2005 NASCAR Media Tour
The 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup Media Tour
continued Wednesday. On the docket for Day Two were visits
with Haas CNC Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Evernham Motorsports
and Richard Childress Racing.
The day began bright and early on Tuesday morning with a
breakfast press conference with Haas CNC Racing at the
University Hilton where the team introduced their new driver
- 2002 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion Mike Bliss.
Bliss’ disastrous Cup season in 2000 with A.J. Foyt and the
now-defunct Eel River Racing sent him bolting to the truck
series in 2001. He spent the 2004 season driving for Joe
Gibbs in the NASCAR Busch Series.
“I tried driving in Cup in 2000 and after that experience I
said I’d never want to come back,” Busch said. “When this
opportunity came up, I was really excited about it. I think
this team hasn’t shown what they’re really capable of
A visit to Haas CNC Racing
All photos by Pete McCole
Although a single-car team, Haas CNC Racing has had
a long relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, providing Haas with
engines, cars and technical support.
“You sometimes feel like you’re on an island as a single-car team,”
said crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker, “but in truth, while we are
a single team, with Hendrick support, we’re right there with all the
information and all the technology, it’s just up to us to use it.”
The tour moved on to a shop visit to Joe Gibbs Racing, where team
owner Joe Gibbs and JGR team president J.D. Gibbs were joined on
stage by drivers Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Jason Leffler.
Joe Gibbs addresses the crowd
Joe Gibbs spent much of 2004 away from
racing, returning to the National Football League after an
11-year hiatus to coach the Washington Redskins, leaving
much of the day-to-day operations to his son, J.D.
“This is a friendlier press crowd than what I’ve been used
to in the last few months,” said Joe Gibbs, who led the
Redskins to a 6-10 record in 2004. “People ask me all the
time, ‘what’s it like to be in racing?’ and I tell them
racing is just like football. In football, you have
quarterbacks, in racing, you have drivers. In football, you
have coaches, over here, you have crew chiefs.”
Among the changes at JGR is the expansion to three teams in
2005, adding driver Jason Leffler in the no. 11 Chevy with
sponsorship from Federal Express.
“Looking at how we put our team together, we’re probably a
little slow to go to two teams as we did years ago,” said
J.D. Gibbs. “We’re probably a little slow to go to three
teams, but I think what we did was take our time, and really
wanted to make sure it was a great fit and have all the crew
chiefs and drivers sign off on it and I think everyone
unanimously chose Jason and (crew chief) Dave (Rogers) to
head that project up.”
Leffler previously drove for Gibbs in the Busch Series in
1999, but parted company with JGR and raced full-time for
Chip Ganassi in the Cup Series. Leffler struggled in his
rookie season in the Cup Series and was released at the end
of the year. He spent last season in the Busch Series
driving for Haas CNC Racing.
Leffler now feels JGR is a much better fit, plus the added
advantage of having two previous series champions as
“I think this is definitely a better situation for me,”
Leffler said of his previous Cup experience. “At the time I
wasn’t ready to go Cup racing, and Ganassi wasn’t ready to
have a rookie driver.
“My goal is to run up front. You run up front, you win races, the points will take care of
themselves. We have all the resources in the world here at
Joe Gibbs Racing, we have a great sponsor, so there’s no
reason we won’t compete for a win. It may take us awhile for
the team to gel, but I think realistically we have a shot to
win race and to run up front every week. That’s all you can
Winning races is also foremost on Labonte’s mind.
Labonte and his team suffered through a long, difficult
season, compounded by internal problems within the team.
Labonte and crew chief Michael “Fatback” McSwain never quite
clicked, resulting in McSwain’s unceremonious dismissal in
July. Labonte continued to struggle, finishing the year
without a victory for the first time since 1994.
“We were competitive – in the top five in points early in
the season, but obviously with the changes we made midway
through the season (with McSwain), we lost our enthusiasm
and our confidence, and that hurt us the most of anything,”
Labonte said. “We’re keyed up to go this season and get last
year behind us, and get last year’s questions answered and
away from us and hopefully after the third or fourth race
we’ll be talking about what’s exciting about this year and not
talking about last year.”
Stewart represented JGR in the Chase for the Championship
last season. Stewart began the Chase for the Championship
fourth in the standings, but a DNF in the first race in the
Chase dropped him to ninth on the standings, a deficit from
which the team never fully recovered.
“I think from our standpoint we weren’t worried about the
points since we were solidly in the top ten when the Chase
started,” Stewart said. “I think what we’re looking for more
with our team this year is trying to be more consistent, if
we can just do that then that will get us into the top ten.”
The next stop on the tour was another shop visit,
this time to the flagship shop of the Dodge Motorsports stable –
Evernham Motorsports. Team owner Ray Evernham was on hand, along
with drivers Kasey Kahne, Jeremy Mayfield and Bill Elliott.
Kahne made a major impact in his rookie season in NNC, coming within
inches from grabbing his first victory in just the second race of
the season. Although he took home the 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the
Year Award, he still couldn’t put one in the “win” column, making
the first time since 1998 that a rookie hasn’t made it to victory
“I really want that first win,” said Kahne. “I’m excited about the
(2005) season, I think we have a lot we learned from last year. I
think we have some really good people here, a lot of good things
going on to help us this season.
