Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour: 10 things learned on Day One
Ten things we learned on the opening day of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom:
GORDON‘S YEAR: Although four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon said he doesn’t want to make a big deal of this, his final full season racing for a championship, others might feel differently.
"Through the course of ’15, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities, I hope, to express that to him," NASCAR president Mike Helton said of his appreciation for Gordon. "The history books will certainly continue to be able to talk about the era of Jeff Gordon in NASCAR and in motorsports and in sports in general. And for Jeff to be part of ours’ for the last couple of decades has been a very tremendous asset."
MISSING IN ACTION: Darian Grubb, crew chief for Carl Edwards and the new No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team, was not at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom because he was battling the flu along with the rest of his family. But Edwards likes what he’s seen so far with Grubb, especially after the two participated in a recent Goodyear tire test.
"The best thing about the test is Darian and I — it was literally 90 seconds into the test and we were communicating back and forth perfectly," said Edwards. "He is amazing. That guy is a real genius. No joke."
NO BENDING OF SIDE SKIRTS ANYMORE: Last year during races, teams would use pit stops as opportunities to bend the side skirts between the wheels outward for additional downforce. That won’t be legal this year. Any team caught doing it will be penalized in the race.
"In 2015, teams manipulating the fenders or flares during a race will be asked to come back down pit road, and we will use any means possible to police that," said NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell. "Particularly, though, our new pit road officiating system. Again, we’ll look at that through video and any means possible during the race season."
SLOWING DOWN: In 2015, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have less downforce and 125-175 fewer horsepower thanks to the adoption of tapered spacers to limit the flow of the fuel-air mixture into the engines. But these changes might not slow the cars down that much.
When asked what the speed differential will be this year vs. last, NASCAR vice president of competition and racing development Robin Pemberton said, "It’s hard to say right now because a lot of that hinges on the tire application from Goodyear. With the smaller (rear) spoiler, you’ll pick up straightaway speed, so we reduced horsepower to combat some of that. Then you change the tire compound, which picks up corner speed again. So it’s a three-legged stool."
THE GREAT UNKNOWN: With a new rules package, and no offseason testing to speak of, none of the drivers and teams know exactly where they stack up now in terms of speed relative to each other. "The way I would describe right now is tremendous anticipation," said David Wilson, president and general manager of TRD, U.S.A. "We really won’t know until we get to the one test day before Atlanta practice starts (the second race of the season) where we all stack up."
UNDER CONSIDERATION: NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France was asked about how NASCAR might react to domestic violence cases in the future. "I’ve said that I think every sport is taking a more than hard look," France said. "They’re doing what they should be doing. I’ve also said I think society is kind of good that way, as a way of evolving important issues for individual sports leagues to conform and make sure that we get it right, and so I think you’re going to see us — I’m sure most other leagues, as well, when there are those clear circumstances, have a much more severe reaction to how you deal with those things, and that will be no different with NASCAR."
PICK UP THE PACE: After winning 12 Sprint Cup races in 2013, including seven with Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing was victorious just twice last year. Kenseth, who was shut out in 2014, fervently hopes to resume his winning ways this year.
"We ended last year OK, but certainly not where we were going to outrun the best cars still," said Kenseth. "So that’s a concern. We want to go out and be contending for wins each and every week. … Our hope is, over the winter we added a lot of people, we got a lot of different ideas, we’ve got a whole other team."
BUSCH SURPRISED: While many drivers were surprised to learn of Jeff Gordon’s retirement at the end of the 2015 season, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch said the four-time champion probably could have hung it up at the end of last season.
"I’m surprised Jeff, being who he is and all he’s done, didn’t announce at the end of the year and just say, ‘Alright, I’m done,’ and just go out like last year," he said. "He ran well, he should’ve, could’ve, would’ve won the championship."
Busch pointed out the timing probably had more to do with sponsors than anything, but now Gordon’s going to have to answer, ‘How’s it feel to race this race for the last time?’ questions for the rest of 2015.
DENNY DOING PILATES: Two years after suffering a serious back injury, Denny Hamlin is feeling much better, but that doesn’t mean he’s quit his rehab routine.
"My back is great, it’s as good as it’s ever been," he said. "Probably even better than last year at the start of the season."
When he initially injured his back in 2013, Hamlin took up Pilates to help his back recover and regain strength, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver continues to do Pilates "almost every day."
COACH‘S CORNER: Before his venture into NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Joe Gibbs was a pretty successful football coach, winning three Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins.
His skills came into play heading into the season as he and the organization worked to assemble the 2015 driver-crew chief lineup.
"In football if you’re missing something — if you don’t play special teams or can’t stop the run, something like that — you’re always looking," he said. "When you get into pro sports, you better be able to do everything. To have a chance with four drivers in the biggest series in racing, I think it puts us in a position to where I have great confidence in our four drivers, crew chiefs and teams."