2008 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 2
Highlighting the morning session was a trip to Windshear, Inc., a company formed by Haas Automation owner Gene Haas, and a tour of the company’s newly built wind tunnel.
The 40,000 square-foot facility features a full-scale, rolling road capable of speeds up to 180 mph, one of only three in the world and the only one of its kind in North America.
Once the facility opens in 2008, it will be available to any motorsports organization wishing to use it, including NASCAR, Indy Racing League and Grand-Am Series teams.
“The wind tunnel project was attractive because there’s no other wind tunnel in the world that’s public and free for anyone to use. It was an opportunity to differentiate and escalate the sport from a technology standpoint, and that’s what Haas Automation is about is the technology.”
Although formed by Gene Haas, Windshear, Inc. will remain a separate entity independent of Haas Automation. Jacob’s Technology, a company specializing in construction and operation of wind tunnels, will operate the facility.
Despite the current rules and common template used in the Car of Tomorrow, there is still much to be gained from wind tunnel testing.
“Even though the rules on the outer body are pretty stringent, there’s some wiggle room with the underbody. This wind tunnel enables you to check the underbody as well as the outer body,” said Robert “Bootie” Barker, crew chief for Scott Riggs’ no. 66 Chevrolet.
2007 was a tumultuous year for the nameplate as a whole, following the parent company’s acquisition last May by an American private equity firm.
The impact to Dodge’s racing program was evident on the track, as only two drivers – Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch – managed to make it to victory lane. Only five Dodge teams finished in the top 20 in series points while Busch’s Penske Racing team was the lone Dodge in the 12-driver Chase for the Nextel Cup.
After coming into 2007 pegged as championship contenders, Evernham Motorsports suffered through one of the worst seasons in their history. All three teams were shut out of victory lane and only Kasey Kahne managed to salvage a top 20 finish in points.
In August, Evernham sold majority ownership of his team to businessman George Gillett to form Gillett Evernham Motorsports, providing a needed financial boost to the team and allowing Evernham, now freed from his many responsibilities of being the sole owner, to step back and concentrate more on helping the team on and off the track in 2008.
“Last year, I felt like a hamster in cage, I felt like we weren’t getting anywhere,” said Evernham. “I really needed to look around to what was happening with the team, and in order to do that you have to slow down sometimes, and the way you do that is to hand off to competent people, stand back a little bit, and see if I can get a fresh direction.
“I’ll be more involved with the cars - last year I had relatively no involvement with the cars, and this will allow me to bring more to the team without people puling me in different directions. I had plenty of ideas last year that could’ve helped us last year that I never got to finish because I had so many other things to do. So in reality, by backing off, it’s going to allow a bigger percentage of time I can spend helping the team perform better on the track.”
GEM also managed to bring in two marquee sponsors in Best Buy and Budweiser, and had added open-wheel veteran Patrick Carpentier to their stable.
Carpentier, a former Champ Car World Series and Indy Racing League driver, joins a growing list of open-wheel drivers defecting to NASCAR this season, including defending IRL champion Dario Franchitti, who are having to learn the hard way the vast differences between open-wheel car and stock cars.
“The Champ Car’s got so much aero in it, so much downforce, that at different tracks you just change the aero package on it, but you pretty much drive it the same,” said Carpentier. “With these cars, every track you have to drive it really different depending on the banking, and that’s been really hard to get used to.
Penske Racing has added it’s own open-wheel star to its driver lineup, bringing in three-time IRL champion Sam Hornish, Jr. to drive a new third entry for Penske Racing.
“After running IROC for three years, knowing what stock car racing was like, NASCAR was really something I wanted to try, I felt like it was a good opportunity,” said Hornish. “Moving to Formula One, especially for an American driver of my age, was something that just wasn’t going to happen…so (NASCAR) was just something I wanted to try out and see if I could do it, it was just the right time to try it.
“The decision I made to run (NASCAR) wasn’t because of safety, but I know that the longevity of a stock car driver tends to be longer. Guys come over (to NASCAR) and then want to run for ten years, they’re not going to go do something that they know they can only do for four years. Most IndyCar drivers are between the ages of 32-35, that’s the span of it, that’s what your body can take.”
Gibbs says he plans to continue to leave day-to-day operations to his son, J.D., and step back into the same role he had before returning to coaching in 2004.
“My role will be to work with the sponsors and help with the management team, and pick the right people and keep the resources coming in,” said Joe Gibbs. “That’s kind of where I fit in before, and hopefully it’ll be able to help in the same capacity. But I’ll still slide away and play some golf.”
“We're still trying to figure out how big a pay cut he's going to get,” said J.D. Gibbs. “It's going to be large. A couple of zeros off of it. But we're excited to have him back.”
2008 will mark an era of change for Joe Gibbs Racing, including a new driver, new sponsor, and most importantly, a new manufacturer, as JGR joins the Toyota Motorsports stable for the upcoming season.
After a 15-year relationship with General Motors, a span that included 58 wins and three Cup titles, JGR hopes to buoy their own family-owned team while at the same time becoming the flagship Toyota team in Sprint Cup.
“GM was a great partner, but going forward there was a little bit of a hierarchy there with Hendrick being the lead team,” said J.D. Gibbs. “For us, we want to keep the team as a family business, so partnering with Toyota allows us to do a few things that we couldn’t do otherwise, from resources and a technical standpoint, that hopefully will be best for our team and our employees.
Also new to the team this season will be driver Kyle Busch, who will replace J.J. Yeley in the no. 18 Toyota, carrying new sponsorship colors from M&M/Mars as longtime Gibbs sponsor Interstate Batteries steps back into a co-sponsorship role.
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