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Ingram: Ten Tasty Bits From The Tour

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 25 2010
There was plenty for the cameras to capture at last week's annual NASCAR Media Tour. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

There was plenty for the cameras to capture at last week's annual NASCAR Media Tour. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

One participant’s Top Ten take-aways from the NASCAR Media Tour.

1.  Watch Out Danica – Since NASCAR has officially been declared a contact sport, Danica Patrick is likely to receive more than the usual incidental contact in the Nationwide Series. It’s often that way for rookies (just ask Joey Logano about the Sprint Cup) and especially for those who might be perceived as arriving by some means other than talent. Her drives in IndyCar have long since proven Patrick’s plenty talented. But open-wheel racing is about avoiding contact and it will be interesting to see how she handles contact both on and off the track in NASCAR’s “new era.” (P.S. It’s always open season in ARCA.)

2. Safety Takes A Back Seat – There are times NASCAR’s leadership likes to be low-key about safety and this is one of those times. One of several motivations for switching to a rear spoiler on the COT chassis is to prevent flips like that of Ryan Newman at Talladega. I suspect NASCAR’s officials are not inclined to address the issue directly in part because of the usual concerns about liability laws. Fans love the bump drafting at Talladega and so does NASCAR evidently – as long as they’re not worried about cars landing on drivers’ heads or flying into the grandstands. It’s probably not by coincidence the spoilers are scheduled to be in place before the spring race at Talladega, where unlike Daytona the bump drafting can be done for an entire lap, which increases speeds dramatically.

3. The Hall of Fame Makes History? – There’s a magnificent facility in Charlotte for displaying not only the history of NASCAR but stock car racing in general including the bootlegging days. The concepts for presenting that history are excellent. It remains to be seen how well the content matches up with what the hell really happened, although thus far the vital signs are good. Most attractive are reasonable ticket prices.

4. Thanks, Jack, I Think – When Jack Roush talks, people listen, including the media. In fact, many of Roush’s comments are carried through the media. But which media is he talking about when he takes to task the media for influencing opinions? The electronic talking heads who used to be racers and make the same undisciplined, self-centered comments they made when they were racing and grinding the usual axes?

In the case of the COT, I gotta admit much of the print media are poorly informed technically on the subject and wouldn’t know sideforce from downforce if it knocked them out of the press box. Too often they yield to the former drivers and crew chiefs.

You heard it here first: NASCAR is the only major sanctioning body in the world to have effectively resolved the problems of “aero push” with the COT design and the rear wing. The racing will not get better than it already is at the intermediate superspeedways with a spoiler and is far more likely to get worse due to aero push.

5. Is Jeff Gordon Fading Into Retirement? – I don’t think so. But he’s fifth out of five at Hendrick Motorsports when it comes to interest from media members. Jimmie’s going for one for the thumb, Mark’s the incredible fifty-something guy, Dale Jr.’s still the most popular enigma in all of sports and Rick is the incredible team owner. Jeff’s story line? He’s got a baby at home.

6. Kyle Busch To Unseat Johnson? – When it comes to racing on NASCAR ovals, the most versatile driver in the NASCAR garage is Kyle Busch, because he’s constantly moving between the cars in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series plus the Camping World trucks. So a season of transition to a blade spoiler on the COT might favor him. Evidently, he’s learned his lesson about just win, baby, and says he’ll be more willing to settle for the Top Ten finishes needed to make the Chase. (And yes, Tony Stewart gets the vote here as THE most versatile driver in motor racing.)

7. No Nimbus From US F1 – Any “halo effect” about the depth of technology in NASCAR Valley due to the performance of US F1, located in Huntersville, N.C., will have to wait. The team is working overtime just to get its new Type 1 to the grid in Bahrain for the F1 season opener on March 14.

8.  The New Era of Eight-Car Teams – Taking a page from the alignment of Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing, the new Ford team of Richard Petty Motorsports will work with Roush Fenway Racing in what is likely to be a seriously competitive eight-car Ford team. Given all the big changes NASCAR is making this year, remember the new rule a few years back designed to limit all owners to only four cars?

9. Addington To Pull A ‘Kyle’ At Penske? – What if the pairing of Crew Chief Steve Addington with Kurt Busch produces some outstanding results in terms of races won and a competitive run in the Chase? Addington could become the equivalent of the “one that got away” after being relieved of his job as crew chief for Kyle Busch by Joe Gibbs Racing much like Kyle when he got dumped by Hendrick Motorsports. At least Addington by now already understands Busch-speak.

10. This is Brian France’s NASCAR – The arrival of Toyota, the COT and the Chase for the Championship were all put in motion before Brian France became the chairman and CEO of NASCAR. Last week’s announcements about the blade spoiler on the COT, a greener NASCAR with fuel injection, less stringent policing of drivers on the track and the stated intent to see any legal challenge through to “a final judgement by a judge or jury” are all major departures and come under his watch. Ironically, the year of change comes at a time when court documents confirm the stock of NASCAR is held by Brian’s sister Lesa France Kennedy and his uncle Jim France.

Quotes of the Week: (Thanks and an occasional tip of the cap to the Media Tour “pit note” writers at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Dan Zacharias of Ford.)

Jeff Burton on racing in the Sprint Cup: “From my perspective, when I hear about the racing today: ‘Oh, the racing’s not good.’ They’re insane. This is my 17th year in this sport, and I’m telling you, bar none, it is more aggressive than it’s ever been and it’s more close than it’s ever been.”

Mark Martin on the decision by NASCAR to keep the yellow line rule at Daytona and Talladega: “If we’re trying to really treat the race fans, I’m willing to wreck from Turn 4 to the start-finish line on the last lap for the show. I just don’t want to have to do it for the first 10 laps. I want to get at least that close to the finish before all hell breaks loose.”

Jimmy Makar, technical director at Joe Gibbs Racing, on the switch to the blade spoiler in place of a wing: “They tested a spoiler on the COT back before they went to the wing and there were some problems when cars were racing in groups.” …What about aero push? “That was the problem.”

Jimmie Johnson on Kyle Busch’s chances of winning the Sprint Cup championship: “I always said that once he started winning races, he was going to win a lot of them. I think the same is true with championships and he won one last year in the Nationwide Series.”

Michael Waltrip on being a Sprint Cup team owner: “It’s been a lot more expensive than I thought it would be. Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has got nice jets. Roger Penske’s got a big boat. I thought, ‘Well, heck yeah I can do that.’ I didn’t realize that they had those things because of other businesses.”

Tony Stewart on his prospects of returning to drive in the Rolex 24 at Daytona: “Chip Ganassi asked me to drive for him this year, but Chevy wouldn’t let me do it because he uses BMW engines.”

Jack Roush on the 2009 season: “We spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to find the thing that NASCAR had missed, the thing that other teams were overlooking, for that next breakthrough and, guess what? It didn’t come. We didn’t find it. In the meantime, with the same group of people that could use the money and use the time doing anything that we decided was worthwhile, did not spend as much time getting the cars as light as they need to be, didn’t spend as much time sanding on the move to a rear swaybar, didn’t spend as much time on a number of the nuances and a number of the small things that were really less interesting to me and the management group than finding that next breakthrough. So we got best-balled on the tweaks and the sanding.”

Bill Elliott on what he would do if he returned to victory lane: “I’d probably do cartwheels like the commercial with Mark Martin trying to do what Carl Edwards does. That’d be something to see, I’m sure.”

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 25 2010