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 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
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
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 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
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.
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