NASCAR Media Day 1 Report

by Pete McCole

January 24, 2005

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2005 NASCAR Media Tour

The 22nd annual NASCAR Nextel Cup Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway kicked off Monday in Concord, N.C., bringing together journalists from all over the country for a weeklong tour of interviews, shop tours and press conferences as the teams gear up for the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup season.

First up on the schedule this year was a luncheon visit with MB2 and MBV Motorsports at the University Hilton, where team owner Nelson Bowers and team general manager Jay Frye were joined by drivers Joe Nemechek, Scott Riggs and Boris Said along their respective crew chiefs.

Nemechek started every race last season behind the wheel of the no.01 ARMY Chevrolet, filling in for driver Jerry Nadeau, who is still recovering from injuries suffered in a crash at Richmond in May of 2003. Nemechek gave MB2 their first win in the Cup series since the team’s inception in 1997, taking the checkered flag at Kansas Speedway.

Bowers said no timetable has been set for Nadeau’s return, but stresses the decision is up to Nadeau, although rumors have Nadeau considering retiring from driving on the circuit.

“I’m looking forward to 2005, it’s going to be a great year,” Nemechek said. “I’m starting 2005 with all the same team members, which is a new experience for me. We learned a lot last year as a team, we started to gel, especially in the last 15-20 races of last year. We had some problems, had some things happen to us. As long as we continue to learn from our mistakes and not make them again, it’s going to make us a better team.”

Riggs struggled in his rookie season in Nextel Cup last year driving the no. 10 Valvoline Chevrolet, closing out the year 29th in points. He finished a disappointing fifth in the 2004 Rookie of the Year battle.

“We learned a lot last year, but we didn’t really perform as well as I know we had the potential as a team to perform,” Riggs said. “What’s exciting about this year is that even with the way we performed, we were able to attract key guys into this team, people who were willing to come on board and help this team improve.”

Boris Said (Center) with Centrix Financial team

The team also introduced MB/Sutton Motorsports. The new team is a joint venture between MB2 Motorsports and Bon Sutton, the Chairman and CEO of CENTRIX Financial, an auto finance company.

The team plans to field a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series car for ten races with road racing specialist Boris Said, who hopes to make the transition to oval racing. Said ran four races for MB2 Motorsports in 2004, three on them on ovals including the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona.

“Oval racing is my next challenge,” Said said. “I feel like I’ve done everything I can in road racing, and you always want to test yourself, you want to race against the best drivers in the world and that’s where they are – in NASCAR Nextel Cup.”

Richard Petty (right) joined Brian France, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and others to greet the media

The tour next moved on to the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., where NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France was joined by seven-time champion Richard Petty, three-time champion and TV commentator Darrell Waltrip, drivers Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, 2004 Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year Kasey Kahne and 2004 Nextel Cup Champion Kurt Busch to reflect on the past season as well as the future of NASCAR.

Among the goals for 2005 will be to build on the momentum from 2004, to keep costs down for teams, and the “car of tomorrow”, a new stock car design targeted for 2006.

One of the biggest goals will be the renewal of the all-important TV contracts with broadcast partners FOX and NBC.

Brian France

“We think we’re in a great position (for renegotiating) and that we’ve created more value for our TV partners, and we’ve got to help them be more profitable with NASCAR, and we can benefit from there,” France said. “My goal is to renew with the current lineup, because I think they get NASCAR well and we need to try and build on what they’ve done.”

“Our goal is – I’m confident we’re going to get it done with our current partners. If we have to go with someone else – that would really hurt our momentum. It wouldn’t be our first preference, but if you have to do what you have to do to sign with a partner long-term, that’s what you have to do.”

One cost cutting measure in place for 2005 will be a new qualifying procedure NASCAR will be implementing for 2005.

At select events, cars will be impounded immediately following qualifying until the start of the race, requiring teams to qualify in race trim and effectively eliminating any final practice session. The new procedure is also expected to help weed out “field fillers” and allow more full-time teams to make the field.

NASCAR is continuing its plans for expansion into new markets, with International Speedway Corp. negotiating a deal for a track in the New York City area as well as looking for opportunities in the Pacific Northwest, but NASCAR board member Lesa France Kennedy says NASCAR has no plans to expand to Canada.

“We are currently in the permitting process (with the New York track), which is expected to take a few years, but we don’t expect to have a track built before the end of the decade,” Kennedy said. “We’re still very active in the Northwest, and we still feel that’s a very viable option and we have a number of sites we’ve explored (for potential track sites), but we’re going to focus on expansion in the United States.”

This season, the NASCAR Busch Series will race in Mexico for the first time, giving NASCAR a foothold in the Hispanic demographic.

“Our number one reason for going to Mexico is we’re getting awareness from the whole country,” France said. “The Hispanic market is the fastest growing emerging market in the country, and in order to be relevant to our Hispanic fans, we have to be relevant in their home country. We have to take our events where our fans are.”

France said NASCAR was pleased with the current Chase for the Nextel Cup points system and the system would remain for 2005.

“We feel like we have a pretty good system, we had five guys going into the final race with a chance to win,” France said. “On balance, we’re pretty happy with where we’re at (with the points), we’ll go through another cycle and take another look at it, but we’re set for ’05.”

NASCAR has once again realigned the schedule this season, giving second race dates to Phoenix Int’l Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway, with the Texas race taking place during the ten-race Chase for the Nextel Cup.

France admits future realignment is always “on the table”, but the sanctioning body is happy with the current lineup.

“We’re very comfortable with the diverse tracks we have on the circuit,” France said, “we feel we have a nice mix of tracks in the final ten races.”

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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