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2008 NASCAR Media Tour - Day 3

by Pete McCole
Thursday, January 24, 2008


Michael Waltrip Racing
All photos by Harold Hinson
The 2008 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway rolled on with day three of the four-day tour. Wednesday’s planned visits included Petty Enterprises, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., Hendrick Motorsports and Michael Waltrip Racing.

The first stop on the Wednesday road trip was a visit to the new home of Petty Enterprises in Mooresville, N.C.

Kyle and Richard Petty
Following the 2007 season, Petty Enterprises moved their shop from Level Cross, N.C. – their home for over 60 years – into the shop formally occupied by Robert Yates Racing.

The move, said the Pettys, was to bring their operation closer to the Charlotte area – home to the majority of other NASCAR teams – in order to attract the best talent they could find to work for their organization.

“We’ve been testing it and discussing it for the last four or five years that we might need to make a change,” said team owner Richard Petty. “It was hard for me to make that decision, and for a lot of people that worked at the shop, it was hard for that decision to be made. We were looking at different properties, and when Robert Yates moved out of this shop here, that just gave us an opportunity to kind of speed things up.

“Level Cross was home. That shop’s been there for 60 years, it was really hard to move, but talking to all of our sponsors and families and even the guys in the shop, I think everybody agreed we need to take that gamble. All of that (the old shop), that’s all history, that’s behind us. We’ve got to go forward, and we feel this is the first step in us getting back to where we need to be, and where we know we’re capable of getting and that’s being competitive in all the races. So this is the first step in that.”

“No matter where we go or what we do, Level Cross is still where the heart and soul of Petty Enterprises is,” added Kyle Petty. “That’s where the championships were, and that’s where that part of our history was. Like (Richard) said, that’s behind us. We have to close that chapter and move forward. Hopefully, someday we’ll look at this new shop the same way.”

The tour next moved on to the nearby shops of Dale Earnhardt, Inc.,

DEI stop
2007 marked the end of an era for DEI, after Dale Earnhardt, Jr., - NASCAR’s biggest star – bolted the team to join Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season.

Evidence of that the post-Dale, Jr. era was underway was evident the moment you walked in the door. The team’s museum and adjacent souvenir shop were devoid of any images Earnhardt, Jr. Only a few fleeting images of the no. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet could be found on the walls of the museum.

The message was clear – DEI was moving on.

“2008 will not be a transition year,” said team vice president John Story. “We have a game plan, we’re focused on the future, we know where we’re going, we know what we have to work with, and we’re committed to moving this company forward.”

“Anything less than a championship (for Truex) would be a disappointment.”

After merging with Ginn Racing last July, DEI has expanded to four teams operating under the DEI banner.

Filling the seat of the famed no. 8 this season will be veteran driver Mark Martin, who will run 26 races in 2008, with Aric Almirola taking over the ride for the remaining 12 races.

"It's really an honor and a privilege for me to drive for this team. I used to race against Dale Sr. when he was driving the No. 8 car and I can tell you right now that he taught me a lot of things out there on the track. He showed me how to get things done. I can't wait to get the 2008 season started.

Hendrick's Tour stop
The tour next moved on to Hendrick Motorsports, where the new Dale Jr. era is set to begin in 2008.

For the upcoming season, Hendrick boasts perhaps the strongest driver lineup of any other team, with Earnhardt Jr. joining two-time defending Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time Cup Champion Jeff Gordon, and 2007 Coca-Cola 600 winner Casey Mears.

“It's been really overwhelming with everything that's happened this year to get to this point,” said Earnhardt, Jr. “There aren't enough hours in the day for me to really explain everything we’ve been through, everything I’ve learned already and everything I’ve done and seen.

“I guess I’ve been so excited about this year, it kind of feels like I’m coming back in (as a rookie). I remember when I was a rookie, I was really nervous about making that announcement and getting that year started and I really wasn’t able to enjoy it because of the nerves, and it kind of feels like that all over again, but without the nerves.”

Hendrick Motorsports dominated the competition in 2007, winning 17 of the 36 races en route to winning their second straight Cup title with Johnson.

“Our theme for this year is “Accelerate in 2008”, said team owner Rock Hendrick. “Right now we're tied for dead last in the point standings as far as I'm concerned, so we need to come out and win races if we want to contend for another championship this season.

“What happened last year, happened last year and we all know that's not going to help us this year. While we had Jimmie and Jeff battling for the championship last year and were focused on that, a lot of the other teams were busy building their new cars for the 2008 season. It's going to be a lot of pressure, but we're going to work hard to stay on top of our game.”

Wednesday’s activities concluded with a visit to the new 137,000 square-foot shop of Michael Waltrip Racing.

As the flagship team for Toyota’s entry in NASCAR, 2007 was a profound disappointment for Waltrip, with the team’s three cars racking up 39 DNQs during the course of the season.

Before the season even started, Waltrip was involved in a cheating scandal after an illegal additive was found in the fuel of his no. 55 Toyota car prior to the Daytona 500, an incident Waltrip was eager to put behind him.

“I closed that chapter on the Thursday afternoon after that (the Gatorade Duels), when I got in a car that I never practiced and I drove from last to race for the lead and race my way into the Daytona 500.

“I didn’t feel like I had anything I needed to prove at Daytona, I didn’t feel like I owed anybody any explanation, but I walked around for months after that thinking ‘Why did that happen that way?’

“We have a lot to prove (in 2008). I’m going to Daytona to win, I’m not going down there to prove that I need something weird like that to happen in order to win.”

For 2008, MWR will again field three teams, with driver Michael McDowell joining Waltrip, David Reutimann and Dale Jarrett.

McDowell, the 2007 ARCA rookie of the year, will step into the no. 00 Toyota in place of Reutimann, who will take over the no. 44 UPS ride. 1999 Cup Champion Dale Jarrett following the fifth race of the season.

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