A few weeks before the first green flag drops on the long and furious NASCAR season, media from across the US and beyond drop what they were doing to attend the annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. The tour is limited to about 200 media members who fill three buses to become guests at various shop headquarters in the Charlotte, N.C. area, the capital of stock car racing.
The year, as in the past, four days were packed with announcements, breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, driver interviews, sponsor recognition and even hospitality time.
This concise summary of the first day is an attempt to take a fan along the way.
Most teams and drivers are optimistic right now looking at 2011 with a clean slate of zero points and fresh fleet of new race cars. But fans might glean energy from quotes and in some cases the restructuring of teams and driver rosters. NASCAR executives announced rule changes for the new season that will affect championships and point math.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (EGR) sparked the beginning of the tour by presenting their view of the new season at a Hilton luncheon.
Within a 12 month stretch of race EGR and Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Indianapolis 500 and Rolex 24 At Daytona. In addition to that Dario Franchitt1 won the 2010 IZOD IndyCar championship for Ganassi Racing.
Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray will return to compete in the No. 42 and No. 1 cars respectively.
Media were bused around Charlotte several times daily and nightly.
The first bus top was at Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters where Tony Stewart was beaming about his team. .
"Last year I think we all started feeling a lot more comfortable in knowing what to expect," Stewart said. "It's definitely not easy for sure, but we have Bobby Hutchins leading this for us. We have some great crew chiefs in Darien Grubb and Tony Gibson. And I have a great teammate with Ryan (Newman). Those are the key ingredients that you have to have."
Ryan Newman clearly was on Stewart's page about SHR and the future.
"We are just continuing to build," Newman said. "We're working hard on our race cars. I had a good year last year and am looking forward to this year to start off strong. That's one thing we haven't done as a team. To start the season off with the Daytona 500 is a good opportunity. We had some fun down there with testing and I'm looking forward to the entire Speedweeks."
The media tour is prime time to showcase sponsors.
Tony Stewart on 2011: "I am really excited about getting a new season under way. We have some great partners here with our sponsors this year. All of them are what makes this possible. These great companies are what makes us a family."
The next dinner stop was at Penske Racing headquarters, a vast and impressive building that houses Penske’s NASCAR and IndyCar teams.
"You know this was a vision of mine, to consolidate our race teams under one roof," said Penske. "And I think we have seen the success over the last three or four years. We have had the opportunity to move our people from one area to another with in the sport. As we go into 2011 I feel a lot better because the economy certainly is stronger. You can see that in our businesses.
"The job for our drivers is to drive race cars, and for crew chiefs to work on them," said Penske. "Making the Chase (for the NASCAR Sprint Cup) last year and having a competitive Nationwide Series car was very important to us."
Kurt Busch will take over Brad Keselowski’s No. 22 Dodge with a new sponsor, Shell/Pennzoil, on the primary hood.
"We are proud of the cars that we put out there on the track," Busch said. "We have beautiful cars with the Shell Pennzoil colors. Of course we've done things internally to continue to get stronger, with different personnel changes including key people we have added to teams. Going into my sixth year, this is the strongest I have felt going into the season. So, I'm really looking forward to hitting the track at Daytona and get the season
Brad Keselowski will step behind the wheel of Busch’s No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge
"We are real proud of what we have here, having nicer stuff and stuff we can win with," said Keselowski. "It's all possible because of the progress we have made. Having our Nationwide sponsors return is a tremendous help for us. We are looking forward to starting the year here at Penske Racing."
Kurt Busch announced he is planning to race in select NHRA Pro Stock
drag racing events in a Shell Pennzoil Dodge starting with the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. this Spring.
The night ended with the hospitality of SPEED/FOX Sports back at the Hilton.
SPEED announced it will honor Dale Earnhardt with "The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt" to recognize the 10th anniversary of his death on Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m.
FOX Sports has devised a real time steering wheel maneuvering graphic by the drivers so fans can view and judge how the drivers are reacting to race conditions.
Quotes and schedule courtesy NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Photo credit: Dwight Drum at Racetake.com