The fourth and final day of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway began with breakfast presented by Aflac, primary sponsor of the No. 99 Ford driven by Carl Edwards.
Company executives welcomed the media and hinted of a big announcement the company has scheduled during Speed Weeks in Daytona next month.
Following the breakfast, Ford officials brought their drivers to the Concord Convention Center for an open interview session. Prior to the interviews, Brian Wolfe, Ford's director of North American Motorsports, unveiled the new "FR9" engine that Ford will implement in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2009.
Greg Scott, Ford Fusion marketing manager, also announced a new Web site, www.weraceyouwin.com. Each time a Ford driver wins a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points race this season, a fan will win a trip to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. During the weekend, one of those fans then will be selected as the winner of a 2010 Ford Fusion. Race fans can register by logging on anytime from Jan. 22 to Nov. 15.
The two Ford announcements were followed up by comments from Ford team owners Jack Roush, Len and Eddie Wood, Max Jones and Doug Yates.
Jack Roush, Roush Fenway Racing team owner (HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ALIGNING WITH YATES AND THE WOOD BROTHERS?): "There is a lot of history of the Wood Brothers racing team. I looked up to Leonard and Glen as being buddies and guys that were making the contribution when I was just a kid in stock car racing. As I got involved Leonard was there for me and Glen was there for me. They provided help and assistance. We enjoy building engines for them and helping where we can today. So I'm very much interested in the survival of the Wood Brothers just for all the history and the personalities involved and for all the help they've given me over the years.
"As far as Yates is concerned, Robert and I were adversaries for the more than 20 years that I've been involved in the sport. We competed for turf where it relates to sponsors and personnel. A handful of years ago when we put the engine together, that was the first time we started to work together. Robert certainly brought in all his engine ideas and his history and I brought mine. He was as unselfish about that as I was. We share the engines and we share that business. That gives us a strong feeling.
"Before I put the engine program together, if someone has asked me how I feel about the survival of Yates Racing, I probably wouldn't have said very much in a positive way about it. Except that it was good for the sport. But as it stands today, I've committed to keep Doug out there and to keep Max [Jones] out there and to keep that program viable. We build cars and we provide engineering services to help lighten the task of making them competitive."
(HOW HAVE YOU SEEN CARL EDWARDS GROW AS A DRIVER?): "Carl has great enthusiasm. His father, Carl Sr., was a stock car racer at hometown tracks. He's a competitive guy. He's a proud guy, bright and ambitious. All those are dangerous traits if you're another race car driver trying to compete against him for space on the racetrack."
(WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE TO STOP THE NO. 48 THIS YEAR?): "If you look at what happened last year in the Chase, we had the wreck at Talladega and we had the ignition problems at Charlotte. Both of which were unpredictable, and therefore, unavoidable. If either one of those things had not occurred, [Carl Edwards] would have got more points in the final 10 races than the No. 48 car did. We don't need to close the gap on technology or correct some oversight of judgment or make our cars faster in terms of the speed they have in them. All we have to do is miss the wreck and not have the bad luck of having infant mortality of the components around the engine and we'll be just fine."
Carl Edwards, No. 99 Aflac Ford (WHAT'S THE SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY?): "It's fun. It's a great race track. Eddie [Gossage] and everyone there do a good job making it a fun event. It's the only place I've gone to victory lane for qualifying. In a Nationwide car we got the pole and they did a whole ceremony. They make it a fun time.
"The race track is great too. It's fast. Winning there is a big deal."
(TALK ABOUT THE ENTERTAINMENT SIDE OF CARL EDWARDS): "The number one thing is to win. That makes it real easy to have a good time. This last year I had a lot of fun. [Texas] is cool. I think Eddie brings that out in everyone there. NASCAR, in general, does a good job of making a show out of everything. I guess if I'm part of the show that's good."
