John Andretti to drive for ppc Nextel Cup team

by Pete McCole

October 5, 2004

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John Andretti with his new ride
Pete McCole

ppc Racing announced today they will make the jump from the NASCAR Busch Series to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series for five of the remaining seven races in 2004, running the full schedule in 2005.

John Andretti will pilot the #14 Ford for ppc Racing, with sponsorship from VB cigarettes and APlus at Sunoco. The team hopes to make their debut in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.

“A lot of people have been working hard to put this program together,” said Andretti, nephew of Indianapolis 500 legend Mario Andretti. “It’s pretty exciting to have everything set and ready to go.”

“This in the next step for ppc Racing,” team owner Greg Pollex said. “It’s a big step but one we’re prepared, and excited, to take. The backing of our sponsors and Ford Motor Company allows us the level of support we need to be competitive. Ford has given us everything we’ve asked in this endeavor, and they support us fully.

Pollex says he knows from experience how fiercely competitive Nextel Cup Racing can be.

“I don’t want anybody to think that I’ve underestimated the task that we’re about to undertake,” Pollex said. “We are going to go after this from day one. We know we’re going to grow, we know we’re going to make mistakes, we know we’re going to stumble occasionally, but it won’t be from lack of effort.”

ppc Racing has been involved in the NASCAR Busch Series for the past 11 years, picking up 27 wins. The team has finished in the top five in the Busch Series points for four consecutive years, including the 2000 series championship. The team currently fields a car in the Busch Series as well as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Pollex said ppc Racing will continue to field those teams through the 2005 season.

John Andretti with his new ride

Andretti and the team took part in a two-day testing session last week at Lowe’s, where the #14 Ford set the set time on both days. With no provisionals available to them, the team needs to make the race on speed in order to get in the field.

“We had a series of goals we wanted to accomplish and we accomplished them,” Pollex said. “Nothing comes easy here (at Lowe’s Motor Speedway) and we want to go after this thing as prepared as we can.”

Andretti, a two-time winner in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, has been without a full-time ride since being released from Petty Enterprises mid-way through the 2003 season, Since then, he’s driven for several teams in one-race deals, including Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

The choice of car number, #14, was no coincidence. The number is forever linked with four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt, who just happens to be Andretti’s godfather, giving the number added significance for the team.

“I talked to Greg (Pollex) about the idea (of using the #14), and he thought it was a great idea, so I called A.J.,” Andretti said. “The first thing (Foyt) said ‘whatever I can do to help you’, so that was important to me.”

Victory Brand LLC’s involvement with the team will mark the first time a tobacco company has sponsored a team full time since R.J. Reynolds withdrew its title sponsorship of the series following the 2004 season. RJR sponsored NASCAR’s premiere series through its Winston brand from 1971 to 2004.

Under the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, tobacco sponsors are limited as to how they advertise their products, including sports sponsorships.

Victory Brand CEO Steve Swick emphasized that his company was working diligently to target adult smokers of legal age, and would avoid marketing toward minors.

“We’re a very age-sensitive company,” Swick said. “Our corporate policy expressly forbids marketing aimed at anyone other than smokers of legal age. This is an area both Victory Brand, LLC and ppc Racing have discussed in full, and neither of us wants to sway from that.”

Pollex said the team also had to take into consideration whether NASCAR might ban tobacco sponsorship altogether, including the possibility NASCAR might “grandfather” existing tobacco sponsorship already in place.

“There has been discussion about it, and we do have to comply with the tobacco agreement, and we’re going to follow it to the letter,” Pollex said. “Myself and Steve Swick and John Andretti have all talked about how we will continue this effort even if the rules or the laws change.

“There are going to be those who are very outspoken about not smoking. We are in the business of advertising product to those who make a conscious choice. It should be freedom of choice. It is a consumer product for adults and you should have the choice to smoke or not.”

The team will be using engines from Robert Yates Racing, under an agreement that lasts through 2006. No details of the sponsorship terms with VB or APlus were announced.

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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