The Sprint Media Tour is a four-day trek through the racing landscape around the greater Charlotte area. It allows media members the opportunity to eat better than they will for the next month, drink more than they do the rest of the year and are told the “inside information” inside each team for the coming year — depending on how many insightful questions they come up with. But in the end, media and fans learn far too little, hear a lot of the same answers, realize every team thinks they’re going to win the championship and end up wondering what would Brian France do without a teleprompter.
With all that being said, there are still a few small observations you pick up along the way. Here’s some of mine that didn’t fit within the confines of a “normal” column:
* Tony Stewart gets further and further from surly Tony every year. Turning 41 this season, ownership and maturity has softened Smoke whether he likes it or not.
* Danica Patrick is going to be a story whether anyone wants her to be or not. Whether you agree Patrick/Stenhouse should be a story (notice Frontstretch has not mentioned it much) enough people care that it’s going to be front and center from February through November. Patrick’s marketing connections, while not as strong as they once were still stretch far beyond racing; case in point, she’ll be featured in GoDaddy’s Super Bowl commericials once again. NASCAR, their TV partners, and Stewart-Haas Racing are going to milk this one for all it’s worth.
* That point leads to the perfect example of how each year, the media becomes less and less concerned with journalistic integrity and more about sensationalism.
* Really expensive catering comes with silverware that is almost too small to use. But SMI tracks have some fantastic food.
* Furniture Row Racing truly is a fourth RCR team. Mark McArdle, director of competition for Furniture Row has taken on an additional role as director of racing operations at RCR. While the team is based in Colorado, Kurt Busch remains close with Richard Childress and there’s an expectation they can help the main organization succeed in a similar way that Stewart-Haas works with Hendrick Motorsports.
* If you wear bunny slippers, you can walk right into the Michael Waltrip Racing media availability without so much as a head turning in your general direction.
*Clint Bowyer’s favorite car is still his ’49 Mercury, while Martin Truex, Jr. catches big fish, even in the Wintertime. Brian Vickers would love to jump out of a balloon at the edge of space, but he would have to be at least three feet higher than Felix Baumgartner was. Can you tell this crop of drivers is loose after the success they had last year? The sad thing is, Bowyer is going to suffer the runner-up jinx and there is nothing he can do about it.
* Brian France says they’ll be able to dry off Daytona in 30 minutes with the new track drying system. Think about that for a second… that’s one of the most impressive pieces of technology advancement this sport has had in several years.
* Daytona International Speedway is going to put more seats into a facility that doesn’t sell out now. Does that really make sense?
* NASCAR is always looking to improve, but they feel their current concussion policy is effective. So then why are so many drivers claiming they’re racing/have raced with one?
* Speedway Motorsports, Inc. still understands that the fans are the most important thing about running a successful race track. And, love him or hate him, Bruton Smith knows how to garner attention and make it look like he’s moving the sport in directions it is already going.
* Brian Keselowski can carry on a conversation while driving a Dodge with a Hemi around the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That’s impressive.
* If you superimpose a laser outline of a production Chevrolet SS over the new Cup Series race car, they’re almost identical. That’s important for a sport that needed to get back to its “stock car” roots. Keep in mind the SS is the first production, rear-wheel drive, V8 sedan introduced by Chevrolet in 17 years.
* Nationwide drivers will play video games with you, the whole night yet Cup drivers won’t stick around for 10 minutes after their scheduled availability. That’s a problem.
* Mike Dillon is stronger than Max Papis. But Papis considers himself an Italian redneck — just ask him. I guess I won’t elaborate here…
* Cup sponsors used to try and get fans to buy laundry soap and beer. Now, they want fans to guy entry level jets? (Cessna) Anyone else think that doesn’t make sense?
* Juan Pablo Montoya still doesn’t sugarcoat his answers, which is refreshing in today’s canned answer environment.
* People who don’t wear cowboy hats every day look really silly when they do. But Kasey Kahne should have worn one; obviously, he’s lost his Great Clips sponsorship and just hasn’t told anyone. Too bad, because Chase Elliott (Awesome Bill’s son) is running all of the Truck Series races he can but one in 2013; you know, in case you didn’t see that tidbit during all of the talk about Kasey Kahne’s haircut.
* The Most Popular Driver in the sport is struggling to sell sponsorship on his race car. How are alarm bells not going off?
* Chad Knaus admits he can be difficult to work with. In other news, the sky is blue.
* You can buy a giant Miller Lite beer glass in the Penske Racing gift shop. In racing, you will often end up where you started – see Hertz on the front of a Penske race car.
* Brad Keselowski just might bring the sport back to the fans, unlike any champion in the last 30 years. He’s handling his role as reigning titlist well.
* The Ford camp is playing like everyone is getting along at this point in time. Who knows if it’ll last, but so far Penske and Roush couldn’t be better friends. However, Roush looks like he’d rather go to the dentist than spend time in front of the media horde during the Media Tour.
* Speaking of Roush, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. isn’t as funny as Matt Kenseth. Greg Biffle is still the most underrated driver in the Roush stable. And after what I heard, Carl Edwards will finally start winning again in 2013. You can mark it down.
* Who knew Joe Gibbs had any idea what Gangnam Style is?
* Frontstretch told you first that Kyle Busch would be racing the No. 54 Nationwide car out of the Joe Gibbs shops in 2013. No doubt, Busch will be more successful this year thanks to running so many Nationwide races.
* Denny Hamlin is a dad. Let that soak in for a while.
* Brian Vickers was the winner for most appearances during the 2013 Media Tour.
* A Media Tour without Monte Dutton is just not the same.
* The staff of Charlotte Motor Speedway is still the best in the business.
* Numbers and light up signs that say “Now Serving” would make group interviews far easier. Oh, and grown adults are just like little kids when free stuff is being handed out.
* Hendrick Motorsports is still going to be the team to beat.
* Ryan Newman will win at least one race on fuel strategy this year.
* Matt Kenseth will make the Chase, again.
* Darrell Waltrip still has the unbridled enthusiasm of his youth.
* Getting to live your dream while sharing it with all of the readers of this site is still awesome.
The Sprint Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway might not have the same luster that it did before Twitter and the Internet, but it is still an enjoyable four days. The teams are all upbeat and positive about their lot in the sport and their chances in the upcoming season. Drivers are jovial and happy to answer questions, crew chiefs are sure they will be able to make their cars fast, and owners are sure they’ve made the right offseason moves. Media types are ready to get back into the swing of things and the PR folks are all receptive to your requests.
In other words, we all can’t wait for Daytona to get here.