(WHOM DO YOU THINK WE BE THE FAVORITE TO WIN THE TITLE THIS YEAR?): "Jimmie [Johnson] is the odds-on favorite because he has been doing so well. I think Kyle [Busch] will be really fast. I have a feeling Greg Biffle is going to be real tough. The way he came on in the end of the season is pretty amazing. The guy that I think is off the radar right now, but will be real tough is Mark Martin. Mark is spectacular. You put Mark in the Chase, give him 10 races to go get it done [and] you're going to have to beat Mark to win a championship.
"Mark is probably the guy that I look up to most in the garage, him [and] Jeff Burton, both those guys. I think they exemplify giving it a 100 percent all the time. So I try to do that. I can tell you that just this short off season has been good for me to get that fire going again."
(WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE IN YOUR PERFORMANCE LAST YEAR AND HOW DO YOU WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP?): "I think the COT helped me a lot [and] because of Bob Osborne, how good he is. That gave us an opportunity to do really well because the competition was so close. I think as a driver I'm learning more and more all the time. I could apply the things I've learned the last few years and put them to good use last season. I think for 2009, the thing that I have to be better at -and what we all need to be better at - is what Jimmie Johnson does so well. Never being the reason you lose a position. No matter what, if they have a terrible car they always make the best of it. I think that's the thing that won them this championship."
Matt Kenseth, No. 17 DeWALT Ford (ON TESTING): "It's the same for everybody because every team was there. It's like how it was a few years ago when you could pick yourself some tracks. You could go to Dover and there would be three teams that were going to test. I think we're all in the same boat. Whether we all get to test at the tracks or whether we all don't get to test at the tracks. It's the same for everybody."
(AS A DRIVER DO YOU LIKE TESTING?): "There are certain tracks that are fun to go test at. You seem to get a lot out of it. Daytona testing? I don't miss Daytona testing at all. It doesn't get any more boring than that. You go run two laps at a time, wide open. It's just driving.
"It's fun to go to the track and try some new stuff every once in a while in the winter. It's nice to get out of the house, get back on the track, and get back into the swing of things. I miss that a little bit this year."
(ARE THERE TWO DIFFERENT STRATEGIES THAT YOU TAKE FOR THE REGULAR SEASON COMPARED TO THE CHASE?): "Not for me. We really approach everything the same every week. The first year of the Chase we tried to change our strategy and do our testing at the end of the year, which you can't do anymore anyway. It didn't seem to work out. I think you take it one race at a time. You put forward your best effort each and every race and that's really all you can do. You do the best you can every week and see how it turns out."
(WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW BUD SHOOTOUT FORMAT?): "I think it's bigger than a qualifying race. I'm glad I'm in it, so for me saying it's too big doesn't make a lot of sense. I think for next year they'll probably do a different format. I think it should be a smaller field and more of a specialized group. You had to do something the year before or do something sometime to get in it, besides being the top six in your manufacturer. It takes a way a little bit of the uniqueness, but it will be a great race. The more cars you get in a plate race, the more exciting it is. I'm looking forward to running the race and getting to practice."
Greg Biffle, No. 16 3M Ford (DO YOU THINK ROUSH HAS AN ADVANTAGE WITH THE SIZE OF ITS TEAM?): "I don't think so, especially now with the no test policy. I don't think it makes a big difference between having five or four. Possibly over a two-car team we have somewhat of an advantage because we have more drivers to pull from for information. To three and four car teams there is really no advantage.
(WITH NO TESTING HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT IS PRACTICE?): "It'll be just as important or maybe a little bit more. That has always been a difficult thing. Do you try things out of the ordinary at a race weekend? That's difficult to do. We didn't have a great deal of testing last year. I don't think it's going to be a big impact, but certainly the emphasis on practice is there, like always.
(ARE YOU EXCITED FOR DAYTONA?): "I'm really excited. I can't wait to get started again, especially with the limited amount of testing. We tested at Texas World Speedway and just got done doing at Atlanta tire test. So really, the seasons in the past we start out with two tests and we've already done two tests this year."
