Friday, January 25, 2013

Keselowski looks for a repeat

Notes and Quotes #4: NASCAR Sprint Media Tour
Hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski leads a parade of Ford Racing cars through the streets of Charlotte on the fourth and final day of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by CMS. (CMS/HHP Photo)
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013
2012 Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski “hungry” at Penske dinnerOn Wednesday night of the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Mooresville, N.C., Mayor Miles Atkins showed the area’s appreciation for Penske Racing by presenting Roger Penske and 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski with ceremonial keys to the city.
Mark Frissora, CEO of Hertz, briefly talked about his company’s 2013 sponsorship deal with Penske and gave it some historical perspective.
“The Hertz and Penske racing partnership goes back to early 1980s when we were actually the primary sponsor of Penske’s Indy program,” Frissora said. “We’re really excited to rekindle that relationship.”
Keselowski was asked how he planned to win another championship in 2013.
“Stick to what got you where you are at – hard work, dedication to people,” he said. “Ford is special to us because of their people and their commitment; that’s a key piece. What we did last year is not good enough. We have to step up another level. We know our competition is going to do the same. I’m not happy being a guy that wins one championship and goes away quietly. Look at some of the additions we’ve made [for the new season]. Bringing in Joey Logano, working on the Nationwide program to solidify two programs, having Ryan Blaney be part of that – that shows the commitment we all have to improving. I know that Joey and Ryan bring some youth and fresh ideas to make the team better. They might go out there and beat my butt, but I’m going to surround myself with the most talent because that’s what got us where we are today.”
When asked about his tendency to say what is on his mind, Keselowski said, “I care about this sport. I don’t want to be the champion of a sport that isn’t as strong as it can be. I want to be a leader in this sport, quite frankly. In order to do that, I’m going to have to be vocal.”
Logano, who just joined the Penske team for 2013 after driving off and on for Joe Gibbs Racing, was asked how it felt to start his new job.
“The move is going great so far,” he said. “Coming into a championship-winning team is a huge privilege. [Logano’s crew chief] Todd Gordon and I are learning each other at a very quick rate. I feel we have a lot of similarities.”
Ryan Blaney, who became the youngest NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner ever in 2012, will drive for Brad Keselowski Racing in the new season
When asked about his expectations for 2013, Blaney said, “I’m shocked that I’m up here (surrounded by so many accomplished drivers). Being able to drive for Roger Penske and Brad and his truck program has really meant a lot, seeing they have faith in me and put me out there. They definitely have the best people here to help a young guy learn.”
Small teams and big dreams for Ford RacingFord Racing held a working breakfast for media on Thursday morning. On hand were drivers from Richard Petty Motorsports, Wood Brothers Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Germain Racing and Roush Fenway Racing, fielding questions during the final day of the Sprint Media Tour.
With team owner Richard Petty holding court among a throng of reporters, RPM driver Aric Almirola sat just a couple of seats away with only two members of the media. But that suits Almirola just fine as he hopes to sneak his way into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“I think we need to be in the top 15 in points,” said Almirola, who finished 20th in points during his first full season in the Cup series last year. “I feel like if I can run consistently inside the top 15, and we can win a race, with this new points system anything is possible – maybe even a wild-card spot.”
Marcos Ambrose, who picked up his second career Cup win last season and finished 18th in points, has goals similar to those of his RPM teammate.
“We want to compete for a championship – plain and simple,” said Ambrose. “I think we have a great team and a lot of continuity. There’s no reason we can’t make that jump (to the Chase).”
Germain Racing’s Casey Mears talked about the importance of taking his game “to the next level,” while David Ragan noted that running for a smaller team like Front Row Motorsports has given him perspective on just how tough it is to win in the Sprint Cup Series.
“You need to manage your expectations,” said Ragan, who is in his second full season with FRM after spending five seasons at Roush Fenway. “Instead of running for a championship and wanting to win six or seven races, our goals are top-15 and a top-20 points finishes, which is the hard part. But on a smaller team you’re also able to pay attention to smaller details you might not on a bigger team, and that’s an aspect I like.”
That isn’t the case for Trevor Bayne, who will be looking to pick up where Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (now running a full-time Cup schedule) left off as a back-to-back champion for Roush.
“Ricky did an amazing job, and I’ve got some big shoes to fill, but I enjoy that kind of pressure,” said Bayne. “(Ricky) left me with a terrific team and our goals are the same as his were, and that’s to bring home a third straight championship in the No. 6 Ford.” 
