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Tour Notes: Kentucky Says No Clogs; Kahne In Court

| , RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 25 2012

The grandstands were crowded at Kentucky Speedway in 2011 and so were the parking lots and roads outside the track. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Notes and quotes from Day 3 Wednesday of the annual NASCAR Media Tour:

One of the biggest stories of the 2011 Spring Cup season will not be a big story in 2012, officials at Kentucky Speedway said.

During a morning stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, those officials promised that the June race this year won’t feature the traffic issues that clogged all major arteries to the track last year.

Kentucky general manager Mark Simendinger acknowledged that, among the many positives of the inaugural Cup race at the 1.5-mile track, the track had a very large negative.

“We are here to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Simendinger added.

Last year’s traffic problem was the result of many causes. A large number of fans never made it to the track.

Simendinger, track owner Bruton Smith and  state officials have addressed the issues.

This year, the speedway will be able to park at least 36,000 more cars.

“The Indiana bat – we’ve looked for them, but I’ve never seen one,” Smith declared.

The state has agreed to construct a 42-foot-wide pedestrian tunnel underneath Highway 35, leading from the new parking area to the tram route outside the track. In addition, Smith has approved the construction of a bridge over the infield tunnel road, eliminating an intersection that was a bottleneck for tram traffic and infield traffic alike.

Kentucky has a seating capacity of 107,000, but last year’s race attracted a larger crowd than that when additional standing-room tickets in the infield were factored in.

“We’re actually readying Kentucky Speedway for a larger crowd than we had in ’11,” Smith said.

Hendrick Motorsports has been waiting since 2010 to formally introduce Kasey Kahne as the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet Impala. That was supposed to happen during Wednesday’s NASCAR Sprint Media Tour stop at Hendrick Motorsports.

Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly work out that way.

Kahne, who will be sponsored by Farmers Insurance this year, was summoned to jury duty and was unable make himself available for Wednesday’s media events. Regardless, Kahne is expected to make an excellent addition to a team with 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup championships to its credit.

“We’re really excited to have Kasey Kahne join our organization,” said Rick Hendrick. “They (Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis) fit in like a glove and we’re really excited to have them added to our organization.”

Naturally, Kahne was the target for a few friendly jokes during the proceedings by his new Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

“For anybody that questions the privileges that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers get along the way and the celebrity that we may have, I think Kasey Kahne is a perfect example,” Gordon said. “Not being able to get out of jury duty is where we stand.”

Furniture Row Racing driver and 2011 Southern 500 winner Regan Smith met with media during a lunch visit to the Furniture Row outlet in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday.

To start the session Smith reflected on the Denver-based team’s first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

“We sat here last year talking to everyone and I said I felt like this team could win a race,” said Smith. “Some of you agreed with me and some of you looked at me like I had a third eye. But, at the end of day, I truly believed that. My win at Darlington helped elevate everyone’s confidence and we will continue to build on that success in 2012.”

Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser said he would also like to see the No. 78 Chevrolet revisit victory lane.

“I can’t imagine not being involved with this sport after being a part of it,” said Visser. “I want to stay in it. I don’t want multiple teams. I want one team that wins.”

Furniture Row Racing also announced several new associate sponsors that will join the team in 2012, including CSX Transportation and its railroad crossing and pedestrian safety campaign, as well as Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers. The team will also continue to get factory support from Chevrolet.

Competition Director Mark McArdle outlined Furniture Row Racing’s goals for 2012.

“Finishing in the top-20 in points is something we need to hold ourselves accountable to in 2012,” said McArdle. “We have the speed; we just need to find the consistency.”

Richard Childress Racing made several driver announcements Wednesday. They include:

Brendan Gaughan will compete in four races on the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, driving Richard Childress Racing’s No. 33 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Impala in addition to his previously announced 18-race NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule with the Welcome, N.C. – based race team.

