The Charlotte Knights are getting ready to move on up. In 2014, the AAA minor league team of the Chicago White Sox will be pulling up the bases and moving to a brand new stadium in downtown Charlotte. Once the peanuts and Cracker Jack are cleaned up from the final home game of the season …
The NASCAR Sprint Media Tour Hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway spent its 31st anniversary visiting with the sport’s biggest names, from team owners to drivers to NASCAR executives. Optimism abounded about the new sixth-generation race cars, while sponsorship talk was a mixed bag with some teams announcing new backers, others championed extensions with old ones while the rest revealed a number of races still unpaid for. NASCAR outlined its plans for a much faster track-drying procedure and expressed continued support of the much-maligned Chase format.
A few teams debuted new drivers, like Penske Racing’s Joey Logano; Roush Fenway trumpeted Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s rise to Cup and Travis Pastrana’s Nationwide presence. A few new paint schemes were unveiled, to limited fanfare while Nationwide Series drivers took on the media in some game-room challenges. All in all, there was plenty to talk about; none of it Earth-shattering, but plenty of tidbits to feed the race-starved masses in the heart of the winter offseason.
There is no question that fans will be bombarded with the term “Gen-6” car throughout 2013, especially in the first few weeks of the season. But what does that mean, and how is this car different from the oft-criticized CoT?
Let’s attempt to find out. There are a few obvious aspects of this “reformed chassis” that clearly identify it as a Gen-6. The most obvious one is that the bodies on the cars more closely resemble those that can be purchased off the showroom floor. The adjustment, aesthetic in nature was done to please fans who felt the three remaining makes of Ford, Chevy, and Toyota had begun to look exactly the same.
NASCAR is a sport driven by performance. What a driver accomplishes, or fails to accomplish, on the racetrack affects not only his personal gratification but his team’s — and even his sponsor’s — bottom line. Sure, some give more leeway than others, and some drivers are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt. But the bottom line is no different than that of any other employer. If a driver doesn’t live up to expectations, eventually, his job could be on the line, his failure trumpeted not just by his team but by others. Race fans can be brutal, the media can be even more relentless, and there are plenty of drivers in the garage holding pink slips and looking for work. Don’t overlook that personal desire to be competitive, either; sometimes, a driver’s worst enemy in trying to fix weeks worth of failure is himself.
Bruton Smith is well known for many things, but one of his more endearing features is that he has built a speedway empire by always focusing on the fans and their experience. During this week’s activities on the Sprint Media Tour Presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway, the chairman of SMI held court with the heads of all eight of his racing facilities. The focus of the presentation was to announce new initiatives designed to further engage the fans, a set of goals he’s entitled “Fans First.” The program will have several components, but it is designed to further remind fans that they are the most important piece that keeps SMI together.
On Wednesday, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Chip Ganassi Racing announced a new partnership with Cessna and its parent company, Textron, which will encompass all of Ganassi’s race teams in NASCAR, IndyCar, and the GrandAm Series. Cessna manufactures jets, and other Textron subsidiaries include Bell helicopters, Bad Boy Buggies, and E-Z-Go golf carts, …
One year ago, people were wondering just how crazy Clint Bowyer was. Bowyer, who had three top-10 points finishes in six full seasons with Richard Childress Racing, had announced that he would leave RCR for a third Michael Waltrip Racing car in 2012. Not only was Bowyer facing an uphill battle by signing on with a brand-new team, he was making a move to an organization that had never had anyone finish higher than 16th in points throughout its existence. In fact, in those five years, the organization had just two wins, noted more for its failures (think: 2007 jet fuel disaster at Daytona) and its uncertain future. There were rumors of sponsors leaving, and even if they didn’t, MWR was considered capable of no better than middle of the pack — period.
The annual NASCAR press conference, during the Sprint Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway was held on Tuesday afternoon in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There were several topics discussed, both during presentations and the question and answer session with NASCAR CEO Brian France and President Mike Helton. The running theme surrounding these discussions was simple, contained within the mantra for the sport: Racing to Innovate. Several initiatives, from the Gen-6 car to the new qualifying system are hitting the racetrack for the first time this year and, all parties claim have been designed to make the sport better in the long run.
*Did You Notice?…* How many of the top teams still have races available for primary sponsors? We’ve only been through two days of the NASCAR Media tour, with several of the top programs still to go and the list that’s been accumulated is staggering. Take a look at the number of unsold races for the following teams:
*Tony Stewart (No. 14):* 9 of 36 races unsold (25%)
*Ryan Newman (No. 39):* 8 of 36 (22%)
*Danica Patrick (No. 10):* 3 of 36 (8%)
*TOTAL FOR TEAM:* 20 races unsold
NASCAR and Sprint announced a brand-new format for the season-opening exhibition race formerly known as the Budweiser Shootout this week. The race, rebranded the Sprint Unlimited (an admittedly shameless plug for the cellular carrier’s unlimited data plans) will be similar to the old Shootout in its 75-lap, three-segment format, but from there what will happen is anybody’s guess.
Race fans will vote on everything from the length of each segment to the firesuit that Miss Sprint Cup will wear in Victory Lane (no, really). That includes a pit stop (or not) after the first segment, whether to eliminate the backmarkers after the second, and even how the field will be set.
2012 was not a season to write home to mom about for the folks at Richard Childress Racing. For a three-car team used to competing for the postseason title, simply staying on the lead lap was the primary struggle in what came to be a year to forget. Kevin Harvick won one race, the lone victory for RCR on the Cup level and was the only driver in the stable to make the Chase. Paul Menard wrapped up the year in 16th place, virtually nonexistent at the front of the field while Jeff Burton posted just two top-5 results, both at Daytona en route to 19th in the final standings.
As the 2013 season dawns, the gang from Welcome, NC looks to turn the page and get back to the top of the heap. In the Cup Series, the driver lineup remains unchanged but it’s the mentality that has to be different.
*Did You Notice?…* Those who impressed at Daytona testing weren’t as surprising as some might think? Yes, some eyebrows were raised when Jeff Burton led Friday morning practice at Daytona. Overall, Richard Childress Racing was strong, flashing the best speed out of the Chevy brigade despite winning all of one race last season. But Burton, with new crew chief Luke Lambert shouldn’t surprise anyone. Daytona was the No. 31 team’s strongest track last year; their two top-5 results of 2012 were registered there. In the 500, especially Burton looked like an upset contender, leading 24 laps before getting shuffled back to fifth down the stretch.
Other strong teams have a very familiar ring to it. Take Joe Gibbs Racing, with the combination of Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch. Hamlin led 57 laps in last year’s 500, the most of any driver while Busch has totaled 180 in that category over the past five seasons. Add in newcomer Kenseth, the defending race champion and it’s easy to predict they’ll be successful.