Roush Fenway Racing is “driven” in 2013Founder, CEO and co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing Jack Roush could think of no better way to celebrate 25 years of motorsports success than to spend Thursday morning of the Sprint Media Tour with a room full of racing media at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.
“I’m as enthusiastic and as driven as I’ve ever been to take our absolute best effort to the racetrack every race,” Roush said. “We’re anxious to add to our win total – we’ve got 311 NASCAR wins, if my information is correct, and seven championships. We’re anxious to build on that in our next 25 years. Everybody in my generation in management, we’re anxious to take the brightest and most enthusiastic young folks that want to get involved with stock car racing and channel their efforts to let them realize their dreams and have the same success we’ve had. Vicariously, I enjoy that very much.”
The team’s stable of drivers then filed into the spotlight with Roush: Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Rickey Stenhouse Jr., Trevor Bayne and Travis Pastrana.
Roush described his 2013 roster as a “dream team.”
“When I started in 1988, I couldn’t wait to get started with multiple cars and multiple programs with the depth and experience and potential this group has. It just makes me feel really gratified and that my life’s work has been successful.”
Biffle was asked for his thoughts on doing something that no one has accomplished in NASCAR – winning championships in all three of the top series.
“Winning a championship in the Sprint Cup Series alone is a heck of an accomplishment,” Biffle said. “I’ve been able to win the Truck and Nationwide seasons – not like Rickey, not back to back – I was able to win the championships on my way up through the ranks. It would be something special have all three – be the first guy to do it.”
Stenhouse Jr., who is making his move to Sprint Cup for 2013, said, “Having teammates (like these) is going to be a lot of fun this year. I think our expectations are to go out and compete for wins and have a strong Roush Fenway team. I hope I can do my part to contribute.”
In a one-on-one session, Pastrana was asked about the biggest adjustment he had to make to go from Supercross racing to NASCAR.
“Patience,” he answered. “Those first couple of laps I took with a race car, I dented in some part of a car that affected the handling. That surprised me every time – ‘That little dent right there is the reason we don’t have downforce on the front?!’ From action sports from where everything is adrenaline to (a sport where I have to have) patience. You have to get there. You have to make it in a good position to take that green-white checker – that last 20 or 30 laps. Everyone’s like, ‘Aren’t you bored out there?’ I’m like, I’m white-knuckle grip out there. I got tendonitis in my right elbow with my first Nationwide race.” 
Ford Racing revs up for race fansFollowing the Roush Fenway Racing media availabilities, members of the Ford Racing team, including 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Travis Pastrana, Joey Logano, Rickey Stenhouse Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne and others took their rides to the streets of Charlotte in a horsepower-fueled parade that echoed throughout Center City.
Following a brief lap through the streets, drivers lined up for a Ford Racing team photo as fans lined the sidewalks outside of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Veteran Kenseth brings experience in new role at Joe Gibbs Racing There are a lot of new faces at Joe Gibbs Racing, but these guys aren’t rookies.
Matt Kenseth, 40, joined the JGR family after 12 seasons with Roush Fenway Racing. Despite not yet taking a single green flag with his new team, Kenseth is already feeling right at home, joking with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch about which driver will deliver Gibbs his next championship.
“Didn’t you already win a championship,” NASCAR Nationwide Series teammate Brian Vickers said in defense of Kenseth.
“That was a long time ago,” Busch quipped.
Jokes aside, Gibbs said Kenseth brings an added element to his race team that has everyone around the shop excited about the prospects for 2013 and beyond.
“Adding Matt is a big deal,” Gibbs said during the final stop of the four-day NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think he’s somebody that we all respect. I know that Denny, Kyle and Brian do. It’s a thrill for us to have him on board… This is probably the most excited I’ve been going into a season.” 
Vickers, who joins the full-time ranks of Gibbs’ Nationwide Series stable, said he hopes teaming up with Kenseth (and their shared sponsor Dollar General) will return them to the glory both experienced in 2003 when Vickers claimed the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship and Kenseth was crowned the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ.
JD Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, also introduced the media to the newest member of the Gibbs Racing family, Taylor James Hamlin.
“It’s been a great week,” new father Denny Hamlin said. “I’m very tired, but she’s perfectly healthy. We’re excited to have her.”
Taylor was born Jan. 20 at 20:20 (military time for 8:20 p.m.) and measured 20 inches long.
“We squelched the rumor that Denny will now be driving the 20 car,” JD Gibbs said with a smile.
More blog entries from this writer:
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hendrick Motorsports ready to win

