NASCAR News

Story and photos from Winston Cup Preview
by Pete McCole
January 21
, 2003

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The 2003 UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway continued on Tuesday, featuring visits to Dale Earnhardt, Inc., a trip to Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord, N.C. to visit with Ricky Rudd and the Wood Brothers team, and the unveiling of the new NASCAR Research and Development Center.

Dale Earnhardt Inc. was the first stop on this the second day of the tour, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt spoke about their new Busch Series venture – Chance 2 Motorsports. Earnhardt Jr. plans to run three events in the Busch Series with the new team, while DEI driver Steve Park and Busch North Series driver Martin Truex, Jr. will drive five races each. Ron Fellows, the Canadian road-racing specialist will drive the car in Winston Cup events at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen, while Busch Series standout Jason Keller will tackle the Winston Cup event at Chicagoland Speedway.

In addition to the Chance2 Motorsports announcement, Earnhardt, Jr. confirmed he had agreed to a new, five-year contract on Monday that carries through the 2007 season. One of the provisions of the contract reduced the number of personal appearances Earnhardt Jr. would have to make, a key point in the negotiations.
“It wasn’t the fact that we couldn’t agree (on a contract), it’s just we never could just sit down and do it, get everyone in the same room.” Earnhardt said. “We were really just passing around a revised copy (of the contract) back forth and making small adjustments, and then yesterday we sat around for about four hours and worked it out.”

Earnhardt, Jr., only two short months into his role as car owner admits he has a new appreciation of the relationship between the car owner and the driver.

“It does put you in a different perspective,” said Earnhardt. “It definitely will provide me with a lot of information and knowledge and experience that I probably wouldn’t get otherwise. Hopefully, it’ll improve my relationship with everybody within the company. This will hopefully give me the ability to understand them more.”

Steve Park, who returned early in last season to the #1 Pennzoil team after suffering a near-fatal head injury during a Busch Series race in September of 2001 at Darlington Raceway, is still proving wrong all those who said he might never race again. However, his on-track performance has yet to silence his critics. Parks best finish of sixth at the fall race at Talladega was only his second top ten finish of the year, leading some to wonder if Park returned too soon.

“I’m tired of hearing that,” Park said. “I don’t think I came back too soon. I think I came back at the right time. The team I came back to was kind of picked apart and wasn’t the same team that I left. When I came back, we were in a rebuilding stage.

“Right now, we want to take the steps to get us back into the top ten in points, win some races and look forward to a championship in the future. We feel we have the catalyst and the members on this Pennzoil team to do that.”

Park’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, said he “guaranteed” a win in 2003 for the team.

Jay M. Robinson High School was the third stop of the day. General Rice of the United States Air Force joined Motorcraft, the Wood Brothers and Ricky Rudd to kick off a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first flight and the 100th anniversary of Ford Motor Company.

Rudd, contented with his chances for 2003, echoed the remarks of General Rice.

“There is no better time for me to be a part of the Wood Brothers with the Air Force,” said Rudd. “I’ve been a pilot since 1983, so aviation is something that has always excited me. Celebrating 100 years of flight really makes it special.”

The No. 21 Motorcraft/Air Force Ford will carry a special “100th Centennial of Flight” paint scheme in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May.

Rudd spent nearly two-thirds of the 2002 season embroiled in a very public contract dispute with Robert Yates. Rumors of retirement and a possible deal with Chip Ganassi were rampant before he signed a last minute, three-year deal with the Wood Brothers, one of just a handful of single-car operations left in NASCAR.

“The Wood Brothers have great equipment,” Rudd said. “We’ve tested five or six times already. We have some fast race cars, and I think we will win some races this year.”

Sandwiched between visits at DEI and the Wood Brothers Racing was a news breaking stop with the NASCAR brass. NASCAR executives, led by Bill France showed off its brand new, state-of-the-art Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. The 61,000 square-foot facility features engineering, fabrication and prototype shops, as well as a fluid dynamics lab, machine shop and impound rooms.

The primary function of the facility is to continue the development of safety, competition and cost containment in NASCAR.

“Everyone at NASCAR is extremely proud of this facility,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton. “We are committed to new safety initiatives, close competition and working with our teams to ensure we move forward in a cost-effective manner.”

NASCAR Executive Vice President Brian France, NASCAR Senior Vice President George Pyne, and Bill France, Jr. joined Helton in an address to the media about the past, present and future of NASCAR. Among the major announcements made was a new policy limiting access to the garage and pits areas. NASCAR will no longer allow fans in the garage area while cars are on the track. During this time, a special “hot pass” will be required to access the garage area. NASCAR also announced they are in the process of hiring a director of security.

NASCAR is also considering the possible re-alignment of the Winston Cup series schedule for 2004, suggesting some race dates might be moved from one track and given to another within the same ownership group.

“We are going to talk to each and every track to figure out if there’s a better way to model our schedule,” said Brian France. “NASCAR will have to decide when and if any moves are possible. The whole schedule is subject to negotiation with every track.”

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