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NASCAR Media Tour - Day 1

by Pete McCole
Tuesday, January 20, 2009

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Stop 1: Penske Racing
Courtesy Lowe's Motor Speedway/Harold Hinson
Hundreds of journalists from around the world gathered Tuesday for the opening day of the 27th annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Concord, N.C.

Kicking off the tour was a luncheon press conference with Penske Racing, the defending winners of the Daytona 500.

One of the hot topics during this year’s tour was the state of the economy and its effects on the manufacturers, teams, sponsors, and of course, the fans.

“Every business has been impacted by it,” said Penske Racing driver Kurt Busch. “Everyone who goes to work each day feels like they have to work harder if they are going to make that paycheck. That flows into our crew guys, the engineer on our team and the drivers as well.

“We want to do a better job to get that exposure level for our sponsors to get them to come back again and re-sign and have that family atmosphere like at Penske. That's what helps us feel secure in our place, is the relationships we have as a family and with our sponsors."

Stop 2: Richard Petty Motorsports
Courtesy Lowe's Motor Speedway/Harold Hinson
The tour’s second press event of the day was an announcement of a new team formed by the merger of Petty Enterprises ad Gillett-Evernham Motorsports.

Perhaps nowhere has the economic crunch been felt more than at Petty Enterprises.

A stalwart of the sport since NASCAR’s inception in 1949, Petty Enterprises has struggled to keep pace with the super-power, multi-car teams that have come to dominate the sport, posting only three wins since 1996.

Looking to bolster their struggling franchise, the Petty’s reached out for a partner and found one in George Gillett, combining their organizations to form a four-car team that will run under the banner of Richard Petty Motorsports.

The newly formed team will bring together the no. 9 Dodge of Kasey Kahne and the no. 19 Dodge of Elliott Sadler together with the famed no. 43, with new driver Reed Sorenson behind the wheel.

The team will also field the no. 44 car – formerly the no. 10 Gillett-Evernham team – resurrecting the number campaigned by Kyle Petty  from 1997 to 2000.

“This begins the next great chapter for the Petty name in NASCAR,” said Richard Petty, who will server as co-owner of the new team. “It was very important to us, not only to see the Petty name out on the racetrack, but also to be competitive and get all of our cars back into victory lane and competing for Sprint Cup Series championships on a regular basis.”

“To bring the No. 43 and 44 together under the Richard Petty Motorsports banner means a lot to both me and my family. And then to pair with the No. 9 and 19 and their history really shows the spirit of this partnership. We are bringing two winning organizations together to take a competitive step forward for many years to come.”

Stop 3: Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
Courtesy Lowe's Motor Speedway/Harold Hinson
Speedway Motorsports, Inc. rounded out the afternoon events with a round-table discussion with the general managers of seven of the company’s tracks and SMI Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith.

Much of the discussion focused on the changing economy and how the company plans to adjust their business plan to cope with the effect the economy has had on their primary source of income – namely the fans who buy the tickets.

Among the strategies brought up were discounted ticket packages, and reducing local hotel rates for fans attending the events.

"In this time when everybody is giving bailouts to banks and mortgage companies, we asked ourselves, who's truly giving a bailout to ‘Joe the fan?' We decided we're going to do that,” said Texas Motor Speedway president and GM Eddie Gossage.

"We'll be doing more for the race fans than ever before,” said Bruton Smith. “We're going to let them know how much we appreciate them in many ways. We'll be working really hard and we're going to come up with some innovation to fill those seats.”

Capping off the opening day of the tour was a visit to the race shops of Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, N.C.

With so many teams in NASCAR cutting back the number of cars in the their roster or merging to stay financially afloat, RCR has bucked the trend by adding a fourth team to their stable, moving Clint Bowyer to the new no. 33 car with General Mills sponsorship while bringing in Casey Mears to take over the wheel of the no. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet.

“We had planned on this in 2008, to run a fourth car, so a lot of our planning was already in place before (the economic crisis),” said RCR Vice President of Competition Mike Dillon. “In adding a fourth team, we only added four new employees to that team. We brought up 15 guys from our nationwide program to staff the majority of that team.”

While having full-time sponsors for all four teams has enabled RCR to expand, the team has also benefited from their own cost-cutting initiatives as well as NASCAR’s own policy of eliminating testing to help teams reduce cost.

“We probably went to 10 or 12 tracks to test at last year on top of the NASCAR test tracks, and at all those test we keep putting tires on, and tires add up,” said Dillon. “So with the testing policy NASCAR has this year is going to save us four or five million dollars in testing.

“Everything from top to bottom has been gone through and shuffled around to see if that’s the most efficient way to do it,” said RCR driver Kevin Harvick, himself an owner in the Nationwide Series. “Our whole goal at my company and at RCR is efficiency, to get all you can out of your company and go through everything from top to bottom

“Everybody, whether you’re just a driver or a driver and an owner or a CEO of a company, everybody wants to see the economy stabilize and really see exactly what direction it’s going to take and you have to be smart about what you have.”

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