FYI WIRZ: NASCAR Sprint Media Tour on Third View of 2011

Dwight DrumCorrespondent IIIFebruary 4, 2011

Brian France explains 2011 rules changes at NASCAR's Hall of Fame
Brian France explains 2011 rules changes at NASCAR's Hall of Fame

After two days of nonstop NASCAR shop visits with uninterrupted presentations, interviews, dining and hospitality, 200 select media members—tired or not—opted for even more long, eventful moments.

Day three of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, began at a retail store for the first time in 29 years of tour history.

Three bus trips to multi-team shops and one ride to Charlotte Motor Speedway had already transpired before this visit occurred.

Furniture Row provided a breakfast in its dining display area in Charlotte that was sumptuous under comfortable conditions. The team is one of a few single car campaigns that have improved in the past three years of bumping and grinding.

Driver Regan Smith, 27, has learned much along the way in the No. 78 Chevrolet.

“From my standpoint and the team’s standpoint, if we can continue to build on the way we finished last year, that is what our goals are,” Smith said. “We want to make the same level of progression this year and step up. I think the team can run in the top 10 consistently. That’s exciting for us. I have been here three years now and saw where we came from to where it is today. It’s been a lot of hard work, I know. ”
Crew chief Pete Rondeau described the fast work in progress
“I’m relating better to Regan,” Rondeau said. “We have a good relationship and are working to get better. We just need to keep on with the way we ended last year, and that is with consistency. We are working harder at getting the most from the race car.”
The three tour buses had little time to get chilled before all boarded to rumble away to Richard Petty Motorsports in the Nationwide garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The King, Richard Petty, spoke.

“We had a pretty rough time last year,” Petty said, “but everybody stayed with us. The sponsors stayed with us through the winter and came back on board for the new season. I have to give our crew a lot of credit. For the last five or six races, they didn’t know if they were going to have a job the next week, but they stepped it up, the drivers stepped it up, and we ended up with a pretty good season.

“As everybody knows, we had four cars last year; we’re going to have two cars this year.”

The RPM team will field the No. 9 Ford with Marcus Ambrose and the No. 43 Ford with A.J. Allmendinger aboard.

Media members were then treated to a luncheon hosted by Ford Racing, where legends Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison and Bud Moore were available for interviews.

The buses rumbled on again, this time to Hendrick Motorsports for a 2011 season take by Rick Hendrick, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. All four crew chiefs attended and were available for interviews also.

Owner Rick Hendrick was optimistic.
“It’s awesome to start the new year,” Hendrick said. “I don’t think as an organization we were as strong as the competition. We were thinking about it during the year and selecting the lineup. We didn’t want to go outside the walls. All of our employees show and do their best. I think we will have a good year and that we will all work together, and I will be happy. I have a lot of confidence in the organization.”

The four drivers for this house of champions had upbeat comments.

Jeff Gordon

“I’m really excited to have Drive to End Hunger as a sponsor as well as continuing with DuPont for 13 races,” Gordon said. “I think our team at Hendrick Motorsports is capable of having a strong season.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I’m thankful to have the opportunity in this sport that I have,” Earnhardt said. “This is the best of my career. A lot of the work goes on in the shop, and you don’t see it, so I think we have a good opportunity. We have to understand what makes each of us tick a little better.”

Mark Martin

“I will absolutely, without a doubt, be driving race cars next year,” Martin said. “I am not going to be in any hurry to worry about that. I’m focused on 2011 and really enjoying being a part of Hendrick Motorsports. This is the fun stuff right here in front of us.”

Jimmie Johnson

“We have some great fun and have a great relationship with Lowe’s,” Johnson said. “We are all proud of Hendrick Motorsports and all we have accomplished. It’s been amazing. It’s all work. Yes, there is change in the organization, but we all work together. There are just a lot of hungry people walking around here.”

A dinner visit to NASCAR’s Hall of Fame included announcements from NASCAR’s top executives. As most fans know now, for 2011 a driver must choose only one series to run for a championship. Also, a much simpler 43-point system with a top 10 Chase contender cap is in place with the last two places going to the drivers with the most wins during the season.

Brian France, NASCAR chairman and chief executive officer, explained the change.

“Many of our most loyal fans don’t fully understand the points system we have used to date,” France said. “So, we are simplifying the points system to one that is much easier to understand. Conceptually, it is comparable to our previous system, but it is easier to follow.”

Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, supported the new approach. 

“I think it makes for a simpler system,” Smith said. “I, like a lot of other fans, had to break out the book to figure it out, to see how the points worked. Even with years and years of being involved in the sport it was difficult to know exactly how the points would shake out to be in a given race. Now we know it’s very simple. They have put more emphasis on winning, which as a fan I love, and I think all of the fans out there will really like it as well.”

The long day concluded with an hour or more of Sprint hospitality at Whisky River in downtown Charlotte. Some media members enjoyed the last stop.    

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