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2011 NASCAR Media Tour: Day 1

by Pete McCole
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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The Tour began at the Ganassi shop
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
The NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway began its 29th edition on Monday as teams, drivers, sponsors and the media geared up for the 2011 NASCAR season.

Drawing some 200 journalists and media outlets from around the country and across the globe to Concord N.C., the tour features press conference and shop tours from several of the biggest names in the sport, and all of them looking ahead to the promise of a new and exciting year of racing.

Leading off the tour was Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, which returns with the driver lineup of Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya for a second year.

2010 was one of the most successful seasons for the team since their merger with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2008, with McMurray winning two of the biggest races in the NASCAR schedule – the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis – as well as the October race at Charlotte. Montoya also returned to the win column for the first time since 2007 with a victory at the Watkins Glen road course in August.

However despite the teams success on the track, both drivers failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, with McMurray and Montoya finishing 14th and 17th, respectively, in the final points standings.

With eight CART and IRL championships under his belt including the last three IRL titles, team co-owner Chip Ganassi knows how to build championship-winning teams, and although a NASCAR title has eluded him in 2010, he likes the momentum the team gained going into 2011

“I’m really happy with the tone that last year set, and I’m happy with the tone it laid out for 2011,” said Ganassi. “I don’t think you look at it in terms of trying to top last year, you just go in week in and week out, the most important race on our schedule is the next race. We just want to go out and do the basic things right, stay on our plan, not get too excited, not worry about 2010 or trying to top our performance - go out a do what you’re supposed to do when your supposed to do it and everything else will take care of itself.

Unlike several high-profile teams in Sprint Cup, EGR has weathered the economic downturn better than most, returning in 2011 with full sponsorships for both their Sprint Cup teams, bringing back long-time sponsors Target and Energizer for Montoya’s team and adding new associate sponsors LiftMaster and Widia for Jamie McMurray’s no. 1 Chevrolet.

While many are optimistic that the economy – and with it sponsorship dollars and ticket sales – is on the upswing, team co-owner Felix Sabates says the days of big spending by sponsors is gone.

“I don’t think you’re going see the $40 million dollar sponsors, those days are over,” said Sabates. “You’ve got these companies with CEO’s and Board of Directors and got to justify where the money is going, and they want to get something for the money they’re paying.

“I think the sponsorship levels for the big teams is going to $25-27 million dollar range. If the money’s not there, you can’t pay your drivers.”

Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
The tour next rolled on to the shops of Stewart-Haas Racing, which again will campaign two entries for Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman in 2011.

Team co-owner Tony Stewart has been in the headlines recently involving an altercation in Australia with Brett Morris, the co-owner of the Sydney Raceway, following Stewart’s participation in a sprint car race at the track on Jan. 16.

Stewart was detained briefly by police for questioning before being released and was allowed to return to the U.S. No charges have yet been filed.

Stewart declined to comment about the incident during Monday’s event, however in an earlier interview, Stewart admitted there was an “altercation” at the track.

“It was a dispute between myself and one of the owners of the facility,” said Stewart. “But as it also reported, we went down to the police station, we gave them a statement.  They told us after the statement that we were free to go back to the hotel room and free to get on the plane the next day.  But definitely wasn't the way I wanted to end my trip.

“I'm not concerned about it. If there is and we have to go back, we'll deal with it.  But it's nothing that we're concerned with at this point.”

Stewart’s team added some sponsorship power to his organization for 2011, pulling in Mobil 1 after several years with Penske Racing. They will join Office Depot as primary sponsors of Stewart’s no. 14 Chevrolet.

The tour concluded at Penske's shop
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
"I don’t think that we’ve turned the corner on the economy side, yet. It’s very competitive,” said Stewart. “The work off the racetrack, between the car owners and sponsors right now, it’s probably more competitive than I ever imagined it would be. And, especially nowadays, I think it’s probably harder than it’s been in the past 15 or 20 years.

“The good thing is, you don’t see a lot of sponsors really leaving the sport. They just have been moving around a little bit. So I think it’s a very hard time for car owners trying to figure out how they can make an attractive program and package for these sponsors to want to come over and be a part of your organization.”

Opening day of the media tour wrapped up with a visit to Penske Racing at their monstrous 425,000 square-foot shop housing Roger Penske’s NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and Indy Racing League teams.

Penske Racing will shuffle their driver lineup for 2011, moving Kurt Busch to the newly re-numbered no. 22 Dodge with new sponsor Shell/Pennzoil while Brad Keselowski moves behind the wheel of the no. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.

Kurt Busch is going drag racing
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Penske’s third driver, Sam Hornish Jr., will run a limited schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide team while Steven Wallace will run in the Daytona 500 in Penske’s no. 77 Sprint Cup team.

Kurt Busch also announced he would be making his NHRA Pro Stock debut at the 41st Annual Gatornationals on March 11 –13 in Gainesville, Fla.

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