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NASCAR Media Tour - Day 3

by Pete McCole
Thursday, January 21, 2010

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Hendrick Motorsports
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Day Three of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway brought to tour to headquarters of one of the most successful teams of the 2009 season, Hendrick Motorsports.

Team owner Rick Hendrick welcomed the media to their sprawling facility just a few miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, joined by Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, 2009 championship runner-up Mark Martin and defending four-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson’s team once again found a formula for late-season success to propel them to a record fourth-straight championship. Led by crew chief Chad Knaus, the team picked up three wins during the first 26-race regular season and entered the Chase for the Sprint Cup third in points.

It was in the Chase that Johnson and his team turned up the wick, notching four more wins and nine top-ten finishes in the final 10 races to beat out teammate Mark Martin by 141 points for the title.

With the start of the new season, Johnson finds himself a marked man – the one driver that every team is trying to beat. 

“We've been a motivational tool for a lot of teams over the offseason the last few years,” said Johnson. “Only time will tell how it really plays out, but I've always been in the other position where I looked up to the guy or team. It's pretty damn cool to be that person right now, so I'm going to enjoy it.

“It's short-lived though because we go to Daytona, and you reset and you worry about what takes place there. Three or four races in, we'll know who the players are and what that's going to look like.”

For Martin, 2009 will be remembered as one of his finest season is his 27 years of competition in the Sprint Cup Series.

No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Considered by some to me nothing more than a filler driver until up-and-comer Brad Keselowski could slide behind the wheel of the no. 5 Chevrolet, Martin surprised everyone by scoring five wins and outracing drivers half his age en route to a second-place finishing the 2009 points battle.

Originally contemplating retirement during his tenure at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2008, Martin says he’s happier driving now that he has even been, and has signed on for another full season with Hendrick

“Where your head is and where your heart is, changes how you see and feel and react to things and I’m so much happier now and enjoying so much more the same things that I was experiencing several years ago,” said Martin. “This is better late than never.”

Backmarker Dale Earnhardt Jr. still riding on his father's coattails
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Earnhardt, Jr. again won NASCAR’s most popular driver award for the seventh consecutive time, but unfortunately that was all he won during 2009 season.

Shut out of victory lane for the only the second time is his career, Junior’s team was the only full-time Hendrick entry to miss the Chase, finishing 25th in the series points – the worse showing of his career.

Looking to improve performance, Hendrick added veteran crew chief Lance McGrew to lead Earnhardt’s team, a combination Earnhardt hopes will bring him up to the same level of competitiveness as his teammates.

“I want to compete and match the progress and success that the rest of the company's having,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I want to be on that level.
       
“I would really like to put together complete races where we're competitive throughout the event and we're able to get finishes that are good finishes, and those are top-fives and wins. Wins are what everybody's out there racing for, but if we could put together
complete races without mistakes, without me making mistakes, without issues and problems arising, that's definitely going to signal some progress.”

Michael Waltrip Racing
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Michael Waltrip Racing brought Wednesday’s media junket to a close with a visit to their 142,000-squre-foot shop in Cornelius, N.C.

Waltrip, who formed his own team in 2007 to help usher in Toyota’s entry into NASCAR, elected to step back into more of an ownership role for the 2010 season.

Waltrip will run a limited schedule driving a third MWR entry, while turning over the wheel of the NAPA Toyota Camry to Martin Truex, Jr.

After starting his career with DEI in the Nationwide Series in 2004 and scoring his first Sprint Cup victory in 2007, Truex opted to move on after the team struggled following their merger with Ganassi Racing in 2009.

“This was the best deal for me,” said Truex. Jr. “I’ve been impressed with everything from top to bottom with the way they do things here I feel like this is my best opportunity that I’ve ever had in my career to be competitive.

“You always have something to prove in this business. In the year in an half that’s gone by, on a sheet of paper the results haven’t been there at all. We’ve had some great runs, we’ve been involved in some chances to win races - but at the end of the day the results weren’t there, and that’s no fun. It drives you absolutely nuts when you run up front up front all day and finish 25th, especially for a year and a half.  We had some great runs but it was time for a change, it was time to do something different.”

MWR finally broke through into the win column in 2009, with David Reutimann earning his first career Sprint Cup victory in the rain-shortened Coca Cola 600 last May. Reutimann also gave MWR their best points finish in their three-year history, placing 16th in the final points standings.

“We're definitely getting closer,” said Reutimann. “To say that, 'Hey, we're there' - I don't know that any team in the garage can say that they're there, especially judging from the last couple of years. But I definitely think we're a lot closer, and we have more of a clear-cut direction of how to get there.

“Where before, we didn't have that clear-cut direction. Now we know the directions we need to go to, the things we're constantly developing, building our own pieces and parts, doing things to do things a little bit better - like the Hendrick organization is doing.”

MWR will also continue their technical alliance with JTG Daugherty Racing and driver Marcos Ambrose, and has also formed a Nationwide Series team with owner Gary Bechtel called Diamond-Waltrip Racing, which will field Camry’s for driver Trevor Bayne.

In other announcements on Wednesday:

- Nationwide Insurance will continue to sponsor the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash, which will award a $25,000 bonus to any full-time Nationwide Series driver wins one of four races at Nashville, Kentucky, Iowa and Texas.

- Nationwide Insurance will also partner with Turner Sport to offer exclusive on-line Nationwide Series content on NASCAR.com, including a new Nationwide Series fantasy racing game.

- Charlotte Motor Speedway will hold a $1 million-dollar purse Legends Car race at the speedway on July 15-17.

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