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2008 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 1

by Pete McCole
Monday, January 21, 2008

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Brian France addresses the media
by Harold Hinson

The 2008 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway kicked off in Concord on Monday, beginning a four-day tour featuring interviews and press conferences with some of the biggest names in auto racing as they prepare for the upcoming 2008 NASCAR season.

Leading off the tour this year was Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Featuring perhaps the most culturally diverse team ever assembled, Ganassi’s 2008 stable includes 2007 Rookie of the Year Juan Pablo Montoya from Bogotá, Colombia, who made headlines last year as the first Formula One driver to compete full-time on the NASCAR circuit.

Montoya was joined on stage by the rest of the Ganassi stable of drivers, including Sprint Cup teammate Reed Sorenson; Indy Racing League drivers Scott Dixon from New Zealand, and British drivers Dan Weldon and Alex Lloyd; Grand-Am Rolex Series drivers Memo Rojas of Mexico and American Scott Pruett.

Dario Franchitti
by Harold Hinson

Also joining Montoya on stage was his new Sprint Cup teammate, 2007 Indy Racing League Champion Dario Franchitti of Scotland, who becomes the latest in a long line of drivers to make the jump from open-wheel to stock cars in 2008, becoming the first full-time European driver in the 60-year history of NASCAR.

“When you look up here and you see all these different flags, a lot of things come to mind, but let me tell you what comes to my mind - winning,” said Ganassi.

“When you look up in this stage here, these guy represent 24 race wins last season. They represent seven championships, three Indianapolis 500 wins, four Rolex 24 wins and over 130 trips to victory lane…but they’re all here for one reason – and that’s to win.”

Franchitti’s first indoctrination to stock care racing came in several late season starts last year in the Busch and ARCA Series, where he experienced first-hand how hard it truly is to transition from open-wheel to NASCAR.

“I expected it to be difficult, what I didn’t expect was how different the car would feel on the track,” said Franchitti. “Also, with an IndyCar, I kind of knew enough about it to help my engineer pinpoint the car exactly where we needed it to be, the setup for a race. Certainly, with this car, my limited experience, I’m not able to give my guys enough information to get the car to where we need it to be.

“But talking to other people, they tell me you’ll never get the car to that point because it’s always a compromise, and it’s getting used to driving the car with that compromise, that’s all new.

“Just getting used to all that weight, and lack of grip, those are the things that stick out in my mind. Just knowing exactly where the car is and what it’s doing. I haven’t even done a full Sprint Cup race yet, so I think the length of the race is going to be a challenge.”

The tour next rolled on to the NASCAR Research and Development Center, where NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France talked about the future of NASCAR, which will be celebrating its 60th year of existence in 2008.

Among the new changes for this season will be a new name for the top-tier series, as Sprint takes over as title sponsor following their merger with Nextel. The new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be joined by another new title sponsor for NASCAR’s second-tier division, as Nationwide Insurance comes on board to replace Busch Beer as the title sponsor of the newly named NASCAR Nationwide Series.

NASCAR’S former Grand National Touring divisions – the NASCAR West and Busch East Series – will also have a new title sponsor, with Camping World coming on board to sponsor both divisions as the Camping World West and East divisions.

France also announced a change to the qualifying procedure for cars outside the top 35 in owner’s points and as such are not guaranteed a spot in the event.

Starting this season, everyone outside the top 35 attempting to qualify for a race will do so at the end of the qualifying session, as a group, as opposed to the previous format, where everyone qualified in random order.

After spending the last several seasons trying to broaden the fan base through expansion into new markets like Mexico and Canada, as well as the multitude of changes brought to the series such as the Car of Tomorrow and the Chase for the Nextel Cup, critics and fans have argued that NASCAR’s rapid changes and expansion has eroded its core fan base, something NASCAR is trying to respond to with a “back to basics” approach.

“All the different things from the name of series to the format, different rules, the Car of Tomorrow, now the new car, whatever, all those things to our core fan, that's a lot to digest in a very short period of time. We know that,” said France. “I think the 50th anniversary of Daytona, the 500….we're going to be able to go back and recognize our history a little bit.  That's important to our core fan.  They like to reminisce and hear about that.  We'll get an opportunity to do that.

“It's one of the reasons we sped up rolling out the Car of Tomorrow, Car of Today, the car, for now, for every event, so we didn't have more gradual this, that and the other things to keep up with.  It's one car, it's the car.

“What I hope you'll take out of today is we're getting back to the basics, we're going to try to minimize the change going forward as best we can and focus on what we've always focused on, which is the best product in the world.  We’re going to minimize change and we’re gong to zero in on the best racing in the world. That's what we're going to do.”

Opening day of the tour concluded with a visit to Richard Childress Racing, who unveiled their latest racing venture – teaming with team owner Rick Howard to field a part-time Daytona Prototype entry in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series with veteran driver Andy Wallace.

It’s an exciting series, we were looking for other things to do, to help grow our company, and this series right here I think is one of the new hot items that’s on the block,” said Childress. “I think it could be the series of the future.”

Childress-Howard Motorsports has yet to announce which races they will participate in during the 2008 campaign, but hope to full the full series schedule in 2009.

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