Sprint Media Tour – Nationwide drivers ready for the 2011 season.

The 2011 Nationwide series is ready to kick off with a renewed focus on the development of its members as the future stars of the Sprint Cup series. NASCAR’s new policy that requires drivers to select a single championship to pursue at the onset of the season means that a regular competitor in the Nationwide Series will once again raise the champion’s trophy at Homestead for the first time since 2005. Nationwide and its partners are going to highlight the stars of their series through several avenues and the drivers are going to put forth every effort to live up to the increased hype.

Nationwide is going to have enhanced content on the NASCARnationwideseries.com web site every week to draw attention to the drivers competing full time in the sport. Every Tuesday there will be a new topic or driver featured in live chats and video blogs, weekly polls, race previews, spotlight articles and photo galleries. During 21 races there will be a free audio scanner which will allow fans to listen to their favorite drivers, scan all drivers and the Nationwide officials. Every day there will be a quote of the race from Nationwide Series drivers. There will also be enhanced video featuring a final laps video which will allow fans to relive the most exciting final moments of every race and a day in the life video of NASCAR industry members.

Nationwide is also going to enhance their Dash 4 Cash program. There will be four events in the second half of the season which will have four eligible drivers in each race with a chance to land a lucrative payout.

The series is going to switch to the “quick” qualifying format that was employed during truck races last season. That change should bring increased excitement for the fans as every session of qualifying will come down to the final moments.

The point system for the upcoming season has yet to be finalized but all of the drivers who were in attendance at the series press conference Tuesday were in agreement that whatever system is adopted will have no impact on how they approach the races every weekend. They all admitted that they generally did not look at the points until they were finalized during the week after the races were completed. The only exception was during the final race of the season when the teams would calculate necessary points to solidify or increase their position in the point standings. They all felt that it would be beneficial for the series to adopt the 43-1 system of point scoring because it makes calculating point standings on the fly very simple.

The drivers all appreciate the opportunity to run against the Cup drivers who choose to participate in the Nationwide races because it allows them to hone their skills against the best in the business, but do feel that the Cup drivers need to race them with respect because they are going to be running for a title while the Cup guys are going to be running just for wins. Jason Leffler says “It could be a problem having guys running just for wins while we’re trying to compete for a championship.” Aric Almirola was even more direct about how he expects the Cup drivers to approach running in the Nationwide series, “Cup guys can certainly get rough. As long as they rough each other up that is fine, but if they come into ‘our’ series and rough us up it will be on. Not only can they come into our series to play, we can go into their series to play and ruin their chances to win their championship.”

Leffler and Justin Allgaier are very excited about the outlook for the 2011 season driving the cars of Turner Motorsports. Both drivers feel that the equipment their shop is turning out is as good as they have ever seen. Leffler noted that the difference between this season and prior years is that “Turner is focused on getting speed into the cars rather than just making it to the track each week.” Allgaier wouldn’t go so far as to say that the cars were better than his Penske prepared rides of 2010 but feels they definitely are not any worse.

The drivers also feel that the concern of a series champion taking the title without winning a race is much ado about nothing. To a man they all feel that they were on par with the Cup drivers when the new car was raced last season and will be able to continue that success this season.

The 2011 season is going to see a return of the focus of the Nationwide Series on the stars of the future. The drivers are going to be on a mission to win races and establish themselves as the future of stock car racing. The driver who is able to take the title is going to prove to future owners that they have what it takes to win a championship. That experience and exposure is going to be invaluable to a young driver as he attempts to get his foot in the door of the Cup series.

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