NASCAR drivers discuss season, hopes

What’s on NASCAR drivers’ minds mere hours before they hit the track for the start of the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season? Welcome to’s Daytona 500 Media Day blog, where we update you on everything that happened during the day.

Hamlin talks impact of confidence

NASCAR’s resident NBA fanatic Denny Hamlin isn’t impressed by the Linsanity.

As a race car driver, Hamlin knows that a team’s success can’t be predicated on one sole individual. Even if that one sole individual is the hottest thing going in sports right now.

“It’s a team buying in and believing in something. It’s not just Jeremy Lin,” Hamlin said of the New York Knicks, whose rags-to-riches point guard has taken several nations by storm in the past two weeks. “It’s that whole team is now performing better because they have something to believe in. They know they can win now. Now they have the confidence.

“It’s not just his heroics. They won by the biggest margin last night and he had the least amount of points. Now that they’re having success they’re all buying into it. Now whether that continues when Carmelo (Anthony) comes back, I don’t know. But right now it’s amazing to see how well a team performs together when it buys in. That’s something that can be learned over here on the Cup side.” (FULL STORY)

No place like home

Jamie McMurray’s reunion with Chip Ganassi paid tremendous dividends in 2010 with three NASCAR Sprint Cup wins, including victories in the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. While last season was a struggle for the 35-year-old Joplin, Mo., native, he has no plans of leaving the team when his contract expires at the end of 2012.

“I feel very comfortable where I’m at and I really enjoy my relationship with Chip,” McMurray said. “So no, I wouldn’t have any of wanting to do something different.”

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing made dramatic changes toward the end of last season, a season in which neither McMurray nor Juan Pablo Montoya won a race nor made the Chase for the Sprint Cup. For McMurray, finishing 27th in the standings was his worst career result in nine seasons.

Still, McMurray is encouraged with the additions to the organization, though he acknowledges that he doesn’t expect performance to change overnight. He believes it will be May or June before all the new personnel and simulation programs pay off.

“There’s a completely new group of people, and that new group of people have brought a lot of new pieces, ideas and parts in,” McMurray said. “They tell me the wind tunnel numbers are better. . . . But ultimately we’ve had three tests and some of the pieces have made the cars faster on the track. And that’s all that really matters.

“There have been lots of times when we’ve been better in the wind tunnel, been better here and there and you get to the track and it doesn’t relate. But some of the stuff that they’re doing has made our cars faster on the track in tests and I think it will only get better.”

— Lee Spencer

Dry forecast ahead

Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood said the track took precautions to alleviate weepers, or places where water seeps through, on the surface late last week.

“In January we noticed a weeper on one part of the track,” Chitwood said. “So we jumped on it. We had very little rain in January. So once we identified the problem, we got the team together. We did a little work — some cosmetics, some band-aiding. So we feel real good about Speedweeks.

“That’s not unusual — in terms of the process. We jumped on it right away and I feel we’re well prepared for the 500.”

— Lee Spencer

Show some love

Scorpion Truck Bed Liners will sponsor David Ragan’s No. 34 Ford in NASCAR’s top two events — the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400.

“We’re excited to have them come on board,” said Ragan, who won the Daytona Sprint Cup summer race last July.

Scorpion will also serve as an associate sponsor for the remainder of the season.

— Lee Spencer

Twitter time

DaleJr: I don’t know what’s going to happen in the Daytona 500. I don’t have a clue. That’s frustrating — Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer)

Funny moment at NASCAR media day – Matt Kenseth snoops in on Carl Edwards FOX interview, makes him nervous. — Jorge Mondaca (@JorgeMondacaFOX)

If @DanicaPatrick asks her boss Tony Stewart if she can run #Indy500 next year, he says, "It would be hard to tell her no." — Holly Cain (@HollyCainFOX)

Here’s the #nascar media day version of the hat dance featuring @DanicaPatrick. — Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer)

The pride of Columbia Carl Edwards is chatting with MRN — Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer)

Look who stopped by the booth during media day? — Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer)

Following knee surgey @kaseykahne walked gingerly through the room on media day — Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer)

Here’s @KevinHarvick signing in for Media Day — Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer)

Will Johnson regain form?

For Jimmie Johnson, not being king creates a curious balance.

