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NASCAR Media Tour - Day 1

by Pete McCole
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

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Tony Stewart
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Journalists from across the country and around the world descended on Concord, N.C. on Monday for the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway, kicking off four days of media events in preparation for the 2010 NASCAR racing season.

Stewart-Haas Racing led off the first day of the tour at the Embassy Suites hotel in Concord, which once again served as headquarters for the tour.

SHR enjoyed their best season by far in 2009, their first since Tony Stewart became a co-owner of the team, bringing with him a formula for success that garnered him two Sprint Cup titles.

Stewart nabbed the team their first victory since their inception in 2002 with a win at Pocono in June, and while both Stewart and driver Ryan Newman qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, they came up short, finishing sixth and ninth, respectively.

A good start, but Stewart knows his team can do better.

“I can promise you one thing, it was a year ago this time none of us knew what to expect, and it was a big question mark as to what was going to happen,” said Stewart.
       
  “I'm expecting a great year. I feel like both of us being able to get in the Chase last year was something I expect both teams to do. I feel like the changes that we went through and the work we've done over the winter has prepared both of these teams to have a shot at running for a championship.”

The tour rolled on to the second stop of the day at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track - known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway since 1999 - will be going back to it’s original name after their naming agreement with Lowe’s expired at the end of the 2009 season.

The track proudly unveiled their new seating renovations for the upcoming season, replacing the decades-old metal frontstretch seats with new wider seats. Fans who purchase tickets in the newly renovated sections will have an opportunity to purchase the original, metal seats as keepsakes.

“When you sit on the frontstretch seats, you're sitting on history,” said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It's our original seating on the frontstretch in the upper rows in Ford, Chrysler and GM grandstands. Our fans are the best. They've been buying those seats forever.”

Kyle Busch talks to the media
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Joe Gibbs Racing held their media event in conjunction with the speedway, announcing a new fan festival to take place on Sunday, May 23, at nearby Z-Max Dragway.

Team president J.D. Gibbs and owner Joe Gibbs were on hand to announce the event, called Taylor’s Finish Line Festival, which signifies the successful end of leukemia treatments for his son Taylor Gibbs, who was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago and is now in remission.

The team also announced on Monday that they have signed Busch to a new long-term contract extension, the terms of which were not disclosed. Busch is looking to rebound from a disappointing season after failing to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup and managed only four victories just one year after.

“What does multi-year deal mean to me? It means a secure future,” Busch said. “Joe and J.D. were very receptive to my ideas, I was receptive to their ideas on how to further along our relationship and our commitment to each other, and to do that was to get the deal done, show our sponsors that we're committed to each other and the people in the shop worried, 'Well, is Kyle Busch going to be here or not?' We put all that to rest.”

Busch finished out the season with a new crew chief as Dave Rogers came over from Busch’s championship-winning JGR Nationwide Series team last November.

“We struggled a little bit through 2008 and unfortunately missed the Chase [in 2009],” said Busch. “But I see the organization is strong, I see the way Joey [Logano] really came along toward the end of the year and got a lot better. I see the way Denny [Hamlin] ran. I mean, shoot, he had a shot to win the championship.
     
“Our stuff is there. It's all about having the right people in the right place. Hopefully, [crew chief] Dave [Rogers] is that guy, and he and I can really develop a great relationship like Denny and [crew chief] Mike Ford have.”

Roger Penske
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Penske Racing closed out the first day of the tour with a press event o introduce new driver Brad Keselowski, who takes over as driver of Penske’s no. 12 entry, joining Sprint Cup series teammates Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish, Jr. and Nationwide Series driver Justin Allgaier.

Penske was one of flagship teams that helped usher Dodge’s return to NASCAR competition in 2001. Now, after the sale of Chrysler to Italian automaker Fiat and the nameplates struggles in the global market, Penske finds itself alone as the last remaining full-time Dodge entry in the Sprint Cup series.

While most owners would find this an unenviable position to be in, Penske believes it gives him a distinct advantage over other teams.

“Dodge is the car that we’re racing, if I ever thought it would put me at a disadvantage, I wouldn’t run a Dodge,” said Penske. “I think it is a competitive advantage, because every bit of Dodge – their commitment, their people, their technology and their dollars  - are with our team.

“They’re a worldwide brand, and they have many other things that they could be spending their dollars on, and they feel that there’s a piece of this marketing dollar that helps them build their brand.”

Dodge President and CEO Ralph Gilles reiterated the brand’s support for Penske as well as their commitment to NASCAR.

“Motorsports is a significant part of Dodge’s legacy,” said Gilles. “NASCAR’s audience is an enthusiast’s audience and provides Dodge a platform to showcase the power and performance of the Dodge brand to our target customers where they live and play. We’re confident our three drivers and Penske Racing will represent Dodge well in the Sprint Cup Series in 2010

“The objective is clear. We expect to win races, have drivers in The Chase and compete for the 2010 Sprint Cup Series championship.”

Keselowski joins Penske after getting shut out of a possible ride at Hendrick Motorsports following a two-year stint driving for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. After struggling for years with his own family-owned team, Keselowski is pleased to be finally getting a shot to prove he can win at NASCAR’s highest level.

“When I first started my racing career, I had the same attitude and the same confidence I had now,” said Keselowski. “The money ran out, and I started to take the under-funded rides, rides that never had a shot at winning, and that just took the confidence and enthusiasm away. Now that I’ve started winning again, it’s like I’ve returned to myself, I feel like I’ve finally gotten that confidence back.

“I feel confident that I can do anything in these race cars, with confidence that I can work with these teams, I can work with a company like Penske and we can do anything. The sky’s the limit.”

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