Michael Waltrip Unveils New Book About 2001 Daytona 500
During breakfast on the second day of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip introduced his new book to the motorsports press.
In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everythingtells Waltrip’s story as he experienced the highest and lowest points of his career within a matter of minutes on February 18, 2001. Written by Waltrip and New York Times Bestseller Ellis Henican, the memoir takes readers through Waltrip’s early career and into Daytona International Speedway’s victory lane after 462 failed attempts at a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Over the span of just a few moments, the Owensboro, Ky., native won the Daytona 500 then learned that his friend, mentor, car owner and seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed during a crash on the final lap of the race.
How Earnhardt’s death affected Waltrip and the NASCAR community is the subject of the final third of the book.
“When I started writing the book,” Waltrip said, “I thought it would be therapeutic and I would come out of it with a better grasp of that day. I think it is healthy to delve into things from your past that hurt, and I did that. Even after going through this experience, I still can’t explain how that day turned out the way it did. That’ll be a question I’ll find out when I’m not on this earth anymore.”
Knowing the 10th anniversary of that victory/tragedy was coming up, Waltrip wrote In the Blink of an Eye to anticipate the questions people would have for him.
“Going back [to race the Daytona 500] in 2011 is another chance for me to celebrate Dale’s life and the fact that he believed in me like he did,” Waltrip said. “NAPA Auto Parts believed in me and gave me the opportunity to race a championship-caliber car like I got to drive for Dale.”
Waltrip also unveiled a commemorative paint scheme he designed for the No. 15 NAPA Toyota he will drive in the 2011 Daytona 500 on Feb. 20.
“It honors both Dale and the sponsor that is still with me in 2011,” Waltrip said.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Features New Challenges For Teams
The second day of the annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway featured a discussion of the new challenges and rules faced by teams and drivers in 2011 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
To open the event, Nationwide announced that returning for 2011 will be the company’s Code Spotter Sweepstakes program where fans recognize codes given at track and during the race broadcast and can register to win prizes. Nationwide will also continue with the Dash 4 Cash program for drivers at select speedways and events. New this year however will be the Nationwide Spotlight program, which will feature a topic of interest to fans through chat and video.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash gave an overview of the new 2011 challenges.
“I’m very excited to be the steward of the NASCAR Nationwide Series,” said Balash. “We have a great partner in Nationwide that allows us to reach out to fans, which are the core of what we do. We have a number of things that are happening, changes coming to the sport. First of all, there has been a lot of talk about the drivers having to select the series that they were going to run for the championship. There has been a lot of involvement with the teams, the drivers and the sponsors. It really adds emphasis to the Nationwide Series, putting that emphasis back on the Nationwide drivers.
“Next is the new Nationwide car. We ran it in four events last year and it was very, very successful. Now, we will be able to showcase the car in each and every event in 2011. The drivers really hone their skills in this series and will have their work cut out for them.
“There will also be a change in qualifying in the Nationwide Series. We are speeding up our qualifying sessions, paralleling with our friends in the (NASCAR Camping World) Truck Series with a quick qualifying process. I think this will really offer a lot of excitement to the series and to our fans.
“We also have changes in our fuel system in all three of our series. The E15 fuel is a very important step in what we are doing. It will also make some changes on our crew rosters as we will no longer have a catch can man on pit road.”
Drivers are also excited about the new things the series has to offer.
“Either way you still have to go out and beat everybody,” said Ricky Stenhouse, current Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year and driver of the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. “We have a great group of guys here. The championship is going to be just as tough whether the Cup guys are running it or not. I think it is going to make it a little bit more interesting. It’s a good thing for the series.”
“You still have to go out and run good,” said Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 2 CitiFinancial Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick Incorporated. “You still have got to get all the points you can every weekend. I just saw a perfect fit with Kevin and Delana Harvick and racing for the championship. We think we have something here and can make this happen.”
Charlotte Motor Speedway Gives World’s Largest HDTV Construction Update
NASCAR Sprint Media Tour participants visited the future site of the world’s largest high-definition video board on the backstretch of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile tri-oval Tuesday afternoon.
When completed, the structure will tower 110 feet above the track and measure 200 feet wide by 80 feet tall. The steel frame alone, which will be supported on 12 concrete piers anchored 50 feet into the ground, will weigh 500,000 pounds. Adding the 165,000-pound 720p high-definition screen means the whole project will weigh as much as a fueled Boeing 747 aircraft.
Earth-moving equipment has been working since mid-January and will ultimately relocate 18,900 cubic yards of dirt and 3,000 cubic yards of concrete. The screen will replace bleachers that were first used during the speedway’s inaugural 600-mile race in 1960.
Charlotte Motor Speedway President and General Manager Marcus Smith spoke about the addition of Panasonic’s 16,000-square-foot “flat screen to end all flat screens.”
“With more than nine million LED lamps, this video board will give people the benefit of being at the race – having the whole race experience – and getting to see replays and important events up close,” Smith said.