After five consecutive seasons at the top of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, Johnson ended the 2011 season sixth in the points standings — his worst finish since he entered the tour full time in 2002.

Johnson led the points for two weeks just before the Chase began, but the No. 48 Lowe’s team never established the traction in 2011 it had enjoyed in the past — particularly once the postseason began. Although the team picked up steam following a victory in Kansas four races into the Chase and vaulted to third in the points standings, Johnson’s ensuing wreck at Charlotte Motor Speedway sealed the team’s fate.

Johnson was mathematically eliminated from contention following the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway. In some ways the 36-year-old Hendrick Motorsports racer now seems relieved.

“When I left Phoenix, it was crazy, just feeling the pressure kind of leave,” Johnson said. “I didn’t realize what was on me, the high standard I held for myself and the pressure I was carrying. And when it left, it was like ‘OK, there it goes; now it’s time to enjoy Homestead.’ I went down there and had a great time, and I think we had a really fast car.

“But it was a wild experience just to feel the pressure leave from Phoenix — until I saw all the tweets about the champion’s lunch taking place on Wednesday. Then that championship mindset hit me again, and I became really disappointed that I wasn’t there at that (finale contender) luncheon and a part of all of it.” (FULL STORY)

Stenhouse inspired by Lin, Tebow

Reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said not only has he been following the "Cinderella Story" of the NBA’s Jeremy Lin, but that he relates to it.

“Watching him is impressive,’’ Stenhouse said of the New York Knicks point guard who has led his team to seven straight wins since breaking into the lineup this month. “I’ve watched him play just about every game he’s played and that’s pretty cool to see.

“There’s a guy that people overlooked and he got the opportunity and he’s making the best of it. That’s what we have to do as drivers. I got the opportunity with Roush Fenway Racing. We struggled a little bit, but (team owner) Jack (Roush) gave me almost like another opportunity and we stepped up as a race team and came home with the championship." (FULL STORY)

New teammate waits to meet Danica

Danica Patrick’s NASCAR Media Day interview session Thursday outdrew that of even five-time champ Jimmie Johnson.

Yet there was one person observing it all that has never met her — Dave Blaney, her new teammate at Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Blaney stood nearby watching a throng of 20-30 photographers follow Patrick’s every move as she paused to shake hands and catch up with other NASCAR drivers. Blaney joked that one day soon, he figures there will be an introduction.

"Nope, never met her,” Blaney said with a sheepish smile. (FULL STORY)

Montoya wants to get on track

Five years into his Sprint Cup career, Juan Pablo Montoya is nowhere near where projections might have placed him when he gave up a Formula One seat to move to NASCAR late in 2006.

He has a pair of road-course wins and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup run in 2009, but otherwise the results have been mostly of the yawn variety. Last year, which theoretically should have been Montoya’s best season in NASCAR, he faltered and sputtered and wound up with a year that team owner Chip Ganassi, talking about his overall operation, described as “just pathetic.”

Surveying the new season Thursday at Daytona Media Day before a gathering of reporters, Montoya wasted no time in agreeing with Ganassi’s assessment.

“If any of you think as a team that we performed last year, you shouldn’t be a reporter,” he said. “You shouldn’t be involved in this sport. It was bad. It was a really bad year for us.

“When we had an ‘A’ day, we would finish eighth or something. That’s crazy. A team of the caliber of Chip Ganassi Racing, you can’t run like that. Chip realized that. That’s why so many changes were made.” (FULL STORY ON SPEED.COM)

Tweet, tweet

From looks of morning crowd at Danica Patrick interview, she must be the Daytona 500 favorite. —’s Mike Hembree (@mikehembree)

Does @DanicaPatrick have a better shot at the Daytona 500 than the indy 500? She feels Daytona takes more luck — Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer)

It’s danicapalooza already. —’s Tom Jensen (@tomjensen100)

"It’s been a good offseason of growth for me. That’s something I’m very proud of." @jimmiejohnson —’s Tom Jensen (@tomjensen100)

@travispastrana says "no way u can plan 3 yrs down rd bcuz no way to kno if I’ll be good enuf to make it"  — Holly Cain (@HollyCainFOX)

@JimmieJohnson says he’ll do anything to win the Daytona 500 "even a last lap crash"  — Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer)

In 2011 @JimmieJohnson says the 48 team beat itself Lee Spencer (@CandiceSpencer)


Wallace team names crew chief

RAB Racing with Brack Maggard has announced that Scott Zipadelli, crew chief of the team’s NASCAR Nationwide Series effort, will take on the same role in the Sprint Cup ranks as the team attempts to qualify for the Daytona 500 with driver Kenny Wallace.