Notes and Quotes #3: NASCAR 
Sprint Media Tour Hosted By CMS
NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick (center) is surrounded by his Sprint Cup Series drivers (left to right) Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. during Day Three of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. (CMS/HHP Photo)
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013
Nothing new; just win! – With other teams announcing everything from new partnerships to new drivers, it’s par for the course for Hendrick Motorsports, which returns with the same lineup and crews from a 2012 season that saw all four teams make the Chase for the Championship.
“Obviously, with the new car, we’re excited to get things going,” said team owner Rick Hendrick, who was flanked by Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon to his right and Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to his left. “There’s a lot of anticipation to get this season started, and I think I can speak for all four drivers when I say they’re ready to get to Daytona.”
Kahne, who missed last year’s Sprint Media Tour because of jury duty, is geared up and ready to pick up where he left off in 2012.
“We had a great season in 2012, but we also left a lot on the table,” said Kahne, who finished with two victories and fourth in points. “I’ve been here a year now, and it’s an unbelievable place, and everyone knows the opportunity Mr. H gives us, so we want to take full advantage of that.”
Gordon will look to pick up right where he left off at the end of last season.
“I know we wanted to race again the next week,” said Gordon, who closed out last season with a victory at Homestead. “I just never got a good feel for [the Car of Tomorrow]. It was better over the last couple years, but it just never fit me well. This new car – now that’s a race car.”
After a string of five straight championships, this will be the second straight season in which Johnson isn’t the defending champion.
“I feel like through those five years there was some pressure on me that I didn’t know existed until the streak ended,” said Johnson, who finished third in points last season. “Starting the 2011 season, I was aware of that and kind of a clean sheet of paper. Time to start a new streak if I can or turn a page to what’s next.”
Earnhardt Jr. admits that it’s been a rough start to a season that’s yet to begin.
“I thought long and hard, and that’s probably the most embarrassed I have been in a long time,” said Earnhardt, who spun out Marcos Ambrose during a drafting practice session that collected 12 cars in its wake. “I feel like I short-handed a lot of people at that test … That was tough, but it was a learning experience. You have to get past it, and that’s what I’m going to try and do.”
 Gen-6 Talk during Chevrolet’s Tuesday night dinnerNo doubt the hot topic during the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway this week has been the new Gen-6 race car all NASCAR Sprint Cup teams will be running in 2013. On Tuesday night, Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports for Chevrolet, put together an informative program that broke down the development of the Chevrolet SS, which will make its debut next month in Daytona.
Chevrolet used the same approach to develop the SS as it does on all its production vehicles, reinforcing the age-old mantra heard all week that says, “What you race on Sunday you can buy on Monday.”
“It’ll be great to be racing a Chevy small-block V-8, rear-wheel-drive car on the race track and selling a Chevy small-block V-8, rear-wheel-drive Chevrolet SS in the showroom,” said Campbell. “The SS has a great history – [the letters] stand for Super Sport – and I can’t wait to see the Chevrolet SS on the opening lap of the Daytona 500 and for the rest of the 2013 season.”
Chevrolet has plans to unveil its Chevy SS production car on Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway at 1 p.m.
Chevrolet has put together an impressive résumé in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series over the years, compiling 702 wins and 36 manufacturers’ titles, including 10 straight that date back to 2003.
“It’s going to be exciting to see the new Chevrolet SS on track, continuing our quest for more product relevance,” said Chevrolet Racing Director Pat Suhy. “[NASCAR race cars have] bio fuels, fuel injection, and now we have a car that is closely tied to its production counterpart. The new car is an example of how the manufacturers working hand-in-hand with NASCAR resulted in a product that we are very proud of. It’s going to be not only product relevant but also very exciting on the track.”
Chip Ganassi Racing flying high with Cessna sponsorshipWith all seven of its drivers sitting shoulder to shoulder, Chip Ganassi Racing announced a new multi-year deal on Wednesday that will see Cessna Aircraft Co. (a Textron, Inc. company) sponsor cars across all three of the race series in which CGR competes.
Inside a hangar at the Concord Regional Airport, the partnership was officially unveiled to Sprint Media Tour members with a dramatic drop of the curtain – cued by Scott Ernest, president and CEO of Cessna. Revealed behind the curtain were a Cessna X (the fastest commercial plane in the world), a Bad Boy Buggy, a Bell 429 Helicopter and Jamie McMurray’s black No. 1 Chevrolet SS with Cessna logos decorating the Sprint Cup Series Gen-6.