Gaughan, 36, competed full time in the Sprint Cup Series during the 2004 season, finishing 28th in the driver championship point standings with one top-five and four top-10 finishes in 36 starts.

The 2002 Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year competed full time in the Nationwide Series in 2009 and 2010, earning one pole and 17 top-10 finishes in 71 career starts. He finished ninth in the 2009 driver championship point standings and 11th in 2010. The two-time NASCAR Camping World Series West champion (2000-2001) has amassed eight victories and 63 top-10 finishes in 187 Truck Series starts, finishing 12th in the 2011 driver championship point standings. Gaughan was also part of the five-driver lineup that won the GT3 division of the 2011 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race at Daytona International Speedway.

Leading the effort for the No. 33 team will be veteran crew chief Gil Martin, RCR’s Nationwide Series program team manager. Martin has been at RCR since 2000 and has served as crew chief for Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears, Kerry Earnhardt and Robby Gordon. He is one of a select few crew chiefs to win races in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

“The opportunity to run four races for Richard Childress in the Sprint Cup Series is truly amazing,’ said Gaughan. “RCR has top-notch equipment and teamed me with a winning crew chief in Gil Martin. Everyone deserves a second chance and I am ecstatic that my second chance in the Sprint Cup Series is in the No. 33 Chevrolet with RCR.”

The Las Vegas, native’s four-race Sprint Cup Series schedule will kick-off at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway in March, followed by a doubleheader weekend where Gaughan will pilot the No. 33 South Point Chevrolet in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series events at his home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Completing his 2012 Sprint Cup Series schedule with RCR is Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.) in March.

“We’re excited about Brendan running a limited schedule of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races for RCR this season in addition to his Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series schedule,” said Richard Childress, president and CEO of Richard Childress Racing. “Brendan has a full season of racing in the Sprint Cup Series and a few top-10 finishes under his belt with when he and Shane (Wilson) teamed up together a few years ago. This season he’ll be competing at some of his favorite tracks with Gil calling the shots so we think he has a great chance for some strong finishes in the No. 33 South Point Chevrolet.”

RCR’s No. 33 team finished 13th in final 2011 owner point standings on the power of one win, four top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.

RCR also announced that Max Papis will pilot its No. 33 Rheem/Menards Chevrolet when the NASCAR Nationwide Series visits Road America on June 23.

In addition to competing at the 14-turn road course, Papis will serve as a driver coach for fellow RCR teammates, assisting in strengthening their road-course racing skills.

“It is an honor to join a history-making team like RCR and continue what I started with Kevin Harvick Inc. the last couple of years,” stated Papis. “I feel ready to win races in NASCAR and, at the same time, I’m honored to have the chance to pass all the experience I built in my last 20 years of competition around the world to real racers like Austin Dillon and Ty Dillon and doing it with my never-give-up attitude that brought me all the way here.”

Papis, a native of Italy who now resides in North Carolina, has nine road-course races on his Nationwide Series resume with his career best finish of second coming at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in August 2009. The 2004 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series champion has also competed in six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road-course events, posting his best finish of eighth at Watkins Glen International in the same year.

“Max is a great addition to our driver lineup and to RCR overall,” said Richard Childress, president and CEO of Richard Childress Racing. “He has shown his talents in many different forms of auto racing all over the world and will be able to share that knowledge with our less experienced drivers. He’s the perfect driver for the No. 33 Menards Chevrolet when the NASCAR Nationwide Series gets to Road America. Max also has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm wherever he is, at the track or the shop.”

The 2007 Petite Le Mans race winner made his NASCAR debut in 2006 when he joined the 43-car field in the Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen International, posting a 14th-place finish. Since then, he has competed in 88 races across NASCAR’s top three national series, accumulating two-top five and seven top-10 results.

Papis is scheduled to share the No. 33 Nationwide Series ride with teammates Brendan Gaughan, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Tony Stewart for the 2012 season.

(This story will be updated as news and notes develop at the Tour today.)

| , RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 25 2012
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