Richard Childress and his two drivers Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton
The annual NASCAR Media Tour wrapped up its 23rd
year on Thursday, with several showcase events at its headquarters
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
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
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
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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