“I can’t wait to see it. Every time I look out of my office window, I wonder, is it here yet?”
NASCAR television commentators Jeff Hammond and Mike Joy helped Smith with the presentation.
Hammond said, “Bruton, Marcus, and the speedway are always raising the bar. Once again, here it is. My question is, will guys going down the back straight try to look up to see how good they are doing?”
Joy said, “This is a fantastic project. A lot of ballparks put in big screens so fans don’t miss replays of important events. This is a groundbreaking project. No fan is ever going to miss the action because it will be right here.”
Members of the speedway’s Fan Council, whose ideas and suggestions drove the project to reality, were in attendance. Daniel Sain, of Maiden, N.C., and Helen Bailey, from Cornelius, N.C., were on hand to inspect the screen’s progress.
“I’ve been coming to the races here for 15 years,” Sain said. “I watched my first race from the infield, where the view isn’t so good. This screen will give those folks an experience they’ve never had.”
“This is the biggest Fans First initiative we have ever undertaken,” said Scott Cooper, vice president of communications for Charlotte Motor Speedway. “The Fan Council is a key part of everything we do here. We will work with them throughout the year to find out what we can do to benefit our fans even more.”
RCR Features Drivers and Announces New Sponsor
The Tuesday afternoon NASCAR Sprint Media Tour visit to Richard Childress Racing (RCR) in Welcome, N.C., featured the team’s driver lineup for 2011 and a new sponsor for the organization.
All of the RCR drivers were on hand to talk about their upcoming seasons. Among those attending were Childress’ grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon, along with development drivers Tim George Jr., Joey Coulter and Michael Selt. Most of the attention however focused on RCR’s four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and new addition Paul Menard, who are each trying to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2011.
“I’m proud of all three of our guys and then having Paul Menard come over with the fourth team,” said Childress. “This time we are ready for it. I couldn’t be happier with what we came out of there with (in 2010). This year is the year to kick Jimmie off that throne. We were close with Kevin last year. This is the year to do it. It’s going to be RCR I feel certain. Is that putting too much pressure on anybody?”
RCR announced that sandwich chain Jimmy Johns will serve as a primary sponsor for six races and an associate sponsor for the remainder of the season on the No. 29 Chevrolet driven by Harvick.
“It’s great to see the progression of that sponsorship from the Nationwide Series,” said Harvick. “People get their feet on the ground, and to see it move to the Cup car is great for not only RCR but me as well.”
Harvick’s car will primarily be sponsored by Budweiser in 2011.
“We had a good 2010 season with two wins,” said Bowyer, driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet. “But that is all in the past. You are only as good as your last race, your last performance. We just got back from Daytona and we are ready for them. Our cars are fast. Going through the motions, we found gains and we things that could make it better. It’s important to get that out of the way now.”
“To compete on a week to week basis was very important to us,” said Harvick. “I’m glad we had that experience. Hopefully, we can build upon that and make things better. I’m proud of the job everyone has done. I’m just ready to race. As we go into the year, we want to be as good as we were last year. We want that trophy. And that’s what we’re out to get.”
“We put ourselves in the position to win a lot of races early in the year,” said Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet. “We just never were able to execute on that. A lot of ways last year was the most fun I have ever had and also the most frustrating I have had. This year I feel good about everything the team is doing.”
Childress Wins Sporting News Owner of the Year Award
Richard Childress was also presented with the Sporting News Owner of the Year Award for the third time Tuesday afternoon during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour.
“I’m really excited about this,” Childress said. “Each time I have been fortunate enough to get this award it’s not about Richard Childress. This is for all our people at RCR, our drivers, our teams and our sponsors. My name is on it but this belongs to RCR.”
Penske Racing Unveils 2011 Sponsor Lineup
Penske Racing unveiled its 2011 NASCAR driver lineup and sponsor lineup during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour.
Penske Racing patriarch Roger Penske started the Media Tour stop with a state of the sport address. Last season Penske Racing amassed nine NASCAR wins, including Kurt Busch’s victory in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as well as 10 poles and the NASCAR Nationwide Championship with Brad Keselowski.
Penske then outlined several position swaps within the organization for 2011 and thanked the organization’s sponsors. He noted that while Penske Racing downsized from three NASCAR Sprint Cup teams to two, the organization expanded its engineering and technical departments and personnel.
“You know this was a vision of mine, to consolidate our race teams under one roof,” said Penske. “And I think we have seen the success over the last three or four years. We have had the opportunity to move our people from one area to another with in the sport. As we go into 2011 I feel a lot better because the economy certainly is stronger. You can see that in our businesses.
“The job for our drivers is to drive race cars, and for crew chiefs to work on them,” said Penske. “Making the Chase (for the NASCAR Sprint Cup) last year and having a competitive Nationwide Series car was very important to us.”
Penske driver and 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Kurt Busch said he is excited about the new season with his new sponsor, as he takes over the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge.
