Stewart-Haas Racing Enters Second Year
The first function of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway was a luncheon hosted by Stewart-Haas Racing, one the surprise teams of the 2009 season.
Stewart-Haas put both its cars in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup in its first season with Tony Stewart as co-owner. Stewart won four races and finished sixth in the standings, while teammate Ryan Newman finished ninth.
"I can promise you one thing, it was a year ago this time none of us knew what to expect, and it was a big question mark as to what was going to happen," said Stewart.
This year, Stewart said, was a lot more relaxing. At the same time, much more is expected of the team - and Stewart knows it.
"I'm expecting a great year," said Stewart. "I feel like both of us being able to get in the Chase last year was something I expect both teams to do. I feel like the changes that we went through and the work we've done over the winter has prepared both of these teams to have a shot at running for a championship."
Newman, an engineering graduate from Purdue University, used a mathematical formula to talk about the 2010 season vs. 2009.
"Two points define a slope," said Newman." We have our point from 2009. Our point from 2010 will determine our success for Stewart-Haas racing in years to go...Just going out there and having a lot better start to the season in Daytona is extremely important - and getting that definition and that second point so we can define our future at Stewart-Haas Racing is also important for us this year."
Newman's crew chief, Tony Gibson, said his main goal for 2010 is to get Newman and the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet to Victory Lane.
"For us, we want to come out and win races," said Gibson. "We let a few get away last year. We want to win races and be a threat to win a championship. Making the Chase was awesome, but that's not good enough. We've got to step up our game."
The entire team has done that, especially when compared to this time last year. Then, the team was frantically working on cars to get ready for the season. And there weren't that many finished cars around.
"The main thing for me is now I can look out of my office and see cars actually sitting out on the floor," said Bobby Hutchens, Stewart-Haas Racing director of competition said. "This time last year, it was a pretty empty shop. I kind of feel like we're two months ahead of last year's schedule, if you could call it that."
Darian Grubb, crew chief of Stewart's No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet team, agreed.
"Last year we were building," Grubb said. "But now, it's actually good to be able to say we're strengthening. The areas we felt like we had some weaknesses, we know where those are and we were able to make a few changes here and there."
Hutchens on Expansion at Stewart-Haas Racing
Stewart-Haas Racing currently fields two cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but could expand in the future, Hutchens said.
"We've talked about that in our shop over the last couple months or weeks," said Hutchens. "That may something that's in our future if it fits our group up here. We're not going to do anything that's going to pull our two cars down from a performance standpoint. Also, we want to bring something in that's going to add to our program.
"We'll use our best practice approach that we've done in about everything we've done as far as choosing different paths to take. When the time comes to see if we expand from 2011, whether it's then or later, we'll do it."
Kyle Busch Contract Extension
Joe Gibbs Racing announced it has signed driver Kyle Busch to a "multi-year" contract that will keep the defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion with the team for the next several seasons.
"It's something we've been working on for a while," said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. "We probably could've announced this earlier. We were just getting some of the details ironed out and finalized. Watching him grow off the track as well as on the track has been exciting for us. We look forward to many years together racing up front."
Busch said there "wasn't much convincing needed" to come back to the team after the 2010 season, when his first contract was set to expire.
"We struggled a little bit through 2008 and unfortunately missed the Chase [in 2009]. But I see the organization is strong, I see the way Joey [Logano] really came along toward the end of the year and got a lot better. I see the way Denny [Hamlin] ran. I mean, shoot, he had a shot to win the championship.
"Our stuff is there. It's all about having the right people in the right place. Hopefully, [crew chief] Dave [Rogers] is that guy, and he and I can really develop a great relationship like Denny and [crew chief] Mike Ford have."
The team wouldn't say how many years the contract is, though Gibbs said they could announce that in the future.
"What does multi-year deal mean to me?" Busch said. "It means a secure future. Joe and J.D. were very receptive to my ideas, I was receptive to their ideas on how to further along our relationship and our commitment to each other, and to do that was to get the deal done, show our sponsors that we're committed to each other and the people in the shop worried, ‘Well,is Kyle Busch going to be here or not?' We put all that to rest."
All of Joe Gibbs Racing's drivers made an appearance at Charlotte Motor Speedway's Nationwide Series garage, filling up eight of the track's new frontstretch seats.
