NASCAR Media Tour - Day 2
The 2009 season proved to be one of frustration for Richard Childress Racing, as the team was shut out of victory lane for the first time since 2004, with all four of the teams entries missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Worse yet, long-time sponsor Jack Daniels pulled out of NASCAR, leaving RCR’s fourth team idle for the 2010 season.
To try to improve performance, the team made some wholesale changes mid-way through the ’09 season, reorganizing the team’s management structure and swapping around crew chiefs on RCR’s Sprint Cup teams – changes that ultimately did improve the their performance in the second half of the season.
“We can’t go on where we ended up last year, we do have a lot do,” said Childress. “We put a lot of new plans together, there have been a lot of changes. It just didn’t start in the last four or five races, we started a lot of changes in July and August - It took that long for it to start showing up.
“We didn't have a typical RCR year. We didn't have a car in the Chase or running up front. This year, I feel really good with our opportunities with the changes that we’ve made.”
“Hopefully we've got a good foundation to start the year,” Harvick said. “Even when we've had our bad years before, we could still finish 10th, 15th - and that's the piece we were missing last year. Our bad days, they were bad. Our good days were good at the end of the year, but those middle-of-the-road finishes are what we have to have. Hopefully we can find that consistency again this year.”
Harvick is entering the final year of his contract with RCR and speculation is rampant on where he might wind up after 2010, an issue Harvick wouldn’t discuss during Tuesday’s event.
“I'm not going to push that side of it,” said Harvick. “They'll all talk and do their things behind the scenes. I just want to be the driver. I don't want to get in a big political war with anybody.”
Just one year after their merger with Gillette-Evernham Motorsports, the team made famous by legendary seven-time champion Richard Petty has merged yet again, this time joining forces with Yates Racing to form a four-car Ford team racing under the Petty banner.
“We’re all looking forward to a new day, when we can race in new Ford Fusions and enter the Ford Racing family,” said Foster Gillette, managing partner of Richard Petty Motorsports.
“The thing we’re most excited about is we’re joining a company with great momentum. Ford has come through a very challenging time on our economy and our racing world, with their first full year of growth since 1995, of market share growth in all quarters. I think as we all know and believe in Ford, that only better things are ahead.”
The Petty’s bring with them three cars from the GEM organization – along with drivers Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler and A.J. Allmendinger - to join with Yates’ no. 98 entry piloted by Paul Menard.
The alliance with Yates brings Sadler and Kahne full-circle. Sadler spent three seasons with Yates from 2003 to 2005, picking up two victories, while Kahne began his career in 2002 piloting a Yates entry in the then-Busch Series before defecting to Dodge.
“Getting back with a lot of old faces that I remember from the Ford family, being with that organization for several years, looking forward to being back with Doug Yates, means a lot to me,” said Sadler. “I know what it means to have Doug’s horsepower under the hood.”
“It’s been somewhat of a circle,” said Kahne. “It’s kind of different, the Ford people have actually been really good to me over the years, they were great when I first began racing.
“The way it all ended, I didn’t ever expect to be back with Yates and Ford, but things change, and I am now.”
The tour next moved on to a visit with the Wood Brothers racing team, who are celebrating their 60th season in NASCAR, and each one running the Ford nameplate.
Team founder Glen Wood began the team in 1950, and in their 60 seasons have racked 96 victories with such legendary drivers as David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker and Dale Jarrett.
Following the 2008 season, the Woods scaled back their operations, running a limited schedule in 2009 with driver Bill Elliott.
The team plans to continue running a limited schedule of 13 races in 2010with sponsorship from Motorcraft and Quick Lane Tire & Auto Centers while looking to add more races later in the season.
“We're working on other things, just like everybody else is, chasing money," team co-owner Eddie Wood said. "We could add up to six (races) fairly easily.
“We’ve got a plan laid out, to go to 12, to 18, to 25 races, to back to full-time. If we do get more races, it would probably go to more of the immediate tracks, like Darlington, Dover and Pocono and then spread on at back to the superspeedways and road races.”
Wrapping up the Tuesday afternoon session was a visit with one of Ford’s flagship teams, Roush Racing.
Coming off a strong finish in 2008 with three of the team’s cars making the final 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, Roush Racing came out of the gate strong again in 2009, with driver Matt Kenseth winning the first two races of the season.
However, as 2009 unfolded, Roush Racing posted only one more victory and managed to place only the cars of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle in the championship chase.
Both drivers struggled in the final 10 races, quickly falling out of the top five as Hendrick Motorsports blasted by to claim the top three spots in the final standings.
“We had plenty of resources, but the thing that winds up making the different between winners and losers in a given year is what you do with your time,” said Roush. “We spent our time, a disproportionate amount of it as I look back at it, trying to find that next breakthrough, trying to find the thing that NASCAR had missed, the thing that other teams were overlooking. Guess what – it didn’t come. We didn’t find it.”
But with the team’s engineers searching for the next competitive edge, not enough attention was being paid to making their existing fleet as good as possible, “We got best-balled on the tweaks and the sanding,” said Roush.
To make up for the that shortcoming, Ford has increased their commitment to the team, allowing them to add to their engineering staff and give their existing people more time to better prepare the cars in the coming season.
“I’ve learned from 2009, when I thought it was going to a slam dunk to come back and dominate the mile-and-half tracks and to be in contend for the championship again, and we just missed it,” said Roush. “But it wasn’t a bad year for us, it was a year that didn’t meet our expectations, but we won races and were competitive.”
After coming up short of defending his title in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and being shut out of victory lane in the Cup Series in 2009, Edwards will once again be competing full time in both divisions in 2010.
“Our goals are simple: I want to win both championships," Edwards said. “I want to go out have the year I know we can have, the year I thought we were going to have last year.
“When Matt [Kenseth] won the [Daytona] 500 and then California, probably all of us thought, 'Well, this is going to be it. This is going to be a lot of fun.' Throughout the year, we did struggle and we worked hard. I know I personally learned a lot about myself and about the team and what we need, and we’ve been able to work on all of that.”
Tuesdays program concluded with a trip to the as-yet-unfinished NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte, scheduled to open on May 11.
Executive director Winston Kelley gave the media an early look at the hall, as well as one of the first artifacts to be donated – Ricky Craven’s winning no. 32 Tide Pontiac from the 2003 race at Darlington, the closest finish in NASCAR history.
“(Team owner) Cal (Wells) had built the car for me as a gift,” Craven said. “It was the last Pontiac to win in the sport, and it carries some history as the closest finish in the existence of the sport.”
The display was originally not big enough to accommodate the car, but architects later went back and redesigned it.
“When I explained the access to the artifact we had, they made the adjustment,” said Kelley.
Among the other artifacts to be displayed in the hall include a personal information sheet filled out by Dale Earnhardt in 1975, listing his favorite drivers as Richard Petty and Bobby Isaac; and Richard Petty’s 1967 Plymouth that won 27 races including a record-setting string of 10 straight victories.
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