2007 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 2
by Pete McCole

January 23, 2007

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Robert Yates Racing
Harold Hinson/LMS

The 2007 NASCAR Media Tour presented by Lowe’s Motor Speedway rolled on Tuesday with Day Two, featuring visits with Robert Yates Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Petty Enterprises and Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

The day began with a breakfast press conference with Robert Yates Racing, where the team spoke on their outlook for the 2007 season.

2007 will be a rebuilding year for RYR. After a difficult season in 2006 that saw the team go winless for the first time since the team’s inception in 1989, RYR faced the prospect of replacing both drivers Elliott Sadler and Dale Jarrett, as well as Jarrett’s long-time sponsor, UPS.

Replacing such a powerful combination of both youth and experience, RYR turned to a familiar face, bringing back veteran driver Ricky Rudd to pilot the no. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion and serve as mentor to RYR’s newest talent, rookie David Gilliland.

Rudd previously drove for RYR back in 2000, running three seasons for Yates before leaving to join the Wood Brothers in 2003. After three seasons with the Wood Brothers, Rudd retired from the driver’s seat, only to have the thrill of competition – and the perfect situation – lure him back.

“When I took a year off, I mainly took that year off just to sort of clear my head and figure out what I really wanted to do - did I really want to be a part of this sport or was I gonna retire”, said Rudd. “When I did step aside it was a big risk for me because the chances of waiting that long and having a ride for '07 was probably getting slimmer, but, anyway, when I decided I really wanted to get back into the sport and was hungry to be a part of it, it just so happened that an opportunity opened up at Robert Yates Racing.”

“Ricky had been sending some messages that he would help me if we needed help, but I never thought of it as a season long deal,” said Yates. “When I talked to him he was like, 'Man, I'm ready. I want to do it. I don't want to pick out some races, I want to be there every week and stay in the deal and get it done.'

“He just brings all the wisdom to the table. We needed that stability, that wisdom, that knowledge and ability he has brought to us.”

Yates will also field a full-time NASCAR Busch Series entry with driver Stephen Leicht, who could move up to Nextel Cup in 2008 with a possible third team for RYR.

Richard Childress Racing
Harold Hinson/LMS

Next up, the tour rolled on to Richard Childress Racing, who finally put together a resurgence in 2006 that saw the team field two cars in the Chase For The Nextel Cup for the first time, with RCR driver Jeff Burton leading the standings early in the 10-race Chase. The team also captured the 2007 Busch Series title with driver Kevin Harvick.

For 2007, RCR faces many changes with new sponsors, a new engine package for Chevrolet and the introduction of Toyota as well as the Car of Tomorrow.

“It going to be difficult for everybody,” said Burton. “I’ve never been part of a season that’s had this many changes at once. If you look at everything, our plate is pretty full. Here’s a lot of things going on this season that I think puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the team owners, the crew chiefs and the engineering staffs and I think that’s going to make for the ultimate in competition.”

Undoubtedly the biggest change for RCR for the 2007 season is the addition of Shell/Pennzoil as a new primary sponsor of Harvick’s no. 29 Chevrolet, replacing long-time RCR sponsor GM Goodwrench, who will step back into a co-primary sponsor for a number of races.

Petty Enterprises
Harold Hinson/LMS

Petty Enterprises was the next stop on the tour, where team owners Richard and Kyle Petty have high hopes the early success last season with veteran driver Bobby Labonte and team manager Robbie Loomis will give the Pettys something to build on for 2007.

“When this group you see here sitting in front of you came to Petty Enterprises we were able to go out and hire better shock guys, better tire guys, better fabricators. In sports term our bench just got deeper. That's basically what happened,” said Kyle Petty. “We didn't have a deep enough bench to compete on a day-to-day basis with some of the other organizations out there.”

“There's been 265-266 Cup wins that's come out of this shop, so we're pretty proud of that,” said Richard Petty. “We were in a building stage last year and we're still building. We went from 35th to 25th or 20th or whatever. We have been going in the right direction and we feel like what we did last year will continue to work out this year, hopefully anyway. That's what we're working on.”

Finishing off Day Two was a press conference with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. where DEI’s new President of Global Operations Max Siegel joined drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr. and Paul Menard.

DEI owner Teresa Earnhardt, who rarely speaks to the media, made a brief appearance to start off the press conference but took no questions before leaving the stage.

For the past few weeks Earnhardt, Jr. has been engaged in a war of words in the press with Teresa Earnhardt over Dale, Jr.’s stalled contract negotiations. The team hopes to re-sign Earnhardt – NASCAR’s most popular driver – before his contract expires at the end of 2007.

When asked about his contract or his relationship with his stepmother, Earnhardt, Jr. deftly side-stepped the questions, but he attempted to step up to her defense when asked if she was, in the words of fellow driver Kevin Harvick, a “deadbeat owner”.

"That's ridiculous,” said Earnhardt. “I don't think there is a comment for Kevin’s remark.

“Like I said in the past, with everything that's happened, not just to the company but to the family over the past five years, she's had a full plate. The things that she's responsible for, willingly and unwillingly, are very important. For a long time, the battle with (Earnhardt's) autopsy photos, all those things, that's just the tip of the iceberg of things that she's been responsible for.

“That's probably been the sole reason why she hasn't been as visible at the racetrack and whatnot. But she's taking care of things that are much (more) important when is come to the family.”

Siegel also would not comment on the ongoing contract negotiations saying only that “DEI has every intention of re-signing Dale to a long-term deal. We're in good ongoing discussions and hope to announce something soon.”

The 2007 NASCAR Media Tour will continue Wednesday with interviews with Roush Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing.

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article



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