David Ragan No. 6 UPS Ford (DALE JARRETT SAYS HE THINKS YOU ARE GOING TO BE A GREAT SPOKESMAN FOR UPS AND A LOCK FOR THE CHASE, WHAT IS YOUR REACTION?): "I think that's pretty cool from Dale Jarrett. Dale was always one of my heroes growing up, and I still get excited when Dale or any of the veterans know who David Ragan is. I think that's pretty special coming from someone like Dale Jarrett, but if we just perform on the race track like we did last year, we're going to be a contender week in and week out. I wouldn't be surprised to win any race that's on the schedule this year besides Sonoma and Watkins Glen, any oval track race. We've had speed. It's just all about not making many mistakes and being a smart racer. I say absolutely, I agree with Dale that we control our own destiny as far as making the Chase."
(ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE ANY FUN UPS COMMERCIALS? ARE YOU GOING TO DRIVE THE TRUCK?): "Well, I can't tell everyone if I'm going to drive the brown truck, or not. I have already done some UPS commercials. We're going to have four or five this year that are going to come out throughout the season. I've had a lot of fun doing the commercials, learning a lot about the TV business and UPS has an exciting marketing campaign for 2009 that I'm sure everyone will enjoy."
(YOU HAD A COUPLE YEARS TO DEVELOP WHILE THERE WAS TESTING ALLOWED ON NASCAR TRACKS, HOW MUCH OF AN ADVANTAGE IS THAT OVER THE GUYS THAT ARE COMING ALONG NOW?): "It was a big advantage for me to do some testing, but not as much as six or seven years ago when rookies had unlimited tests. I had five or six tests, but in 2001 or 2002 or 2003 I think the rookies that were coming in they may have had 10 or 12 or 14 tests. So we were at an advantage compared to the rookies that are coming in this season, but the testing policy hasn't dampened our spirits any at Roush. We've got a great engineering staff that even though we're not at the race track we're still developing new things, and testing new things even though we're not at the race track burning up fuel and tires."
Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Crown Royal Ford (WITH THE LACK OF TESTING IS IT REASONABLE TO EXPECT THE FIELD TO BE ABOUT THE SAME AS LAST YEAR?): "I hope so."
(WILL THE SAME GUYS THAT WERE FAST LAST YEAR BE FAST THIS YEAR?): "I think that even when you get to include testing that the guys that end the season strong automatically start strong. If you look at history you don't ever see anybody that struggled at the end of the season, have two months off, do some testing and then come back strong. It takes time for that to make itself better. So the guys that end the year strong always seem to come out of the box in the first five to eight races and run like they did at the end of the year."
(PEOPLE SAY THEY'VE DONE MORE IN THE SHOP, CAN THAT MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE?): "I think that's what you're going to say if you don't go to the track and those guys are trying to be optimistic and give you guys something good to write about their team or their organization. I don't think there's anything that substitutes actually being on the track. We go to the small Rockingham track, and you can go test at places like that and as much as they try to make that place like Martinsville, it's not Martinsville. It drives similar but it's not the same thing. I think even being able to go there is a good place to go shake your brakes down and if you want to try a couple things, I don't know that you can etch anything in stone, but if it works there than it's going to work at Martinsville or anywhere else."
Bill Elliott, No. 21 Motorcraft Ford (ON MARK MARTIN): "Mark is a unique individual. He's a true racer. Like Benny Parsons always told me, there's people that have a passion for the sport and Mark is one of those guys. Mark will make you work and I think Mark will get in there and I think he's got something to prove to a lot of people."
(WILL THE DOWNSIZING OF THE SCHEDULE HELP THE WOOD BROTHERS?): "Let me kind of put this in perspective, you can be better prepared, but to be able to keep up with everything, that's going to be hard. With the development of the COT car and being a single car team that's going to make it tough but it's not impossible with the COT car. I think once we get started the season all of these questions will be answered, but right now you don't know. You look back and you look at all the things that happened and all the things you struggled through, and David Hyder came in and kind of made a lot of difference. That's what one person can do. You get that person, I don't know that it's necessary to run all the races, I think that sometimes it's a negative to run all the races especially if you don't have the money and can't be prepared and can't do a lot of things you need to do to make it right. From their standpoint to be able to survive this sport, do your 12 races, do it right, do the best you can then say once we get in the fall of 2009 we'll be able to analyze it and say hey guys we need to run all the races or we need to go do something else."