“We are proud of the cars that we put out there on the track,” he said. “We have beautiful cars with the Shell Pennzoil colors. Of course we’ve done things internally to continue to get stronger, with different personnel changes including key people we have added to teams. Going into my sixth year, this is the strongest I have felt going into the season. So, I’m really looking forward to hitting the track at Daytona and get the season underway.”
For the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion Brad Keselowski, expectations are again high, particularly as he takes over the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for the Penske organization.
“We are real proud of what we have here, having nicer stuff and stuff we can win with,” said Keselowski. “It’s all possible because of the progress we have made. Having our Nationwide sponsors return is a tremendous help for us. We are looking forward to starting the year here at Penske Racing.”
Keselowski will again pilot the No. 22 Discount Tire/Ruby Tuesday Dodge in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
In additional sponsor news, Penske announced that driver Sam Hornish Jr. will race the No. 12 Dodge and compete full time in the Nationwide Series with new partner Alliance Truck Parts.
AAA will sponsor driver Helio Castroneves in select events in the Izod Indy Car Racing Series. Coca-Cola will also join Penske Racing and Kurt Busch will serve as one of the drivers in the Coca-Cola Racing Family. Another partner coming on board with Penske is Kimberly-Clark with its WYPALL brand.
This season marks the ninth year Dodge has been with Penske Racing.
Kurt Busch to race in NHRA Pro Stock
Kurt Busch announced he is planning to race in select NHRA Pro Stock drag racing events in a Shell Pennzoil Dodge. Busch will field vehicles out of his own shop through an association with Alan Johnson Racing.
“For me the drag racing thing caught on when I got to hang out with Don Prudhomme up at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis a few years back,” Busch said. “At the same time they built zMAX Dragway here in my back yard. Last year going to the Gator Nationals and running in the sportsman ranks in Super Gas, we got rained out the whole weekend. Yet the pro divisions were still out there running. And I was like, man, if I am going to do this, I am going to the pro division. So I got a Pro Stock car. It is definitely over my head right now. It’s a tough challenge. The testing has been going really well. If we hit our marks and do the right things, we can make the show at the Gator Nationals. That’s my objective.
“It’s a great way to cross promote and have some fun. I’m doing this all in house and not with Penske Racing. I also went through all the schools and with Roy Hill. I plan on testing a couple more times.”
SPEED to Honor Earnhardt with The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt
To recognize the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500, SPEED announced it would broadcast a one-hour special titled The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt on Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. EST. The program will reflect on the tragic events of that Sunday from sunrise to sunset and focus on how that moment forever changed NASCAR. The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt, will mark the first time Michael Waltrip, who won the 2001 Daytona 500, will give a television interview to discuss the death of his former car owner, friend and mentor.
SPEED Prepares for 100 Hours of Speedweeks Coverage
SPEED will broadcast more than 100 hours of programming from Daytona Speedweeks this year, highlighted by live coverage of the Gatorade Duel at Daytona on Feb. 17 at 2 p.m. EST and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. EST.
SPEED will open its Daytona Speedweeks lineup with coverage of NASCAR Media Day on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. EST, followed at 8:30 p.m. EST by the series premiere of The 10, a fast-paced list program highlighting the best of the best from the world of NASCAR, whose premiere counts down “NASCAR’s Closest Calls.”
NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot returns for its sixth season in 2011 starring John Roberts, Kyle Petty, Kenny Wallace, Hermie Sadler and Wendy Venturini. The cast will deliver a special three-hour edition on Feb. 20 at 9 a.m. EST, leading into NASCAR on FOX coverage of the Daytona 500.
Quotes of the Day
Michael Waltrip on the 2001 Daytona 500: “I basically was in a fog for a few months after Dale’s death. Getting back [to Daytona] in July of 2001 was a really important event for me. That was the best night in my racing career. Leaving Daytona that night, I thought, ‘Good, we can move on.’ That obviously wasn’t the case, because part of me still feels like Dale’s death happened just yesterday.”
NASCAR Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash: “2011, we think, will be the most competitive season the NASCAR Nationwide Series has seen.”
Elliott Sadler on a Nationwide Series-only driver running for the championship in 2011: “I do think it is a big deal to Nationwide. They want their own Nationwide champion. It’s good for the fans. It gets us back to the grass roots of racing. There is going to be some great racing. There are a lot of good guys up here.”
Jason Leffler, driver of the No. 38 Great Clips Chevrolet for Turner Motorsports: “One thing that I am proud of is that we have a series sponsor that cares enough about the series to want to stimulate change. It’s great for a sponsor like we have in Great Clips who is a Nationwide sponsor and not in the Cup series. I’m very excited about it.”
Richard Childress on the 2010 season had by his drivers: “We had what I thought was a good 2010 season. The only guy who had a better season was Jimmie Johnson because he won the championship. I am really proud of what every one of these guys have done. This is still a great sport and I’m proud to be a part of it. I feel I am the luckiest car owner out there to have the drivers and talent we have here, and to be able to run for that championship.