Wrap-up to a big media week for NASCAR
Day 4 of NASCAR media tour

   by Rick Benjamin
January 26, 2006

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Richard Childress and his two drivers Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton
Pete McCole

The annual NASCAR Media Tour wrapped up its 23rd year on Thursday, with several showcase events at its headquarters hotel.

Richard Childress Racing brought its three Nextel Cup series drivers to the University Hilton to spotlight Chevrolet’s ’06 Monte Carlo SS Cup cars and technology, and to announce the team’s acquisition of the US Coast Guard sponsorship for their #21 Busch Series machines. Team leader Kevin Harvick will wheel the 21 in as many as 30 Busch Series events with teammate Jeff Burton holding the wheel in five races, including the season-opening 300 miler at Daytona next month.

RCR will field its usual three Cup entries all season, with rookie Clint Bowyer doing double duty. Bowyer will remain in the AC-Delco 2 car for the full Busch Series season, while taking over the Jack Daniels-backed #07 Monte Carlos on the Cup tour.

The Childress drivers admitted that the plan to run the full Busch Series and Cup Series slates with essentially the same group of three drivers would be taxing, but that with new limits on Cup testing and practice time on race weekends, the track time available through a Busch program becomes even more critical. RCR has reorganized its engineering, engine, aero, and R&D efforts in a bid to recapture momentum and place at least one of its teams into the Chase for the Championship this coming season.

While RCR’s drivers and team owner gave the NASCAR “Car of Tomorrow” program mixed reviews, Burton and Harvick were very critical of NASCAR’s new tire leasing program. It’s another move by the sanctioning body to try to hold down costs, something most in the sport would applaud. But the Childress teammates noted an apparent inequity in the new system, saying they and most other multi-car teams had stockpiled enough tires to test “20 times, if we wanted to” this year at Kentucky while new teams or smaller teams might not have any tires. Burton also noted “a situation that’s not equal for everybody”, when only a handful of teams get to run tire tests directly for Goodyear.

GM’s Chevrolet brand was the dominant force in NASCAR in 2005, winning the Championship with Tony Stewart along with the Manufacturer’s title. Hoping to keep those honors in the family, GM Racing’s Mark Kent noted that the company has worked to create 2006 bodywork that will maintain downforce and balance while cutting drag, improving the car’s overall aero efficiency. Kent says GM is hoping the new year will prove as successful on track as was 2005, when the General’s race teams won in Canada, Mexico, the US, and at LeMans.

Craftsman Truck Series drivers
Pete McCole

After the introduction of the Best Buy Chevrolets for Jeff Green and crew chief Bootie Barker, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series brought together 13 drivers, veterans and rookies alike, to discuss the upcoming year.

Reigning champ Ted Musgrave opened the forum by noting the ups and downs he’s faced since clinching his first title at Homestead back in November. Musgrave has landed on his feet after the closing of his Ultra Motorsports squad, joining the extremely hot Germain Toyota team for 2006. The Germain group won several races down the stretch last season with Todd Bodine, and will field both pilots in the new year.

First-year driver Erin Crocker, newly signed to Ray Evernham’s new Dodge truck effort, joked about her namesake sponsor, General Mills’ Betty Crocker brand. In fact the Massachusetts native promised to undergo a name change if the brand sticks with her on the ride to Nextel Cup competition.

Bill Lester returns to Bill Davis Racing’s Toyota Tundras for his second season. Lester says his team has been extremely busy over the winter preparing for Daytona and the balance of the season, and he’s hoping to capitalize on their strong qualifying runs at several tracks by racing to better results.

Returning veterans Jack Sprague, a three-time NCTS champ, and David Starr are both moving from Chevy teams to Toyota rides full-time. Sprague hopes to rebound from a frustrating season in the #16 trucks. He’ll be driving the #60 Toyotas for Wyler Racing. Starr moves from the Spears Manufacturing #75 Chevy, his ride for several years, into the Red Horse #38 trucks fielded by former Cup crew chief Jeff Hammond, now a Fox TV analyst. Starr likes having the opportunity to pick Hammond’s brain and expects to bring some veteran leadership to his new team.

Replacing Starr in the Spears Chevy will be Aric Almirola, formerly a Joe Gibbs Racing driver development pick. Almirola showed some strength last season in select NCTS starts. He’ll be stepping into strong equipment, and should have a shot at building his career in the #75 machines.

Robert Richardson will make his Truck debut this season as well, and he comes from a college football background. The Texan was a quarterback in college, which suggests he’ll be well equipped for full-contact NCTS competition. Richardson will drive for the new R3 team, which will carry the number 1 on their Dodges.

Former sprint-car standout Boston Reid has revived his NASCAR hopes by moving onto the Truck Tour as well. Reid spent several races in the Busch Series machine for Hendrick Motorsports last season before losing the ride. Boston’s one of the best open-wheel runners I’ve seen in a long time. He’ll drive for the new Woodard & Sharp Dodge squad.

Some veteran truckers returning to their long-time rides rounded out the morning’s panel session. Terrific talent Dennis Setzer will wheel the Morgan-Dollar #46 Chevrolets again this year. Setzer is still looking for his first major NASCAR title after coming oh-so-close in ’05, finishing right behind Ted Musgrave in the Championship. Ten-year NCTS vet Terry Cook returns to the Ford Power Stroke Diesel entry, again out of the ppc racing shops. And Floridian David Reutimann returns to DW’s #17 Toyotas, a ride he showed well in during 2005. Young veteran Matt Crafton is back as well, this year moving into the Menards Stores-backed Chevy from Thorsport Racing, carrying the #88.

Media Tour week in January is traditionally a time when virtually every NASCAR team has championship dreams. We’ll begin to learn very soon which drivers and teams can cash in on those dreams, and which will tap out. The battle begins in just a couple of weeks.

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Columns by Rick

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What will Champ Car look like in 2007?

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Looking ahead to Road America

Looking ahead to Montreal

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Looking ahead to Edmonton - Many storylines

For Allmendinger, life could not be any brighter

A big sigh of relief

Bourdais threatening to make it a runaway

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Long Beach postscript

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A view from the top - Miscellaneous pres-season ramblings

A look at the All-American Driver Challenge

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 4 Wrap-Up

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 3 Familiar Faces

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 2 Toyota announces teams

2006 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 1

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Champ Car: Miscellaneous Ramblings

Champ Car teams/drivers in transition over the winter

A well deserved 2nd title for Sebastien Bourdais

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A peak at Champ Car TV for 2005

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Rolex 24 Recap: A short day for Champ Car drivers

Champ Car drivers take on other stars in Rolex 24

Champ Car is in the driver's seat

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