“That’s a pretty cool car right there, isn’t it?” asked McMurray, who will pilot the Cessna-sponsored Chevy SS for multiple races this season. “I’m really excited to get this season started. There’s a lot of positive energy on this team right now, and having Cessna onboard has really been a shot in the arm for this entire organization.”
That sentiment was echoed by Chip Ganassi, who spoke very highly of the new partnership, calling it “an honor” to add Cessna. Ganassi also spoke proudly of all seven of his drivers, a group that claims six IndyCar championships, six Grand-Am championships, four Indianapolis 500s, four Rolex 24 of Daytona races, a Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and 150 other race wins.
“This is a pretty talented group of drivers,” said Ganassi of the Sprint Cup Series’ McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya; Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball of the IZOD IndyCar Series; and Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas of the Grand-Am series. All seven CGRT drivers will be competing in the 51st annual Rolex 24 at Daytona this weekend.
“There’s obviously something missing from that list, and that’s a NASCAR championship,” said Ganassi. “We want to add that to our list of accomplishments.”
Montoya might be just the guy to do it.
“I’m not going to come out and say that I’m confident we’re going to have a great season, but the way testing has gone, it’s hard not to be excited,” said Montoya. “We’re bringing back our whole team. That’s very rare. I think that is going to be an advantage for us.”
Charlotte Motor Speedway discusses All-Star theme and fan contest winnerThe speedway’s Media Center served as a lunchtime stop Wednesday for the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. Before being served a chuck wagon meal of hamburgers, hot dogs and cowboy-style baked beans, participants enjoyed a short presentation by the speedway’s President and General Manager Marcus Smith and Vice President of Communications Scott Cooper.
Wearing cowboy hats and toy Colt repeaters in their holsters, Smith and Cooper discussed the media to the Western “Throwdown at Charlotte” theme – and some of the attractions – for the May 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race. The press members were treated to a short clip of raw green-screen video from an upcoming TV spot featuring Clint Bowyer and other drivers. The finished commercial will debut on SPEED during Daytona Speedweeks.
The duo also announced that country music star Billy Currington will headline a pre-race concert free to all fans with a NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race ticket.
Smith then touched on a unique form of involvement with the race for two lucky All-Star fans.
“We wanted to give some fans an opportunity to be in our [All-Star] commercial with the drivers,” Smith said. “We have with us today one of those fans, Mary Allen, who has been coming to every event at the speedway since 1997. She’s a Speedway Club member and a season ticket holder.”
This won’t be her first time appearing on camera as a race fan – she was an extra on the set of the movie “3: The Dale Earnhardt Story” starring Barry Pepper as the legendary driver. She automatically became eligible to appear in the upcoming All-Star commercial by purchasing her race ticket before the deadline on Jan. 14. Although she was picked at random from a large pool of possibilities, Allen perfectly fits the description of a hard-core race fan – the vanity plate on her black Chevrolet Camaro RS reads “NVR4GT3” and she once blew out a tire driving her personal car around Charlotte’s 1.5-mile superspeedway.
When asked who she thought had the best chance of taking home the million-dollar purse in May, like many race fans, she has her favorites.
“I’m for anybody with Hendrick Motorsports,” she said. “It’s time for [Dale Earnhardt] Jr. to win, but my heart is with Hendrick Motorsports [as a group].”
Allen later said her devotion to the Hendrick family goes back several years to when she first met them in her professional status as a nurse and got to know patriarch Papa Joe.
Smith and Cooper wrapped up the pre-lunch talk by telling the media members that the 2013 format for the ever-changing All-Star will be announced shortly. The race will be supported by a full roster of entertainment attractions, including a country music concert.
Hendrick wins pay off for North Carolina communities Greenville, N.C., mayor Allen Thomas and High Point mayor Bernita Sims joined the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour at Hendrick Motorsports to accept checks from last year’s May Race to Education program. As a part of the program, cities across North Carolina were paired by random drawing to the successes of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers.
Greenville was paired with All-Star Race winner Jimmie Johnson, and High Point selected driver Kasey Kahne, who won the Cola-Cola 600, earning each city $20,000 to use toward educational programs within the community. Marcus Smith, Charlotte Motor Speedway's president and general manager, presented their winnings.
Notable quotes:
“I call it the perfect race for the ADD generation. What’s not to like?” – Marcus Smith, on the 2013 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway
“Mine was about five sizes too big.” – Jeff Gordon, when asked if the Car of Tomorrow were a suit, how would it compare to the Gen-6
More blog entries from this writer:
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