“Our expectations are definitely higher than last year, we need to
run more consistent, get more top tens, win races and get in that
top-10, that’s the expectations”
Although Kahne came up just short of making the Chase, teammate
Jeremy Mayfield managed to race his way into the Chase with a win at
Richmond, leaping from 14th to 10th to fill the last spot in the
Chase. Mayfield unfortunately faired the worst of the Chase
contenders, gaining only 990 points over the final ten races, ending
the season 10th in points.
“I’ve felt an urgency to get this year going. I knew last year was a
great year, but it was like a building year. This year will be
different,” said Mayfield. “I’m confident about all my guys and the
new car and the way everything is going at Evernham Motorsports.
We’re just beginning, and I’m excited about that. We want the Chase
more now than we’ve ever wanted it. I don’t know if it changes
anything, but right now I’m looking at the big picture on down the
It has been a busy off-season as well for Evernham Motorsports,
which spearheaded the development of Dodge’s new entry in the NASCAR
Nextel Cup Series – the Dodge Charger – which made its on-track
debut during January’s testing sessions at Daytona International
“The car was done here in conjunction with the folks from Dodge, and
my engineering staff with Dr. Eric Warren and his group,” said
Evernham. “They worked with Dodge and built all the cars here at the
Dodge Research and Development Center that we have in-house here, so
the cars were basically developed and built here. Petty Enterprises
were part of the development process. The other Dodge teams were
invited to be part of it, but the Petty group was really a big part of
“Going out with the Charger I hope will be a benefit, it looks like
it’s going to be a good race car. We’ve been really weak on the
speedways, and we hope that’s where the Charger is going to help us.
With the new spoiler rules I think it’s going to be a learning curve
for everyone, not just the Dodge teams.
“The Charger is just something we have to get used to, but we’ve
done that before. We have not gone through a year yet (at Evernham)
that we have not had to re-body everything we had. It’s just
something we have to get used to.”
1988 series champion Bill Elliott did much of the on-track testing
of the new Charger. Elliott retired from full-time competition after
last season, heading a growing list of veteran drivers who are
easing out of racing.
“You get in your 40’s, the handwriting is on the wall,” Elliott
said. “You can’t do this forever. I just don’t think physically you
can take it, on and on and on, you’re eventually going to have to
give it up. I could probably still do it for another year or two,
but eventually I’m going to have to give it up. We don’t live
Richard Childress Racing
For the evening portion of the program, the
tour visited Childress Vineyards in Lexington, N.C., where
he was joined by Nextel Cup Series drivers Kevin Harvick,
Jeff Burton, Dave Blaney and Kerry Earnhardt and Busch
Series driver Clint Boyer.
Childress Vineyards was started last October by
Childress, who acquired a passion for during his career as a
driver, visiting vineyards with friends while we has racing
After a long and difficult season in 2004 that saw RCR go
winless for the first time since 1997, Childress enters the
new season with two new drivers in addition to a new
Kevin Harvick and the #29 Goodwrench team spent almost all
of the first 26 races securely among the top ten in points,
but two bad finishes at Bristol and California late in the
season sent them tumbling from 8th to 15th in points and out
of the Chase. On top of it all, Harvick failed to win a race
in 2004, his first winless season since taking over the
Goodwrench Chevy following Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001.
“We’re excited about everything that we’ve got going this
season,” said Harvick. “We proved last year we are capable
of running up front. We’ve pretty much started from scratch
this season, we’ve built all new cars, all new chassis, new
bodies and everything from ground zero. That, to me, is a
huge commitment from Richard and from the guys in the shop.
Whether it’s good or bad this year, it won’t be from lack of
“We let Kevin down in a couple of races, we lost a couple of
engines, we were in the race for the chase right up until
the last couple races,” said Childress. “It wasn’t fun, but
we were trying to build, and we had a lot of momentum going
with all three of our teams at the end of the year.
“We don’t want to be on the outside looking in this year, we
want to be in that chase for the championship.”
Dave Blaney comes on board full-time after making seven
starts for Childress in the no.30 America On-Line Chevy in
2004, splitting time with Childress, Bill Davis Racing and
Roush Racing. Along with a new driver comes a new sponsor,
and a new car number, as Jack Daniel's brand whiskey comes
aboard the newly numbered 07 Chevrolet.
“I’m just so glad to have a chance to drive for a race team
like RCR that is so committed to run up front, committed to
win,” said Blaney. “Any team you can find like that, that’s
what you’re looking for as a driver, no matter if it’s
NASCAR or sprint car or whatever, those are the kind of race
teams you want to drive for. To have teammates like these
guys that want to run up front, win races, contend for
titles, I can’t ask for a better group to be associated
Jeff Burton moves from the former no.30 car into the no. 31
Cingular Chevrolet, replacing Robby Gordon. Burton spent the
last 8 ½ seasons with Roush Racing before departing in
August after failing to find sponsorship for his Roush team.
“I can tell you from the short amount of time I’ve been with
this team, there’s been a tremendous amount of effort to get
this team back to the top,” Burton said. “There’s a lot of
optimism around the shop right now. Kevin and Dave and I, we
all seem to be real open minded about helping each other,
and I think that’s going to help us tremendously.”
Childress hopes Burton’s experience in his 11 years in
NASCAR will help bring a stability that was lacking with
Childress’ previous mix of drivers.
“We just want to get RCR back on track,” Childress said. “We
brought in Jeff Burton and he’s going to bring a lot to
the table as far as consistently. He knows cars, he knows
chassis, he knows a lot about what it takes to be consistent
and to win, so I think he’s going to be a huge plus for us.
“This group of guys are committed to win, and that’s what
we’ve got to have.”
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