Travis Kvapil, No. 28 Yates Racing Ford (ON NOT BEING ABLE TO FALL BACK ON POINTS): "You mention the bad news, but I guess I was looking at the internet the other day, all the drivers who are great drivers that are on the outside looking in. They don't have nothing right now. At least I have a chance to go out and compete and probably if you are going to take a team or a car to Daytona it's probably a Yates Racing Ford if you want to sit on the pole. I feel like we've got a great chance at that. There's our plan, that's our goals. And through the first part of the season is just to continue our performance and get recognized and create a buzz and try to get some attention to our team. I felt like we did a pretty reasonable job last year and it's discouraging that we are in the same situation and we've got to kind of start over from what we built off last year. I've got a great attitude, I've got a great drive and I'm just really excited to get to Daytona."
Paul Menard, No. 98 Menard's Ford (HOW IS THE NO TESTING POLICY GOING TO AFFECT YOUR NEW TEAM?): "With it being a transition like it is, obviously I'd like to do some testing to get the communication and everything down better with Larry Carter. But we did get to do one test last week and all signs are good. We communicated well and the car was fast. Building relationships with all the guys on the race team and looking forward to Daytona in a couple weeks. We tested at Rockingham for a day and Rockingham is its own animal, so it's not a whole lot we can translate, it's just Larry and I working together and getting to know everybody."
Colin Braun, No. 6 Con-Way Freight Ford (ON HIS OUTLOOK FOR 2009?): "I'm very excited to have Con-Way Freight back on board as our sponsor. To be doing the same thing again in 2009 is fantastic especially in this economy. To have a year of experience under my belt, you can't beat that."
(WHAT DID YOU LEARN LAST YEAR THAT WILL HELP YOU THE MOST THIS YEAR?): "For me, the biggest thing is working with veteran drivers and realizing how important those guys are within the sport. I feel like I didn't do a very good job working with those guys in the beginning of the year. I feel like the middle of the year I realized that and started working more towards it in the end of the year."
Erik Darnell, No. 6 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford (WHAT ARE YOUR 2009 PLANS?): "May 1, is my first race [with] 15 races in the Northern Tool and Equipment Ford Fusion. [I'll be] splitting the scheduling with David Ragan in the No. 6 car. He'll have Discount Tire on it when he's in it. As of now, no plans for any truck races. If sponsorship or something came up I'm sure we could run a few of them. From now until May, I don't really know what's going to go on. I'll be going to the track with the guys, hanging out and learning how Mike Kelley and all those guys operate."
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford (ON THE 2009 SEASON): "We're only running a few races. We're running seven races as of now with CitiFinancial and 3M. I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be a big season for me just moving up from ARCA to Nationwide. It's going to be a big transition, but I'm looking forward to it."
(ANY PLANS TO TEST?): "It's kind of tough with the no testing policy. We've been to Rockingham and things like that just trying to get seat time. Other than getting seat time, I'm just going to be going to the track and hanging out on the pit box and just learning as much as I can that way, from Matt [Kenseth] and Greg [Biffle] and I think that will be a big help."
(HAVE YOU RECEIVED ANY ADVICE FROM THE CUP GUYS SO FAR?): "A lot. I can go to them whenever I need to. That's been a big help with our ARCA program last year. Carl [Edwards] came to a couple of tests with us and they're there to help me any time I need."
At the conclusion of the event, National Motorsports Press Association President Dustin Long presented Carl Edwards with the NMPA's Richard petty Driver of the Year Award.
For the next function, officials from the NHRA hosted lunch at the Concord Convention Center with Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher, who claimed his fifth-consecutive Top Fuel world championship and tied an NHRA record with 15 wins in 2008.
Tony Schumacher (WHAT ARE YOU THIOUGHTS ON OUR ZMAX DRAGWAY?): "It's amazing on Fridays to watch the stands stay full. The fans can come down in the pits. It's awesome. For the fans that have been NASCAR loyal for so long to be able to come here and watch an NHRA event is great. The track itself is second to none."
