NASCAR Media Tour - Day 4
The 31st Annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway came to a close on Thursday, wrapping up the annual four-day marathon of press conferences and presentations featuring some of NASCAR’s top drivers and team as they enter the final weeks leading up to the season-opening race at Daytona Speedway on February 24th.
Leading off the final day was an event hosted by Ford Racing and some of their top drivers and teams, including 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne
After with the success of winning the Daytona 500, Bayne’s Sprint Cup career has been on hold as he continues to mature in the Nationwide Series, where he has been running a limit schedule in addition to a few Cup races.
For this season, Bayne will have a full-time Nationwide ride with Roush Racing, filling the seat vacated by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the no. 6 Ford
“The opportunity I have this year is the one I’ve been waiting on,” said Bayne. “Everybody knows that the last season I was part time and it was kind of a slow season for us, but now we get the real opportunity to run for a championship in the Nationwide Series.
“That whole no. 6 team has already proven they can do it - they’ve won two in a row so it’s a little bit of pressure to do three in a row, but after I’ve been hanging out with them I see why they win, and that really takes some pressure off of me.”
Team owner Jack Roush spoke to the media along with drivers Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and rookie Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who moves up from the Nationwide Series to replace Matt Kenseth in the no. 17 Ford Fusion.
“Jack (Roush) is one of the owners that has really stood behind driver development, I definitely don’t think I would have gotten this long of an opportunity if I was somewhere else,” said Stenhouse. “Jack was very dedicated to me, to learn these cars, he let me crash a lot and stood behind me and saw my potential. Jack is very dedicated and I’m very thankful for that.
“We’re at the top level of our sport, we’ve made it, but you gotta learn to stay here. I figured out how to get here, now I just got to learn to stay here and run up front.”
With a background in action sports, Pastrana easily fits the mold of a race car driver, competing in motorcross and rally car before jumping into NASCAR in 2012 with nine starts in the Nationwide Series and one in the truck series.
While some might see Pastrana’s foray into NASCAR as just another stunt, Pastrana insists he’s seriously committed, and so is Jack Roush.
“When I did my first race for Jack (Roush), he said ‘show me some speed and don’t put it in the wall,” said Pastrana. “I didn’t have the best race, but I didn’t put it in the wall. Jack’s definitely taking a gamble, but he’s willing to give me an opportunity, and I’m going to try not to mess it up.
“Ultimately, I’d like to be a Sprint Cup champion, but first I gotta figure out how to drive this Nationwide car this year. Then we’ll see where we are at the end of the year and we can make an assessment from there that’s a more reasonable goal.”
Much like Chevrolet and Toyota, Ford will also be rolling out a new Sprint Cup car for 2013, based on the updated Ford Fusion production car. Following the Roush event, Ford assembled all of its 2012 Sprint Cup drivers and their cars for a parade lap around the Hall of Fame and downtown Charlotte to show off the new Fusion.
After spending his entire Sprint Cup career driving for Jack Roush – getting him his first Sprint Cup title as a car owner – Kenseth makes the jump into the no. 20 Toyota vacated by Joey Logano.
“The me, at the end of day you look at what’s best for yourself, and certainly you want to put yourself where you feel like you can have the most success, and I felt like that this was the place for me,” said Kenseth. “I feel like I got opportunity here, I feel like this is a great situation - I feel that Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) is the guy, I feel like I got the team, got the sponsors behind us, got the Nationwide stuff backing us up. It’s kind of a new beginning for me, and we have all the tools and everything we need to go out and win races.
“With the new (Gen6) cars, everybody is kind of starting over, so I think if you’re going to make a change, this is the time to do it.”
Denny Hamlin appeared bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the afternoon event, despite some sleepless nights in the last four days since his daughter Taylor was born. He and girlfriend Jordan Fish welcomed the newest addition to the family on Jan. 20
“It’s been good,” said Hamlin of adjusting to fatherhood. “Really, it’s been fairly seamless in the sense that she’s been sleeping a lot. She came out healthy so there is no issues there. We’re just three or four days in. I’m sure she’ll be a little bit more feisty in weeks to come.
Kyle Busch hopes to rebound from yet another disappointing year in 2012. Having already finished dead-last among the Chase drivers in 2011, Busch lost out on another Chase bid in 2012, narrowly edged out by Jeff Gordon for the 12 and final spot.
Busch’s name was among those mentioned as possible free-agent candidates leading up to 2012, but instead Busch announced that he has signed a long-term contract extension keeping him at JGR.
“I did meet with some other teams and they were very interested and there were some very nice and lucrative deals I guess you would say that were out there to pursue. Ultimately, what it comes down to I think is relationships and things that you’ve developed over the last five, six years here,” said Busch. “The relationship I have with Coach (Joe) Gibbs (team owner) and J.D. (Gibbs, president), as well as the Toyota folks and the M&M’s folks and everybody -- they treat me so well and it just is the decision to stay.
“We had a tough year and it wasn’t one that either of us wanted -- myself or Joe Gibbs Racing wanted to have a year like that. You look more towards the positive things and what these guys are working on here and what Toyota has been working on for us behind the scenes and what we feel like we can do moving forward to win races.”
Busch will also drive 25 races for JGR, merging his own no. 54 Nationwide team into the Gibbs racing stable. Gibbs will also field full-time Nationwide rides for Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers.
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