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NASCAR Media Tour - Day 3

by Pete McCole
Friday, January 25, 2013

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The Day started at Ganassi Racing, in a hanger
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com

Wednesday marked day three of the 31st Annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, continuing the four-day press event bringing together journalist from around the world to meet with some of the sport’s top teams as they prepare for the upcoming 2013 season.

Starting off the show was a morning press conference with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, of all places, in an aircraft hanger at Concord Regional Airport.

The location fit in nicely for their major announcement this morning, adding Cessna Aircraft Company to sponsor cars throughout the Ganassi organization, including ten races as primary sponsor of Jamie McMurray’s Chevrolet.

But for all his accomplishments in other series – including the 2010 and 2011 IndyCar titles - Ganassi has failed to find success in NASCAR. Although McMurray won both the season-opening Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in 2010, neither of Ganassi’s Sprint Cup teams have qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup since Juan Pablo Montoya made the field in 2009.

After going winless for the second straight year, McMurray ended up 21st in point and Montoya 22nd – only a slight improvement over the previous season.

Most teams would hit the panic button after two disappointing seasons, but Ganassi plans to keep everything status quo on both his Sprint Cup teams, hoping the stability of keeping everyone in place will lead to better results on the track.

One change the team will make this season:  Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing will get their engines from Hendrick Motorsports instead of from Earnhardt-Childress Racing, a joint-venture formed in 2007 between Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to build common engines.

“There’s two bottom lines in the sports business – there’s wins and losses, and there’s profits and losses,” said Ganassi. “I’ve never shied from the fact that we need to get our NASCAR team up to where the other teams are, and that’s why I’m in the business. We’ve shown we can win on occasion, we did have a couple of tough years, but we’re not sticking our head in the sand.”

We’ve made some changes here and there, we’re not afraid to make changes, but we don’t make changes just for the sake of making changes either.”

Hendrick Racing
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Next up was a visit to Hendrick Motorsports, where the four-car powerhouse of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne joined team owner Rick Hendrick to greet the media.

It was on the 2012 media tour that Rick Hendrick laid down the gauntlet, challenging all four of his cars to make the Chase field, and they delivered – with Kasey Kahne barely edging his way into the Chase in 11th place.

Right up until the last half of the last race, Johnson had the title in his sights. Coming into the Chase for the Sprint Cup season in points, Johnson traded the points lead with Brad Keselowski for the next nine racing, entering the final race at Homestead just 20 points behind, but a failed rear-end gear ended his night and his title hopes, finishing in third in points.

For the 2013 season, Hendrick is expecting more of the same – all four cars in the hunt and a Hendrick driver hoisting the title.

“I feel more confident this year than I did last year,” said Hendrick. “I think we’ve working on every area that we need to improve on, I think the momentum we had at the end of the year, we won a lot of races, we had (the four teams) in the Chase, we came up short in the championship, but I think we got a shot to win it with any of the four teams.

“This is a tough sport. There’s a lot of talent out there, but I don’t know of any organization that has better chemistry than we have between our four drivers.”

“Last year we were so close, we were right there on the edge, we were in control right until the end, and we had a lot to be proud of,” said Johnson. “We’re going to keep fighting for it. Hopefully, be a six-time (champion) – that’s the goal.”

As for Earnhardt, Jr. – he’s already made some headlines this season, touching off the first multi-car crash of the year during last week’s test session at Daytona when he nudged Marcos Ambrose the wrong way on the backstretch, eventually collecting 12 cars in the process.

“That was probably the most embarrassed I’ve been in a long time,” said Earnhardt, Jr. “I’ve made mistakes before, it won’t be the last.

“With the new car, everybody’s got to learn for themselves how the draft is going to work, how the bumpers are going to work – if at all - and exactly when you want to push a guy and where the right time is, if there is a time. Everybody will have to go through that school again, and understand out what the limitations of the car are.”

Junior’s no. 88 car still needs to find sponsorship for 13 races for the 2013 season, but Hendrick is confident finding sponsors to fill out the year won’t be an issue

“We’ve had a lot of interest, but I have no worries about that car having a full deal by the end of the year,” said Hendrick. “I’m looking for the right deal. Not just any deal.”

Hendrick Motorsports will also field a truck team for driver Chase Elliott – the 17-year-old son of 1988 NASCAR Cup champion Bill Elliott – entering him in nine truck series races in 2013. It will mark the first time since the 2002 season-opening race that Hendrick has entered a truck series event.

Penske Racing
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
Day three closed with a visit to the spacious headquarters of Penske Racing, where the media was welcomed by new Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski and team owner Roger Penske.

After 29 years as an owner in the Sprint Cup Series, 2012 finally saw “The Captain” Roger Penske score the Sprint Cup championship that had eluded him so long.

Already a championship-winning owner in open wheel and even the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Penske had come close – finishing runner-up with driver Rusty Wallace in 1993 - but not until he tapped Keselowski to replace Kurt Busch in the “Blue Deuce” did he finally put together a winning combination, bringing together all the pieces to win the title and continue on in the new season.

“We’ve a great team, we’ve got many years of experience as we go into 2013 and when you look at our driver lineup across the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup, I couldn’t be happier. We got a foundation we’ve got the experience and once you’ve smelled that top spot – as I said at the (NASCAR awards) banquet - this is something you can’t buy, you don’t get voted in – you win it.”

Brad Keselowski
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com
In just his third season running in the Sprint Cup Series, Keselowski won the title in just his 125th series start, the quickest since Gordon won his first title in 1995 after 93 starts.

But Keselowski is not content to just rest on his laurels, and winning the Sprint Cup title has only whetted his appetite for bigger and better things.

“I’m not happy being a guy that wins one championship and then goes away quietly, I want to win multiple championships,” said Keselowski. “It just makes me want to fight that much harder to make that happen again.

“I care about this sport, I don’t want to just be a champion of a sport that isn’t as strong that can be. I want be a leader in this sport. I want to be a part of making this sport stronger. My goal is to be the best that I can be and to something great for this sport.”

After parting way with Dodge after the 2012 season, Penske Racing will be of the Ford stable for 2013, working closely with Roush-Fenway Racing to develop the new Ford Fusion.

Penske Racing also added given Keselowski a new teammate in driver Joey Logano who will pilot the no. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford in 2013. The team also announced they have re-upped with Shell/Pennzoil to sponsor the no. 22 Ford through 2018, and added Hertz as a primary sponsor of the no. 22 Nationwide team.

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