and Hemric, two 18-year-old drivers who each won championship titles in their respective divisions during the 2009 Summer Shootout season. Ruston was excited about the idea of racing against Logano and Ragan.
"I think it'd be an honor to race with them, but I just think that you'd have to race them just like you'd race anybody else on the normal weekends." Ruston jokingly added, "Just wreck 'em."
The Backyard Brawl
Well-known wrestler Ric Flair used his booming voice to unveil a promotional poster for the Backyard Brawl, NASCAR's Sprint All-Star Race.
"Woooo! Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Backyard Brawl," said the 16-time World Wrestling Heavyweight Champion. "100 laps for a $1 million. This is the best of the best."
The 22-by-28 inch poster portrays the drivers as professional wrestlers and features Kyle "Rowdy" Busch vs. Tony "Smoke" Stewart in a "transmission submission match" and Dale "Wahoo" Jr. vs. Kevin "Baron Von" Harvick in a "bumper bashing beat down."
"Let's go down here to Tony 'Smoke' Stewart, defending champion," said Flair pointing to the driver's picture on the poster. "Everybody knows Tony's a mean cat on that track. He runs them down, drives over 'em. He wins. And remember to be the man, you gotta beat the man!"
The poster will be available to the first 5,000 fans that purchase a ticket to the NASCAR Sprint All-star Race held May 22.
Show Your Flair Contest
In a new promotion for the 2010 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, Charlotte Motor Speedway announced a new contest called Show Your Flair, featuring The Nature Boy himself, Rick Flair.
"We want you to show us your Flair," said Scott Cooper, vice-president of communications at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Race fans from around the country will be able to submit a video of their best impression of the 16-time World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, who is famous for his signature cry, WOOOOO! The winner will receive a grand prize package that includes four clubhouse tickets, pre-race pit passes, a VIP parking spot and a travel allowance to attend the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
The deadline to submit a video into the contest is Feb. 24.
Charlotte Motor Speedway will post the top 10 videos to www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/flair and fan voting to determine the winners will run from March 3-17.
A promotional video for the contest with special guest star Flair was shown Wednesday and caused uproar of laughter from the media attending the press conference. The video can be found online by visiting www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/flair.
Nationwide Insurance Partners with Turner Sports to Enhance Online Content
Wednesday's morning sessions included the NASCAR Nationwide Series, during which Nationwide Insurance and NASCAR.com unveiled an expansion of coverage for the series. Beginning in February, NASCAR.com while have an exclusive Web site featuring interactive programming from Turner Sports, NASCAR and Nationwide Insurance.
"This unique partnership gives fans a first of its kind, interactive experience with our series while providing up-to-the-minute, behind-the-scenes coverage," said John Aman, associate vice president for Nationwide Insurance.
The expanded coverage includes in-depth driver profiles, news coverage updated twice daily, free in-car audio scanner, lap-by-lap real-time editorial updates and an enhanced version of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Preview Show and On Your Side Race Review.
NASCAR.com also introduced a new fantasy racing game titled the "NASCAR Nationwide Series Eliminator Challenge." Fans can register to compete in the challenge online at http://fantasygames.nascar.com/eliminator.
Each week the game will allow the participants the chance to pick one NASCAR Nationwide Series driver they feel will have the best finish during that weekend's race.
The winner each week will receive a $100 gift card for the NASCAR.com superstore, while the grand prize winner will get to choose from one of these 2010 vehicles: a Chevrolet Impala, a Dodge Challenger, a Ford Mustang or a Toyota Camry.
Aman also said the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash program will return for 2010. The program awards full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers a $25,000 bonus should they win one of four races: the first Nashville event, Kentucky, Iowa and Texas (which replaces Memphis). If an eligible driver doesn't win one of those races, the $25,000 will be rolled over to the next event. Also, $75,000 will be awarded to the driver who scores the most points among those four races.
"That Dash 4 Cash program that they've got is really neat," said Colin Braun.
Aman said Nationwide Insurance officials have been happy with their sponsorship of the series thus far.
"We're pleased with the strength of the series this year, with the number of teams, the talented young drivers and all the support that (the media) provides us," Aman said.
He said awareness increased faster with race fans than with the general public.
"We've seen calls to our call centers increase significantly," Aman said. "But most importantly, one of our measures is what happens online, and the online consumer that comes to Nationwide through racing-related Web sites is twice as likely to buy our product than consumers coming through any other type of site. The race fan is engaging with Nationwide."
Artifacts Unveiled at NASCAR Hall of Fame
Tuesday night's festivities included a stop at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is still under construction. Media Tour attendees were treated to a top-of-the-line dinner and tours of the hall.
Winston Kelley, executive director of the hall, and historian Buz McKim talked about some of the artifacts that will be included when the hall is opened May 11 for grand opening ceremonies and May 23 for the first class of inductees.
The hall will have a "Greatest Finishes Theater" that will include Ricky Craven's No. 32 Tide Pontiac that won a thrilling duel with Kurt Busch in 2003 at Darlington Raceway.
"(Team owner) Cal (Wells) had built the car for me as a gift," Craven said. "The car is special. The car actually won the pole the year before. And I probably should've won that race, but I ended in a heap. The guys rebuilt that car and brought it back, and we qualified 32nd I think.
The reason it's not displayed today like it was at the end of the race is because it was my favorite car.
"We wore this car. Cal rebuilt it and presented to me as a gift." Kelley said it was the first artifact that was offered to the hall.
Craven and Kelley ran into each other in 2006 at a Duke Energy stockholders meeting, of all places, and Craven offered the winning Darlington car for the Hall of Fame.
"It was the last Pontiac to win in the sport, and it carries some history as the closest finish in the existence of the sport," Craven said.
Kelley wanted it, of course, but there was a small problem. The designers of the exhibits of the hall had planned to make the "Greatest Finishes Theater."
"I said, 'Well, we need to go back and make it large enough,'" said Kelley. "They explained all the reasons why that wouldn't work with the current building layout. This was back in late 2006, early 2007.
"I said, 'That was not really a suggestion.'.When I explained the access to the artifact we had.they made the adjustment.'"
McKim said he went on a "scavenger hunt" for many other artifacts, including an information sheet Dale Earnhardt filled out in 1975.
Drivers filled out information sheets at the beginning of each season, and McKim found the sheet Earnhardt filled out in February 1975 that included several interesting tidbits of information. For one, Earnhardt listed himself as a wrestler in high school and his favorite drivers as Richard Petty and Bobby Isaac.
"There was a line there that said, 'Ambition other than racing,' and he wrote, 'None!'" McKim said.
Another artifact that will be displayed in the hall comes from Richard Petty's "accumulation" of things over his many years in NASCAR. It's the 1967 Plymouth that Petty campaigned when he won 27 of 48 races that year, including 10 wins in a row - a record that still stands.
"That is clearly one of the most valuable that will be in the facility," Kelley said.
McKim said about 98 percent of artifacts the hall wanted to get, he was able to obtain. But there is one artifact that McKim truly wants, an item he calls the "holy grail."
"It's something I've only heard about and never seen," McKim said.
It's a gold membership card given to pioneering mechanic Red Vogt from Bill France Sr. in 1954. Vogt was proclaimed NASCAR member No. 1, and all fees and dues Vogt had paid to NASCAR before that time were returned to him.
"Somewhere along the line, that membership car disappeared. I've talked to family members, and they don't know what happened to it. If anybody ever stumbles across that membership card, I would love to show it.
That's the one thing that's stuck in my craw. I've got to find it."
Quotes of the Day
Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the key to his season: "Getting the most points."