In addition to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Busch, Logano and Hamlin, NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers Matt DiBenedetto and Brad Coleman were there, as were NASCAR Camping World East Series drivers Darrell Wallace Jr., Brent Moffitt and Max Gresham.
Taylor Gibbs festival
J.D. Gibbs' youngest son Taylor, 5, will finish treatments for leukemia in April, and Gibbs said the family wanted a way to thank the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Levine's Children's Hospital in Charlotte.
To that end, Joe Gibbs Racing announced the Taylor's Finish Line Festival will be held May 23 - the day after the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race - at zMAX Dragway.
Taylor was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago.
"Taylor's treatment, Lord willing, ends this spring," Gibbs said. "We want to celebrate, to say thank you to Make-A-Wish and to Levine's Children's Hospital."
The festival will include activities for children and adults, with more than 40 carnival rides and games, inflatables, hot air balloons, BMX and skateboard exhibitions, appearances by NASCAR drivers and a live concert by Grammy Award-winning artist TobyMac.
Tickets will be available through the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office, as well as the event Web site. All the money from ticket sales will be donated to Make-A-Wish and Levine's Children's Hospital.
Charlotte Motor Speedway seats
Charlotte Motor Speedway continued its Fans First initiative with the announcement of approximately 15,000 new premium seats that will be installed along the 1.5-mile superspeedway's frontstretch.
The new seats, which are about 25 percent wider and have arm rests, replace cast-metal seats. All the seats will be installed before the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 22.
"When you sit on the frontstretch seats, you're sitting on history," said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "It's our original seating on the frontstretch in the upper rows in Ford, Chrysler and GM grandstands. Our fans are the best. They've been buying those seats forever."
Fans who purchase season tickets - all three Sprint Cup events at the track - will also receive other special incentives. Fans who buy tickets for the All-Star Race, the Coca-Cola 600 on May 30 and the NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America on Oct. 16 will become members of the Victory Lane Club, have personalized, bronze nameplates installed on their new seats - and have a chance to take home one of the older seats.
Judy Trudel, a ticket holder since 2000, was the first fan to show off the new seats, joining Marcus Smith and some other fans.
"Now we need a funnel cake and a Coke," Smith said.
"This is great," Trudel said.
Charlotte Motor Speedway's May Nationwide Series Race Shifts to Afternoon Start Time
Smith also announced that the start time for the TECH-NET Auto Service 300 powered by CARQUEST Auto Parts NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday, May 29, will be 2:30 p.m. ET.
Smith said the change was made from night races because the fans asked for it.
"This is a big thing for our fans. I know, because you get a chance to come out to the speedway, whether you're camping or coming to the race, and then you can and have fun at Speed Street Uptown," Smith said. "You can go enjoy your time at the campground and mingle and come up with the next great recipe for the World's Greatest Tailgate Party.
"It also will really help us with kids. We get more and more children who want to the races, and having this race at 2:30 gives the kids and their parents a chance to come out, enjoy some NASCAR racing, some of the greatest racers in the world at the greatest speedway in the world."
The name of the race was also changed to promote CARQUEST's TECH-NET Professional Auto Service program.
Charlotte Motor Speedway schedule
Charlotte Motor Speedway also unveiled its Spring Season of Speed schedule, as fans can reserve any ticket for one of the nine events for only $20.10.
"Our 51st year will be bigger and better than ever," said Scott Cooper, vice president of communications at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The 2010 season kicks off with the NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway on March 25-28.
Other events are the Food Lion Auto Fair on April 8-11, PINKS All Out at zMAX Dragway on April 23-24, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 on May 21, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 22, Windstream Pole Night on May 27, the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Showdown at The Dirt Track @ Charlotte on May 28, the NASCAR Nationwide Series TECH-NET Auto Service 300 powered by CARQUEST Auto Parts on May 29 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 30.
Wing vs. spoiler
NASCAR is set to begin testing an aluminum spoiler instead of a wing on its new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car this week at Texas Motor Speedway, and several competitors expressed an opinion on the spoiler.
NASCAR will also test at Charlotte Motor Speedway on March 23-24 with the spoiler.