Brandon Thomas, formerly with Red Bull Racing, will join Zipadelli. He has been overseeing construction and preparation of the team’s American Ethanol Toyota Camry and will work as a race engineer on the pit box at Daytona.

Zipadelli will also continue in his full-time position as the team’s Nationwide Series crew chief.

"We’re really looking forward to heading to Daytona," Zipadelli said. "I’m very happy about, and proud of the opportunity we have at RAB Racing to enter a car not only in the Sprint Cup Series, but in the Daytona 500 as well. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the company, for American Ethanol and Toyota."

McDowell lands Cup ride

Michael McDowell, in his fifth year of at least part-time competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will drive the No. 98 Phil Parsons Racing Ford Fusion for the 2012 season. 

Parsons, a former NASCAR driver and current television commentator on SPEED, merged the assets of his PPR team with Whitney Motorsports during the offseason in an effort to bolster his 2012 Sprint Cup effort.

Mike Curb, owner of Curb Records who also has long and successful history of race team ownership in the NASCAR and open-wheel ranks, among others, becomes a partner in the PPR effort for 2012.

“Combining our efforts with Whitney Motorsports with the support of Mike Curb and having Michael behind the wheel of the No. 98 Ford means we’ll open the season at Daytona better prepared than ever before,” Parsons said. “We feel the timing couldn’t be better for us to build this program into a proper Sprint Cup Series effort.”

The team will use Roush Yates engines and has hired veteran crew chief Gene Nead, who has worked with McDowell in previous Cup and Nationwide Series efforts at PPR and Michael Waltrip Racing.

“I’m particularly excited about this program for a number of reasons,” Curb said. “The players who have come together to form this latest effort shows that it’s built to succeed, and I’m glad to be a part of it. Michael is a tremendous driving talent and is a wonderful young man. He has a special interest in our Christian music operation at Curb Records and building partnership opportunities involving that segment of our business. It’s truly exciting.”

McDowell, who has 84 Cup starts to his credit, says he is looking forward to the endeavor.

"This opportunity will allow me to expand my brand and put me in a position to work with the types of companies I’ve been wanting to work with for a long time," McDowell said. "On the racetrack, I’m excited about the chance to have my best NASCAR season ever.”

Bob Osborne to miss Budweiser Shootout

Chip Bolin will serve as Carl Edwards’ NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chief this weekend at Daytona International Speedway for the Budweiser Shootout. Bolin will fill in for regular crew chief Bob Osborne, who will miss the race following the death of his father.

Osborne will return to Daytona next week to lead Edwards and the No. 99 team in the Gatorade Duels and the Daytona 500. FULL STORY

Doing it for the kids

AJ Allmendinger had lots of help to reach the pinnacle of stock car racing. Now, he’s looking to pay it forward.

The new driver of the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge for Penske Racing announced a new program that will see a deserving young karter receive a scholarship to race in the 2012 World Karting Association Zoom Zoom Nationals running March 23-25 at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC. The scholarship winner will also be set to compete in the Rotax Grand Nationals in August and SKUSA SuperNationals in November.

The scholarship prize winner will also receive media and management training from Walldinger Racing, Allmendinger’s management firm.

While racing his way through the ranks, Allmendinger’s scholarships included prizes from the Skip Barber Racing School as well as being selected to compete in the 2001-02 New Zealand Formula Ford Championship as a winner of the Team USA Scholarship, run by longtime motorsports writer and broadcaster Jeremy Shaw.

“I was very lucky, so many different times through my career, to get the support that I needed to keep racing and keep moving up,” said Allmendinger. “So I feel very fortunate to be in a position to try to help someone else who is trying to do the same thing. I’ve had really great partners through my career and I think you can expect some exciting announcements as we go forward with this program. I am really looking forward to this being the start of something good for some young racer out there.”

Interested applicants ages 13-16 are asked to send their CV, racing credentials, photo, and short summary of their racing goals to: Deadline for entry is March 10.