UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour - Day 3
by Pete McCole

January 23, 2003

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Ganassi's contingent of drivers include Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears.
Photo: Pete McCole

The 2002 UAW-GM Motorsports Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway continued on Wednesday, highlighted by visits with three of NASCAR’s Winston Cup Dodge organizations - Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Bill Davis Racing and Petty Enterprises.

Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates led off day three with a breakfast/press conference, featuring drivers Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears.

For Marlin, the 2002 season might be remembered for what he didn’t accomplish, rather than what he did.

Marlin was leading the Daytona 500 when a run in with Jeff Gordon, less than ten laps from the finish, damaged his right front fender. During an ensuing red flag, Marlin exited his parked car to pull the damaged fender away from his right front tire, earning him a penalty from NASCAR that cost him the win.

After leading the points standings for 24 consecutive weeks, Marlin and the No. 40 Coor’s Light team ran into a spate of bad luck, finishing 21st or worse in four races last September. Marlin dropped to fifth in points before a season-ending neck at Kansas Speedway.

Watching from the sidelines is not how Marlin wanted his season to end.

“It was really tough for me to sit out at the end of last season,” said Marlin. “It was really disappointing, but that’s part of racing. It just makes me more determined to get back in the car this year.”

Ganassi will field three cars for the 2003 season. Moving up from the Busch Series to join Marlin will be the newest young guns, rookies Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears.

A virtual unknown when it was announced he would join Ganassi Racing for the 2003 season, McMurray got a trial by fire when he was tapped to fill in for the injured Sterling Marlin. McMurray pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history, taking the checkered flag at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last October in only his second Winston Cup start.

Despite the victory, McMurray doesn’t believe he should be judged based on the successes of last year’s rookie class.

“I think everyone is trying to compare Casey and I and the other rookies to Ryan (Newman) and Jimmie (Johnson), and what they did last year,” said McMurray said, ”I don’t know if that’s a fair way to look at us. We need to be judged on our own accomplishments.”

Casey Mears, nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, joins the likes of other famous names from the open-wheeled ranks, such as Andretti and Foyt, who have made the jump to stock cars.

“I’m looking forward to getting started this year,” said Mears, after just one season in stock cars driving on the Busch Series. “All of us want to win races. We all want to sit on poles. We all want to winchampionships, but being a rookie, we need to find some consistency.”

A sneak peak inside of the Bill Davis Racing shop.
Photo: Pete McCole

Next stop on the tour was a trip to High Point, N.C. to the shops of Bill Davis Racing. BDR went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in 2002 - winning the Daytona 500 and then experiencing a run of bad luck that dropped them to a 25th-place finish in the standings.

Owner Bill Davis hopes to put all that behind him this season.

“We had our best year and our worst year all rolled into one last season,” Davis said. “We won a couple of big races, but just didn’t put it together the rest if the year. We were really inconsistent, had mechanical failures that were very unusual for us, problems we’ve never really had to face, but hopefully we’re past all that.”

The lead driver at Davis Racing, Ward Burton, is confident that he can build on the new foundation laid his car owner, including the addition of new crew chief, Frank Stoddard.

“I have a really fresh attitude for this season,” said Burton, when asked if he could bring anything new to the team in 2003. “I think what Bill and Gail Davis have brought to the team is a lot more important than what I can bring. Frankie is a huge addition with the experience, enthusiasm and focus he brings to the team.”

Kenny Wallace, with sponsor Stacker 2, will continue to drive the No. 23 Dodge in 2003. Wallace replaced Hut Stricklin with ten races remaining in 2002 and has high hopes he and crew chief Phillipe Lopez can capitalize on the time spent getting to know each other last year.

Richard Petty, Kyle Petty and John Andretti meet the press.
Photo: Pete McCole

The final stop of the day was a trip to the hallowed grounds of Petty Enterprises, which has been operating out of their current race shops since 1952.

Having struggled more than any of the other Dodge teams, picking up only two top-10 finishes among its three teams in 2002, Petty Enterprises CEO Kyle Petty believes the team has finally turned things around.

“We’ve been down, but we’re on our way back,” said Petty. “We’ve stepped back, regrouped, and reorganized. We’re not a championship contender, but we are capable of putting our cars in victory lane. We feel we can get there and knock on that door. We’ve set goals for ourselves and we’re going to reach those goals.”

The team parted ways with team manager Robin Pemberton during the off-season, and pared its three-car operation down to two, with Georgia-Pacific coming on board the No. 45 Dodge. The team has also re-signed John Andretti, who will return for his fifth season as driver of the #43 Cheerios Dodge.

Petty Enterprises is still seeking sponsorship that will allow them to enter Christian Fittipaldi to run several ARCA, Busch, and possibly a few Winston Cup races this season. Fittipaldi will run the Daytona 500 as the driver of Andy Petree’s No. 55 Monaco Coaches Chevrolet, but remains under contract to Petty Enterprises

Just before the presentation by Petty Enterprises, MNPA President Kenny Bruce presented a check for $4,000 to Kyle and Pattie Patty. The money is a donation to the Victory Junction Camp being built in honor of Adam Petty. Construction at the camp is going full speed ahead. The camp is scheduled to open in summer of 2004.

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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