(ON COMING OFF ONE OF THE GREATEST SEASONS IN MOTORSPORTS HISTORY): "It was an incredible season. I'll probably think about that for the rest of my life. Race after race, the big moments. Our team was exceptionally good at big moments when the weight of the world is on you. When it's all or nothing. We don't have laps to make it up. It's right now. It's four seconds of 300 mph massive power. When you're staging a car and getting ready to race, knowing you're going to win or lose in four seconds, it's perfect.
"What made this season so special is that to be able to do it under pressure at that point in time and to come out on the winning side of it. The races weren't won by a great deal. They were [won by] feet and inches. [We did] it week-in and week-out and set numerous records. [We] won our consecutive fifth championship and were part of the greatest team. That was won of the greatest teams that the NHRA has ever seen. No matter happens, no matter what we do in the future, we'll always be able to look back at that as something special."
(HOW MUCH NERVE IS RECQUIRED TO DO WHAT YOU DO?): "It's years and years of watching it happen, being around it and trusting the people that did it before you. There is a risk in any motorsport. There is a risk in any sport. When you wake up in the morning, you know there is risk involved. You trust the people that before you decided that this doesn't work and that does work. Here is what you do. You get a firesuit, put on a seven-point harness and put your HANS device on, which saved many a life by now including mine. You prepare.
"The safety safari that NHRA has in the absolute best in the world. They're seconds from [getting to] a mishap. You know there are nerves, but when it's time for the race to come on, to do your job, the fear of the car crashing isn't even there. The fear of being beaten is there. It doesn't matter what sport you play, that's the fear that pushes you when you wake up in the morning. If you were afraid to get in a racecar, you just couldn't do it. We look forward to the challenges of knowing that in four seconds you either suck it up or be left out of the table."
After lunch, members of the media headed to NASCAR's R&D Center where NASCAR officials unveiled the 2009 Drive for Diversity line up, provided an update on the NASCAR Hall of Fame, discussed the selection process for future inductees to the hall of fame and invited the organization's senior management on stage for a question-and-answer session with the media.
Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO (THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT MANUFACTURERS SO WHAT IS YOUR TAKE? WHAT EFFECT WILL THE MANUFACTURER'S CURRENT SITUATION HAVE ON NASCAR?): "Well, for starters, we were pleasantly we were very happy that they got the initial bridge funding as part of the rescue package, so that was a good thing.
"As I've said a couple different times over the off season, you know, to focus on what it means to NASCAR, I believe kind of this is the point, because it's really what it means to this entire country, all the jobs it represents, and that's what has got our attention, to make sure we're as good a partner with all the manufacturers as we possibly can be to make them successful, get them through a difficult time, because if something were to happen, the bigger issue isn't NASCAR or its teams, although they're a big part of our past, historical and all that; it's rather what it would mean to - those millions of jobs we talk about, a lot of those are NASCAR fans, so we're zeroed in on helping them be as successful as they can and get through a difficult time."
Mike Helton, NASCAR president (ON WHETHER NASCAR DRIVERS NEED TO BE MORE ACCESSIBLE): "I think they are accessible. As a matter of fact, I think our drivers are the most accessible athletes in all of sports, and maybe that comes from knowing we know a lot about what they do as opposed to some of the people that may make a statement like that. But we see them in action. There are a lot of demands on their time and schedule and their asks.
"But I've got to tell you, I'm proud of our guys. I think they are supportive of their role in this sport. They're all conscientious about it. Certainly from time to time a fan or a media interview may not work out right, but when you look at our sport, and we've got 43 car field in the Sprint Cup garage, and 30 of those guys carry the burden of representing our sport maybe today, and you compare that to a football team has a 43 member roster, and so the other sports have so many more athletes to spread that responsibility out, maybe more so than certainly more so than we do. But I strongly disagree when I hear that our drivers need to be more accessible, they need to be more supportive. They are. Just, they are."
For more information about the announcements made at NASCAR's R&D Center and a complete transcript of the event, log onto www.nascarmedia.com.