"What NASCAR is going to spend a lot of time doing - whether it's in the Charlotte test or a Goodyear tire test - is figure out what balance is good for our cars in clean air," Ryan Newman said. "This car has been a challenge at times because of the frontal surface area and the fact that it's got a taller roof and a little bit ‘squarer' in reference to the whole that it punches in the air.
"It's become a little more challenging running 15th than with the older-style car. It's going to open up a new can of worms in respect to a spoiler on this type of race car."
Newman was involved in a grinding crash at Talladega Superspeedway last year, flipping down the backstretch. He said then he hoped NASCAR would make changes to the car to help it stay on the ground in case of an accident.
"NASCAR has done a lot of testing, and I think that is a definite part of why they're making some changes in respect to spoiler vs. wing," Newman said.
"The fans, ultimately, are what brought these changes along," Kyle Busch said. "They should be appreciative to NASCAR for listening and to following some of their direction."
Said Newman, "Is it a better looking car? I like the looks of a spoiler over a wing, for sure. I've always thought that a stock car or a full-fendered race car, as in dirt late models or late models or even a street stock at your local race tracks, they have spoilers. That's just my preference."
How will a spoiler affect the handling of the car? Time will tell.
"It's going to have some different effects with the cars side-drafting," Newman said. "In the end, I hope it keeps the aerodynamic balance the same front to rear because I think we have a good balance with respect to that. I don't know what it's going to do for the racing, what it's going to be like with the aero push and the things we've talked about."
Busch said he doesn't think the cars will be any easier to drive.
"It certainly can, depending on how big they go on the spoiler," Busch said. "They're talking of keeping the same downforce level in the car, which is only like an inch spoiler. It's still going to make the cars hard to drive."
Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart Daytona 500 Banter
Ryan Newman won the 2008 Daytona 500, getting a push by then Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch in the closing laps. The two passed Newman's current teammate, Tony Stewart, en route to Newman's win.
The two joked about it Monday, with Stewart casting faux angry glances at Newman.
"Just like when I won the Daytona 500, it took a teammate to push me. To make sure that our two cars work together, you have to put yourself in a position," Newman said.
Stewart: "Thanks for reminding me."
Newman: "I still thank you for pulling over. I mean, it was the right thing to do."
Stewart: "So it would appear."
Joe Gibbs Racing's Joey Logano won the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award in 2009, and he heads into his sophomore Sprint Cup season with optimism.
"You've got to keep improving from where we were at the end of the season," Logano said. "I think we've got momentum from that way, the beginning half we've definitely picked up a lot. If we keep doing that and then try to make this Chase. That would be something that would be cool to do.
"It helps a lot to know the race tracks and to have a year under my belt with [crew chief Greg Zipadelli] and the team, and work with my teammates more. All that stuff helps a lot.
"It gives me confidence that I got stuff to look at now. Last year what did I have? I didn't have notes, I had nothing. So this year at least I can look back and say, OK, I wrote down this, this and this about this race track. This is where I need to start and work from there. That's a big help for me."
Quotes of the Day
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Toyota, on added pressure of topping four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson:
"Last year the quote was ‘I didn't want to be a contender anymore. I wanted to be a champion.' I was sick of having expectations and no results to back it up. I think we did that this year. We just didn't have the reliability to win the championship and that's the bottom line. We just didn't have the parts and pieces right. I think we know how to win a championship and I know how to win a championship. Now it's just going to be executing it.
Kyle Petty, via video, on Charlotte Motor Speedway's new frontstretch seats:
"They are 25 percent wider for fat guys like me," Petty said.
Joe Gibbs on accessibility of NASCAR drivers vs. other sports:
"If you try and get a quarterback's autograph on football day, you'll get arrested."
Joe Gibbs on his future of the future of NASCAR:
"Going through a tough economy, I'll say this: I'm probably as excited about the future of racing as I've ever been, for this reason. When you go through tough times, what happens lots of times is everybody gets together...Everybody's on one page. Everybody's trying to pull together, and I think what you're going to see is this sport is going to come roaring."
J.D. Gibbs on the logo for Taylor's Finish Line Festival, which sports his 5-year-old son Taylor:
"That actually is my son, by the way. He takes after my dad. His head is way too big. That's the truth."
Joey Logano, No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, on having success at such a young age:
"I never know where I could be five years from now. I could be on top of the world or I could be driving a Zamboni somewhere."