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NASCAR Media Tour - Day 1

by Pete McCole
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

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Kevin Harvick has reason to be happy
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
NASCAR’s top teams prepared to lay out the welcome mat this week as the 31st Annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour commenced on Monday in Concord, N.C., kicking off a four-day press event hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Since 1983, Charlotte Motor Speedway has played host for the annual media event, bringing together hundreds of journalist from around across the globe for the opportunity to speak to some of the sports premiere drivers and team as they prepare for the upcoming NASCAR racing season.

Leading off the tour was tour sponsor and series sponsor Sprint, who unveiled a new fan-interactive program for the newly named Sprint Unlimited race, the three-segment, 75-lap non-points race run the weekend prior to the season-opening Daytona 500.

For the first time in the event’s 34-year history of the race – which was previously known as the Budweiser Shootout - fans will be able to vote through a downloadable mobile app to decide the format for the race and lengths of the segments, the type of pit stop and the number of cars, if any, to be eliminated before the final segment of the race.

“Giving fans such a strong voice in the design of the race is a fitting way to launch our 10th season in the sport," said Steve Gaffney, Sprint vice president of corporate marketing. "We are giving them the ultimate access to the sport, the decision-making power to sculpt the type of race they want to see. With today's technology, they can make these decisions in real time as the race is happening.”

Next stop was Stewart-Haas Racing, who introduced their 2013 driver and crew chief lineups.

Stewart-Haas Racing
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Joining team co-owner Tony Stewart will be returning driver Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick, who will return in 2013 to run a full schedule in the Sprint Cup Series.

Following his championship-winning season in 2011, Stewart failed to find the same late-season magic that brought him from 12th to the top of the points standings back in 2011. After starting the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup in second place in the standings, a trio of 20th-or-worse finishes at the halfway mark of the Chase – including a tumbling crash at Talladega – sent him plummeting to 10th in the standings before rallying to finish ninth in the points, his worst finish since 2008.

“I’ve been racing for 34 years and every year hasn’t been a championship winning year but you always find a way to rebound it from it your always are concerned about what put gets you in that position but I don’t think there’s any team out there that has the attitude that they can’t get out of that,” said Stewart.

“In all pro sports, winning a championship can be a detriment as much as it can be an asset going into the next season. That’s where your leaders come into play. Having a competition director that can keep these guys focused and keep the pressure on them to keep their eye on the prize even though you accomplished that goal, once that year is over, you’re trying to accomplish that goal again and getting them to put that behind them, to celebrate and enjoy that but at the same time focus on the task at hand for the next year.”

Tony Stewart
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
To help out on the competition side, Stewart brought back his old crew chief Greg Zipadelli as competition director at the start of the season, and just last October put vice president of competition Matt Borland in as Newman’s crew chief, bringing Tony Gibson from Newman’s team over to lead Patrick’s team going into 2013.

In addition to running the full schedule in 2013, Patrick will also be going for the Rookie of the Year title against two-time Nationwide Series champ, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Patrick made a modest showing running a full-time Nationwide schedule, but struggled in her 10 Sprint Cup appearances. After all the hoopla surrounding her first career Daytona 500 start – just the third female driver ever to start in the race – Patrick last just two laps before getting caught up in a wreck with Jimmie Johnson.

It didn’t get much better from there, with Patrick recording just a single top-20 finish at Phoenix near the end of the season along with two DNFs, and also a few on-track run-in’s with other drivers that left her few friends in the garage.

“What I learned from last year was that I can’t let a bad race get to me and it did last year, after Daytona I went into Phoenix and didn’t have a great weekend and my attitude got the best of me and I had to regroup from there on out,” said Patrick.

“Last year taught me - the lack of control. The only thing you can control is your emotions how you respond to it and deal with it. The need to do a good job and with so many races you can either take it and make it a positive and say ‘I’ve got a new weekend next weekend’ or you can let it get the best of you and the next weekend is just a downward spiral. I learned very quickly what a bad race can do to you, and I’m better for it.”

Richard Childress Racing
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Richard Childress Racing hosted the evening portion of the opening day of the tour at their team race complex in Welcome, N.C.

For the second year in a row, RCR managed to put just one of their four entries in the Chase field, with veteran driver Kevin Harvick just managing to make the cutoff in ninth place. A late-season crew chief switch paired Harvick with former crew chief Gil Martin, but it still wasn’t enough as Harvick finished eighth in points, grabbing his lone season victory late in the season at Phoenix.

Although RCR returns with the same driver lineup in 2013, it will be a lame duck season for Harvick, who will be leaving to join Tony Stewart’s team in 2014, though neither Harvick or Stewart have commented on the move.

“Right now I don’t have anything to tell you for 2014,” said Harvick. “I look at this year as a character building year to go out and have fun and to leave this place as good as it was when I got here if not better. I got a lot of friends here, and I want to leave it that way.”

Although Harvick wouldn’t talk about any potential move to Stewart-Haas, Richard Childress confirmed what most of the media already knew – that Harvick was indeed leaving, and spoke to Childress about it weeks prior to the news leaking out in November.

“We talked about it. He told me his plans. We discussed what we were going to do in ’13,” said Childress. “He’ll do well at Stewart-Haas, I think he and Tony will have a good relationship and RCR will keep going and we’ll keep moving forward.”

Both Harvick and Childress agreed they plan to approach the season no differently than before, but want to go out riding high, hopefully with a Sprint Cup title.

“We both committed to each other that we’re going to make this a positive year and a positive end,” said Childress. “We’ve had a great career together and we want to make this year and great ending. We’ll get along fine. Kevin and I have had our disagreements, but we’ll get along fine.

“I wish him well, I really want to win the (2013) championship, I want him to leave on a high note. I want to have a long-term friendship with Kevin even after this is over. With any of the drivers I’ve had in the past, I still have great relationships with them - I still pull for ol’ Clint Bowyer. Life’s too short to keep carrying on a grudge.”

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