The final day of
the four-day UAW-GM Lowe’s Media Tour woke up to a layer of
snow that blanketed the Carolinas and threatened to cancel
Certainly Mother Nature must know by now you can’t stop
three bus loads of determined media members from their
appointed rounds. Therefore, despite a slick sheet of ice on
the roads that closed schools and most businesses while
leaving the interstate littered with accidents, we
To the benefit of the tour, the first stop was at the
headquarters hotel. The members of the Roush Racing
organization including Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Matt
Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Stanton Barrett and Jon
Wood were on hand to discuss the coming season.
While the drivers discussed their expectations for 2003,
Geoff Smith, President of Roush Racing, was in the back
talking about being served with a subpoena from Brooke
Smith said it appeared Brooke’s attorneys were attempting to
verify the validity information already supplied from Gordon
and Hendrick Motorsports. Smith’s first step in the legal
process would be to ask a judge to set aside the subpoena.
In the likelihood he was unsuccessful, Smith would then ask
for a order to keep limit those able to view the documents
and to ensure the documents were not part of the public
“Giving them our confidential information is like opening
our books to Hendrick Motorsports and that is not something
we should be forced to do,” said Smith.
Back at the podium, Martin praised the progress his team,
under the direction of crew chief Ben Leslie, continues to
“It’s just like last year, I just don’t know what will
happen,” said Martin. “There are a lot of things that look a
lot better than they did a year ago. We have our pit crew
together already and we have already tested some really fast
Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch, with nine wins between them in
2002, look to build on those accomplishments without
“I’m approaching this season the same as last year,” said
Kenseth. “Who would have dreamed we’d have won that many
races last year after the season we had the year before. I’m
just going to approach it one week at a time like I did last
Busch echoed Kenseth’s remarks, but added their was some
definite room for improvement.
“There are still a few race tracks we have to learn. We’ll
assess our program at midseason, and hopefully we can make a
second-half push toward the championship.”
The sour spot in the Roush apple in 2002 was Jeff Burton.
Expected the challenge for the championship Burton was an
also ran who ended up switching crew chiefs near the end of
“We grossly underachieved last year. We just didn’t get it
done. We made some drastic changes to our team. I feel like
I’m driving for a different team, but with the same car
owner. We are more in tune with what our teammates are doing
than we were at this time last year.”
Greg Biffle is entering his first full-time season as a
Winston Cup driver after winning championships in both the
Craftsman Truck and Busch Series divisions.
Is there pressure to achieve the same results in Winston
“I don’t feel that much pressure. I would like to win rookie
of the year, but our notebook is empty. We haven’t been able
to carry our Busch Series notes over to the Winston Cup car.
We’re just trying to pay attention to what our teammates are
doing, and learn from them.”
Stanton Barrett is the new kid on the block at Roush Racing.
The Hollywood stunt car driver will drive the No. 60 OdoBan
Ford on the Busch Series in 2003.
“I’m very pleased to be part of this organization. I can’t
wait to get the season started. I’ve been racing for 12
years and it means the world to me to get this opportunity.”
Leaving the confines of the hotel, the members of the media
tour braved the slick roads for a short trip to the racing
shops of MBV and MB2 for conversations with Johnny Benson
and Jerry Nadeau.
Benson continues to drive the No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac,
while Nadeau is the pilot of the No. 1 Army Pontiac.
“I haven’t been the luckiest guy on the NASCAR Winston Cup
circuit,” said Nadeau, following an introduction by Jim
Hunter, Vice President of Communications at NASCAR and Army
Lt. General Dennis Cavin. “This is one of my best
opportunities to win Winston Cup races. It is another great
opportunity for me.”
Benson is pumped up for the new season and is hoping to
build on his first Winston Cup win, the Popcorn 400 at
Rockingham last year.
“I feel good about the equipment the guys are building. We
don’t have as many cars ready as we did at this time last
year, but that’s because of the new chassis and the new body
Next on the agenda was what has become an annual stop on the
tour, a trip to Hendrick Motorsports.