Darlington tire test set for Feb. 5


February 5 test will feature new Gen-6 car driven by NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Juan Pablo Montoya

DARLINGTON, S.C. (Jan. 23, 2013) – Testing returns to Darlington Raceway! This time with the new and highly-touted Gen-6 racecar!

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Darlington will host a Goodyear Tire Test, which will feature the Gen-6 racecar. Participating in the test will be NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Juan Pablo Montoya.

“Testing these new Gen-6 cars at tracks like Darlington is important for Goodyear and the teams,” Truex Jr. said. “I’m pretty excited about testing there with my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota because I consider Darlington to be one of my best tracks, especially since they’ve repaved it a few years ago.  It’s a place I have been strong at consistently. I just love the place.  I’m excited to see how the new Gen-6 car and Goodyear tires perform when we test there on Feb. 5. Hopefully fans will show up and see how we look on the track before we race there in May.”

The test, which will be held from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., is FREE and open to the public. Darlington Raceway will open two sections of the Colvin Grandstand on the backstretch of the track for fans to watch the test throughout the day and witness the first laps of the Gen-6 car on the high banks of the track Too Tough To Tame.

If fans enjoy the new Gen-6 car testing at Darlington, they will have the opportunity to visit the Darlington ticket office that day and receive a special gift and pricing on tickets for the Bojangles’ Southern 500.

Fans can also get their picture taken with Darlington’s new Chevy Camaro pace car, which will be located next to the ticket office.

The Darlington gift shop and stock car museum will be open from 10 a.m – 5 p.m. that day. An adult admission price for the museum will be just $3 for that day only.

“With Darlington being so unique and different than any other track on the NASCAR circuit, this could be considered the toughest track the new Gen-6 car will have tested at thus far,” track President Chris Browning said. “It will be exciting to see the new car run at the track Too Tough To Tame on Feb. 5.”

Fans need to use the Gate 6 entrance to the track off of Highway 151. The parking lot is located next to the track’s administration building and certain sections of the Colvin Grandstand on the backstretch will be open for public viewing.

Times of the test are subject to change by Goodyear. A rain date of Wednesday, Feb. 6 has been scheduled if there is a postponement due to inclement weather.

The Gen-6 car is the sixth generation of stock car to race in NASCAR. Gen-6 represents putting ‘stock back into the stock car,’ by returning to the roots of the sport where competitors turned street cars into race cars.

The new car will have the same characteristics as the manufacturer’s street models, which has brought a great deal of excitement for race fans heading into the 2013 season.

Tickets to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 on May 11 and Nationwide Series 200 on Friday, May 10 are on sale now! Remember, kids 12 and under are half off for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 and FREE for the Nationwide Series 200 in general admission sections. Visit or call 866-459-7223 for tickets.

You can keep up with all of the latest news from Darlington Raceway at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at

More blog entries from this writer:
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie