2011 NASCAR Media Tour: Day 2

Michael Waltrip
Harold Hinson

The 29th annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway continued on Tuesday with another round of shops visits and media events as the sport prepares to enter 2011 with the season-opening Daytona 500 just 25 days away.

Starting off Day Two of the four-day tour was a visit from Michael Waltrip Racing, where team owner Michael Waltrip unveiled a book written by himself and writer Ellis Henican called In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything, highlighting Waltrips career from its early beginnings all the way up to that fateful day of Feb 18, 2001.

The upcoming 10th anniversary of the passing of the late Dale Earnhardt in the final lap of that race carries even more heavily on Waltrip, who was making his debut driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in that very race, which was also his first career victory in 462 tries.

“When I started writing the book," Waltrip said, “I thought it would be therapeutic and I would come out of it with a better grasp of that day. I think it is healthy to delve into things from your past that hurt, and I did that. Even after going through this experience, I still can’t explain how that day turned out the way it did. That’ll be a question I’ll find out when I’m not on this earth anymore."

Waltrip also announced he would be attempting the Daytona 500 driving a no. 15 Toyota decked out in a NAPA paintjob similar to the one he drove to victory in the 2001 Daytona 500.

“Going back [to race the Daytona 500] in 2011 is another chance for me to celebrate Dale’s life and the fact that he believed in me like he did," Waltrip said. “NAPA Auto Parts believed in me and gave me the opportunity to race a championship-caliber car like I got to drive for Dale.

“It honors both Dale and the sponsor that is still with me in 2011."

The tour moved on to the second event of the day hosted by the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where series director Joe Balash outlined some of the changes to the series for 2011.

For the 2011 season, the Nationwide Series will fully implement the new Car-of-Tomorrow-type cars that ran select events in 2010.

Ford will campaign the Mustang in the Nationwide Series while Dodge will go with the iconic Challenger body style. Chevy and Toyota teams will continue to utilize the Impala and Camry, respectively, although with body changes that more closely match the other makes.

Drivers will also no longer be allowed to compete for championships in multiple NASCAR divisions, with full-time Sprint Cup drivers not eligible to receive championship points in the Nationwide Series. Sprint Cup drivers who compete in the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series will still be credited with race victories and owners points, but only full-time Nationwide or Truck Series driver will earn driver points toward a championship.

Next stop on the tour was a visit to the host track for the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, Charlotte Motor Speedway, where they are currently constructing the world’s largest HD video screen that will make it’s debut during the May NASCAR events at the track.

Once completed, the 200-foot-wide, 80-foot-tall screen would dwarf the current record holder, the massive 152-by-72-foot screen at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX, and give fans sitting the frontstretch an unobstructed view of the action happening around the track.

Crews working on the construction of the video screen were busy digging 54-inch wide, 50-foot-deep holes for the concrete piers that will support 500,000-pound steel frame that will hold the 165,000-pound video board. When completed, the total structure will weigh
665,000 pounds.

“With more than nine million LED lamps, this video board will give people the benefit of being at the race – having the whole race experience – and getting to see replays and important events up close," said Charlotte Motor Speedway President and General Manager Marcus Smith. “I can’t wait to see it. Every time I look out of my office window, I wonder, is it here yet?"

The RCR lineup
Harold Hinson

Up next on the tour was a visit to the shops of Richard Childress Racing in Welcome, N.C., where the team was busy preparing to bring four Sprint Cup teams to Daytona for the first time since 2009 will Paul Menard coming on board to pilot the new no. 27 Chevrolet, joining the driver lineup of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer

The 2010 season featured a remarkable turnaround for RCR, with all three of the team’s Sprint Cup entries making the Chase for the Sprint Cup field after being shutout completely in 2009.

Among the three drivers, Harvick stayed in the title hunt until the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, ending up third in points, just 41 back of eventual champion Jimmie Johnson.

Harvick’s good fortune came at the expend of teammate Bowyer, who went from leading the points after winning the first race in the Chase at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to dead last in the points after a 150-point penalty for a having a race car that was too low in post-race inspection.

“I’ve gotten past it. The penalty thing, it is what it is," said Bowyer. “You can’t say anymore about it. I spoke my peace, I felt like I was right – sometime people think they’re right and they’re not. But at the end of the day, it was important to go back and win again, and we did have a good Chase.

“If you think how good our Chase was, think about how good it could have been if we’d had gone in Dover right off the excitement of winning you first race of the season, and going from 12th to second in points, that would have been huge but instead if was complete chaos. We finished tenth last year, but without that penalty, we’d have been easily in the top five, I think we’d have been in the championship hunt. It screwed us up for four weeks – we didn’t have a crew chief. That really sets you back."

Finishing off the second day of the tour was a dinner event hosted by Red Bull Racing, who will welcome back driver Brian Vickers in 2011 along with new teammate Kasey Kahne.

Vickers was forced to sit out the final six months of the 2010 season after being diagnosed with blood clots in May, watching the no. 83 team struggle with an inconsistent driver lineup including Casey Mears, Reed Sorenson and Boris Said before Kahne bolted from Richard Petty Motorsports in October to take over the ride for the rest of the season.

Now fully recovered from heart surgery, Vickers is itching to get back to racing in 2011.

“It was obviously a long process to get back to this point," said Vickers. “Going back to my first test this season, being back in a race car, knowing that there was a point and time in my life I wasn’t sure I was ever going to race again, it was a big moment.

“Watching a Cup race you’re supposed to be in, from the sidelines, sucks. Dale Earnhardt said it best, he once said when he was out of the car, it was like watching his wife cheat on him – and that’s pretty much what it felt like. Sitting on top of that pit box I know exactly what he went through. It’s painful. That’s why I didn’t go to a lot of races, because when I was there, I was miserable. That was a large part of it."

After his fill-in stint for Vickers, Kasey Kahne was named as the driver of the second Red Bull Toyota Camry, which will bear the no. 4 in 2011. Kahne will drive the car for one season before moving on to Hendrick Motorsports to take over the no. 5 Chevrolet from Mark Martin.

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