CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With another season of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition nearly upon us, members of the media converged on the Hilton Charlotte University Place for the annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour last week.
Press conferences, sponsorship announcements and team updates filled the agenda Jan. 24-27, with every major team in the sport hosting the media at some point during the week.
Here is a wrap-up of the first day of last week’s Media Tour, which featured Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Penske Racing.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
The team owned by Chip Ganassi, Teresa Earnhardt and Felix Sabates will try to build on a strong season that saw victories in both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 by Jamie McMurray and a return to victory lane by Juan Pablo Montoya.
“Obviously 2010 was a successful year for us,” said Steve Lauletta, president of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. “That had an effect on the impact we could offer to our partners. That was proven by a Sports Business Journal image impact study that listed the top 12 drivers who provided brand exposure for their sponsors. Only two of the 12 drivers did not make the Chase. Those were Juan Pablo Montoya in fourth place and Jamie McMurray in ninth place.”
Both teams will remain essentially the same for 2011, with both driver-crew chief combinations returning for another season at EGR.
Stewart Haas Racing
Entering his third season as a team owner, Tony Stewart has high expectations for himself and teammate Ryan Newman at Stewart-Haas Racing.
“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. Those are the key ingredients that you have to have.”
The biggest change to the two-car operation will be the sponsorship decals on Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet. Old Spice has left the team and has been replaced by Mobil 1, former sponsor of Sam Hornish, Jr. at Penske Racing.
“This is a good time for us,” said Grubb, Stewart’s crew chief. “The program we have has gotten so strong. The competition level is so high and I think we have a leg up on this year. We have a leg up with Mobil 1 and their technology. We have been trying to pay attention to our downforce. We are working on fuel. We have the new E85 coming this year. We need to make sure we get the mileage and performance when we get down to Daytona.”
Newman, who won his first race last season since capturing the 2008 Daytona 500 for Penske Racing, is hoping to return to the form that saw him make the Chase during Stewart-Haas Racing’s debut season in 2009.
“I look forward to starting strong,” Newman said. “That’s one thing we have not done as a team on the 39 side is start the season off with a good Daytona 500, so we look forward to that opportunity again this year.”
The only Dodge team in NASCAR’s premier series will look considerably different this season thanks to the signing of Shell/Pennzoil, which will sponsor the No. 22 Dodge driven by Kurt Busch.
With Busch’s move to the No. 22, Brad Keselowski will become the new face of Miller Lite aboard the No. 2 Dodge. On the outside looking in is Sam Hornish, Jr., who will move to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in a part-time role because of the departure of his sponsor Mobil 1 to Stewart-Haas Racing.
“We are proud of the cars that we put out there on the track,” said Busch. “We have beautiful cars with Shell/Pennzoil colors. Of course we’ve done things internally to continue to get strong, with different personnel changes including key people added to teams.”
One of those changes will be the promotion of Keselowski’s Nationwide championship winning crew chief Paul Wolfe to the Sprint Cup Series, where he will work with Keselowski on the No. 2 Dodge.
“As Roger said we are taking Paul Wolfe over there from the Nationwide side to the Cup side,” said Keselowski. “I have some positive momentum there and hopefully that can carry over.”