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Bruton Smith Says Cash Will Solve NASCAR’s Problems

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 26 2011

SMI chairman and CEO Bruton Smith says bigger purses are the answer. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Charlotte, N.C. – While NASCAR is ready to divulge its reworked points system for the Sprint Cup series, track owner Bruton Smith says money is far more important than points.

Smith, whose SMI owns tracks that will host 12 Sprint Cup races in 2011, said NASCAR needs to increase the winner’s purse to add some needed excitement to the sport’s elite division.

“(We need) a big difference between first and second place,” Smith said during a stop by the annual NASCAR Media Tour at  sponsoring  Charlotte Motor Speedway, the hub of Smith’s racing empire. “As a race fan, I’m going to get very interested. What if it is $400,000 difference between first and second? You know there’s going to be a fight to the finish on that one.

“These race fans deserve that. All of a sudden, points play second fiddle to that. That’s what I would like to see. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about the points. I don’t care what you do with the points.’’

He added, “We can cure this whole thing with the purse. Follow the money. These race drivers will follow the money.”

Lame Duck: Mark Martin knows that he will be replaced in the No. 5 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports by Kasey Kahne in 2012, but the longtime Cup star isn’t ready to think that far into the

Mark Martin says he is not thinking about 2012 yet. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

future yet.

“The only thing I can say, without a doubt is that I will be driving race cars next year,’’ the 51-year-old Martin said. “We’ll worry about 2012 later on. It’s time to have some fun.’’

Martin will be working with a new crew chief this season. Lance McGrew, who worked with Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year, will oversee Martin’s car this season.

“We won together in a Nationwide race at Las Vegas in a Jr. Motorsports car,’’ Martin said. “We hit it off well and I’m looking forward to working with Lance. I think the chemistry will be good.’’

Other than Jimmie Johnson, who won his fifth straight Cup title in 2010, the Hendrick teams mostly underperformed, with no victories among teammates Martin, Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt.

McGrew’s move to Martin’s car was part of a big crew chief shuffle. While Chad Knaus and Johnson remain together in the No. 48 car, Earnhardt’s No. 88 Impala is now guided by Steve Letarte.

Letarte was replaced on Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 by Alan Gustafson, who worked with Martin last year.

The other change saw Earnhardt’s car moved into the same shop at Johnson’s, while longtime stablemate Gordon moved in with Martin.

“The shuffle has added some excitement for everyone,’’ Gordon said.

New Start: Richard Petty is back in charge of Richard Petty Motorsports after several years as little more than a figurehead.

“If you’ve got your name on the door you want to be a little bit involved,’’ Petty said Wednesday during a Media Tour stop at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “So we’re really involved now.

“It’s a new start for us. So, if it don’t work now, it’s our fault. Before, it didn’t work, but it wasn’t our

The King is back in charge at Richard Petty Motorsports. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

fault. We done everything that we could do. Now we’ve got control enough that if it goes upside down, it’s going to be my little group that’s responsible.’’

RPM came close to folding last fall, just five races from the end of the season, when the Gillette family, which had bought controlling interest of the team, decided to pull out.

“The Thursday afternoon before the Charlotte race we were told they were going to close the doors the next Wednesday,’’ Petty said. “I said, `Oh my God.’ We knew things were going to be tough to get us through the year, but we had been promised time after time after time that we had enough resources and stuff to make it through the very last race (of 2010) at Homestead.

“But, all of sudden, five races before Homestead, they said we’re not going to put any more money in the thing.’’

Petty called a meeting.

“It wasn’t just a Richard Petty problem,’’ Petty said. “We got everybody together who has been with us all this time, Robbie (Loomis), Dale (Inman) and some others who traveled with me and went through thick and thin with our different owners. I said, `OK guys, this is the circumstance we’re working under. How do we get out of it?’

“So everybody got on board and worked their side of the street, people they knew, influences they had with different people. We were fortunate it wasn’t a one-man show. If it had just been me trying to put it together, no way. But all of us working together, we were able to bring the right people together and make it work.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 26 2011
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