The 23rd Annual NASCAR Nextel Cup Media Tour
presented by Lowe’s Motor Speedway rolled onto day two on Tuesday
starting off with a visit to the shops of Robert Yates Racing.
Team owner Robert Yates was on hand to outline several key
personnel changes to his two Nextel Cup teams as well as an expanded
schedule for the teams Busch Series operation.
Richard “Slugger” Labbe will serve as crew chief for the
no. 88 UPS Ford Fusion and driver Dale Jarrett while Tommy Baldwin, Jr.,
comes over from Evernham Motorsports to become the crew chief for the no.
38 M&M’S Team and driver Elliott Sadler.
Kevin Buskirk, who has been serving in an interim crew chief role for the
no. 38 M&M’S team, will become the Technical and Performance Director for
all of RYR. The team has also added Ed Guzzo to the organization and will
serve as the Production and Operational Director.
RYR will also field a full-time Busch Series team with
sponsorship from CitiFinancial as part of their driver development plan
for drivers Matt McCall and Stephen Leicht, who will share seat time along
MB2 Motorsports shop
The tour next moved on to MB2 Motorsports new
144,000 square-foot facility housing their three Nextel Cup teams.
While many teams in Nextel Cup have gone with the youth
movement for their driving stables, MB2 have taken the opposite approach,
adding 30-year Nextel Cup veteran Sterling Marlin as a teammate to driver
Joe Nemechek. The team will also field a car for 1988 Cup champion Bill
Elliott for the 2006 Daytona 500 as well as a part-time schedule for
road-course specialist Boris Said.
At 49, Marlin is the elder statesman at MB2, but hopes he
can still continue to be competitive and put his wealth of knowledge to
good use with his new team.
MB2 Motorsports team
“I’ve had a good career, but I feel there’s more to
get done,” said Marlin. “MB2 is an organization that’s on an
upswing. Hopefully, we’ll be able to win a few races and be
competitive every week.”
Marlin and Elliott have four Daytona 500 victories between
them, experience Nemechek hopes he can benefit from when the series heads
to the season-opening event.
“Sterling has a lot more years in racing in NASCAR than I
do, so I’m the young guy on the team,” said Nemechek. “Having Bill
(Elliott) there for the Daytona 500, they know what they need to do to
win. I’ve never won at Daytona, and the way they’re limiting testing, I
think having a veteran driver like Sterling in the other car I think I can
learn more from him than from the limited testing they’re going to give
The next stop brought the tour to the shop of the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup
Champions at Joe Gibbs Racing. Tony Stewart, along team owner J.D. Gibbs,
crew chief Greg Zipadelli and the rest of the Home Depot crew were at the
White House in Washington, D.C. where President Bush honored the team for
their championship-winning season and were not available for the tour.
Unlike MB2 Motorsports, the youth movement is in full swing at JGR, with
Busch Series drivers J.J. Yeley and Denny Hamlin moving up to join a deep
field of rookies vying for the 2006 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award.
Both drivers will run a full schedule in both the Nextel Cup and Busch
Yeley takes over the familiar no. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet from
the departing Bobby Labonte, leaving the rookie driver with some big shoes
“It’s going to be difficult, being a rookie taking over one of the more
premiere rides, it’s going to be a lot more pressure,” said Yeley.
“There’s a lot of fans that hopefully will stay with Joe Gibbs Racing and
have to go out there and perform for those people, so there’s going to be
little bit more pressure there.”
Like Stewart, Yeley is an experienced open-wheel veteran with a similar
driving style, allowing the teams to share information far more
effectively than they were able to do in the past.
“With myself and Tony, we have very similar driving characteristics,
whereas Bobby (Labonte) and Tony were 180 (degrees) out,” said Yeley.
“Bobby was an old-school, late-model guy, he had a feel that we wanted,
and Tony was almost the opposite. Since we're all on the same page now,
it’s going to be easier for the crew chiefs to work together and get the
cars fine-tuning all the more easier and I think it’s going to make the
program a lot better.”
JGR will continue to support several drivers in their driver development
program with drivers Woody Howard and Joey Lagano in the Hooters Pro Cup
Series as well as Aric Almirola and Chris Bristol in their NASCAR Dodge
Weekly Racing late model diversity program started by the late NFL great
The afternoon session was wrapped up with a stop at the host track for the
tour, Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where track owner Bruton Smith and speedway
president and general manager H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler outlined changes to the
2.5-mile facility including a $3 million re-paving project that Wheeler
said will give the track an “attitude adjustment”.
In an effort to improve side-by-side racing at the track, speedway
officials elected to smooth out the racetrack last season using a
laser-guided diamond-grinding process know as levigating. The unexpected
result were record high speeds, leading up to a NASCAR record 22 caution
flags in last May’s Coca Cola 600 and a rash of tire failures during the
fall race here.
Wheeler said track officials spent several months consulting with
engineers and motorsports industry insiders before deciding on a
resurfacing plan they believe will promote side-by-side racing and passing
without completely reinventing the track's personality.
"We are going to remold the track to take some of the meanness out of it,"
said Wheeler "This is one of the meanest tracks on the NEXTEL Cup circuit
and by that I mean it can bite you when you least expect it.”
"To really understand a race track, you need to look at it from high above
right after a race and study where the black groove is," Wheeler
explained. "What you want is for that groove to be two-car widths wide so
you can have side-by-side racing and passing, which is one of the main
reasons people buy tickets.
"To achieve this, we are going to change the profile of the turns by
smoothing them out and making the radiuses more consistent," Wheeler
continued. "This will make the track more predictable."
Engineers will utilize three-dimensional digital surveying techniques and
computer-controlled paving machines, technology not available when the
track was built in 1960 or last repaved in 1994.
In excess of 10,000 tons of the special asphalt mixture will be required
to cover the entire 1.5-mile speedway and pit road. The paving is
scheduled to be completed by March 27, allowing time for a Goodyear tire
test prior to the May 1-3 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing session.
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