Waiting patiently for the press were drivers Terry Labonte,
Jeff Gordon, Joe Nemechek, Jimmie Johnson and their
respective crew chiefs. The head of the organization, Rick
Hendrick, was unable to attend. The foul weather had
prevented him from flying back from business in California.
Terry Labonte, driver of the No. 25 Kellogg’s Chevrolet,
will run in his 25th consecutive Daytona 500 this year, a
major milestone in any driver’s career. “It’s exciting to be
able to run our 25th Daytona 500 this year. We had a pretty
good test at Talladega this week and we should have a good
shot at it.”
The entire Hendrick organization is confident the battle to
win the Daytona 500 will be between themselves.
Joe Nemechek, in his first full season as the driver of the
No. 25 UAW Chevrolet, is especially confident.
“I think everybody saw how Peter and I got things turned
around at the end of last season,” said Nemechek. “We have a
lot of momentum going into this year…We struggled when I
joined the team, but we worked really hard and we did a
couple of tests and all of a sudden, we were on fire. We
needed to find out what to do to the cars so I could drive
The torch bearers of the Hendrick organization in 2002 were
four-time champion Jeff Gordon and rookie sensation Jimmie
Johnson. Both are confident they will improve on last year
because the Hendrick teams are working even closer than ever
“We’re going to try to have the same approach that we had
last season. We are going to try to finish races and run in
the top 15 all the time. We are going to preach all the same
things we did last year, and stay realistic about what we
“It’s amazing to see how well these four teams are working
together preparing for this season,” added Gordon.
On the legal side, Hendrick executives said they were
confident the legal maneuvering consistent with a messy
divorce would not compromise the efforts of the organization
in 2003. Nor would the demands of Brooke Gordon’s lawyers
put any confidential information at risk of becoming public.
The next to the last stop in the tour involved a return trip
to the University Hilton for a chat with Joe Gibbs, Jimmy
Makar, Greg Zipadelli and Michael McSwain. Tony Stewart
arrived late but did not short the media of any time,
staying to answer every question put to him.
Makar, now in a redefined role as General Manager, will
oversee the efforts of both Zipadelli and McSwain. Makar
will ensure that both crew chiefs can spend as much time as
possible dealing directly with the race cars.
“This off season has been a lot different for me,” Makar
said. “A lot of the time has been spent trying to figure out
what my new role is. It’s been fun creating my own job,
which is basically what we have been doing.”
One thing Makar has not yet done is sit down with Zipadelli
and discuss the demands of defending a Winston Cup title.
“We haven’t done that yet,” admitted Makar. “But, in the
next week or so Zip and I will go off into a corner by
ourselves and I’ll try to tell him what to expect and how he
might avoid the pitfalls that can ruin a season because of
the demands of being the champion. The key is to just do
your deal. Do what got you here and forget about the
Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, gave the press
something to think about when he said two many multi-car
teams are bad for the sport.
“The best thing for this sport is to have 43 HEALTHY race
teams out there on the race track clawing and scratching at
each of for the win every time the green flag waves. We
don’t need just a few teams here and there dominating the
sport,” said Gibbs.
The tour ended with a stop at Rusty Wallace, Inc. with Rusty
Wallace and Ryan Newman.
Wallace made the most interesting comment of the night when
he admitted he had finally bought into the technology and
“It was about three-fifths of the way through the year last
year that I admitted all this engineering was something we
needed to be doing. So Billy Wilburn and myself we bought
into what Ryan Newman Matt Borland were doing with their
cars,” said Wallace.
Later in the evening Wallace admitted he probably wouldn’t
drive past the year 2005 and his hopes were that his younger
son, Steven, would be the driver to fill his shoes.
“Patty thinks I am bringing him along to quickly but he is
tearing up the track in the Legends cars and his schoolwork
is really good. So, I really hope he’ll be the one to fill
the seat when I step aside.”
The author can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org
to discuss this article