Team by Team Previews

Team by Team Previews

JTG/Daugherty Racing
By: Pete Pistone

The 2011 season didn’t go as well as JTG/Daugherty Racing had hoped.

A lackluster performance that ended with Bobby Labonte finishing 29th in Sprint Cup Series points left team officials searching for ways to improve during the off-season.  The decision to move out of the Michael Waltrip Racing shops and into its own headquarters was the biggest change for the team over the winter months.  That step, in addition to securing additional funding to provide more resources for Labonte's No. 47 Toyota, are positives in co-owner Brad Daugherty’s eyes.

“We're proud to say we've had a good off-season,” Daugherty said.  “Through lots of growing pains, I think we have all the right people in place to have a shot at being successful.  I would be very disappointed if we weren’t a top-20 race team this year.”

Moving out from under the shadow of MWR was paramount to the team’s goals of taking the next step in its evolution.

"I think what we gain, and what's been very import to us, is our own identity," Daugherty said.  "It's tough.  It hurts to be called almost a satellite team, or Michael Waltrip's stepchild, or all that stuff.  We're our own race team.  We spend a lot of money on this, we work hard to be the best product we can.  So we get our identity back."

The addition of Todd Berrier as Labonte’s crew chief is another change the team believes will bring benefits.  The former Richard Childress Racing staple is looking forward to advancing the team’s direction and working with Labonte.

"I've been at a big company that was once a small company - as small as this one is," Berrier said.  "I've seen it from ground level up to where we were.  I feel like I know what we need to do here to get this thing up and going."

Labonte believes his relationship with Berrier will create a chemistry that will result in a better performance on the racetrack.

"Todd and I have raced against each other for a long time," Labonte said.  "I just know it's going to be a great combination.  Again, it's about competition, and it's about getting better and making our team better."

Daugherty continues to support the selection of Labonte as his team’s driver and is confident the former series champion can still get the job done behind the wheel.

“Bobby Labonte hasn't forgotten how to drive," Daugherty said.  "That's why we hired Todd Berrier.  I've known Todd a long time; and with his wisdom and knowledge of these racecars - along with (engineer) Laerte Zatta, who has come over from Toyota and is just a huge asset - I think we can get Bobby to Victory Lane.

"We have to give him the platform, though.  We didn't do that last year.  You saw Bobby wreck some racecars and you've never seen Bobby Labonte wreck like that before.  He wrecked our racecars because he was driving his guts out, and some of our cars just weren't very good.  We didn't give him the right opportunity."

On the sponsor front, the extension from Kroger as well as adding Bubba Burger to the mix of other corporate backers has the team feeling positive about moving to the next level in 2012.  The possibility of adding a second car for select races this season is part of a master plan that could see the team expand its stable in the future.

“NASCAR continues to be a great property to help brands connect with consumers in a meaningful way,” said co-owner Tad Geschickter.  “The economy continues to change and the way shoppers make their purchase decisions continues to evolve.  We spend more time than any other team studying these trends.  We believe our sponsorship model is the way of the future for brands that want to fully leverage NASCAR to address business opportunities and create a measurable return on investment.

“I think this is proof that the JTG/Daugherty Racing model works and should be considered as sponsors come into the sport for years to come.”

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Germain Racing
By: Pete Pistone

Germain Racing has a streamlined NASCAR program ready for 2012 that will see the organization concentrate solely on the Sprint Cup Series with driver Casey Mears.

Team owner Bob Germain made the decision to shutter his Camping World Truck Series effort and move ahead with a single-car Sprint Cup program for the coming season.

The organization also made a manufacturer change for the new year and joins the Ford stable after years of working with Toyota.

Germain believes the move to the Blue Oval will help the team be more competitive and welcomes the chance to resurrect his family’s past with the manufacturer.

“The Germain's have a long history with Ford Motor Company,” he said. “My grandfather worked with Henry Ford as an accountant and my father worked as a guide in the Henry Ford Museum. Our family currently owns and operates both Ford and Lincoln dealerships and we have many friends at Ford Motor Company. I'm excited to join the Ford Racing team.”

Sponsor GEICO returns to back the team’s Fusions and Germain believes the new relationship, which includes a reliance with Roush Fenway Racing and Yates Engines, will put the organization on a better path for success.

“Germain Racing is focused on getting strong results for our GEICO Fusion program,” Germain said. “Heading into NASCAR’s first season of electronic fuel injection, we are extremely confident in the technology and engines from Roush & Yates Racing Engines that we will race this season.”

Casey Mears and crew chief Robert "Bootie" Barker also return for the 2012 season and the tandem is excited about the new-look of the organization.

“This type of news is always good, especially when we as a team know that we’ll have some stability moving forward and we can focus 100% of our efforts on improving our performance,” Mears said.

“GEICO is such an incredible, loyal sponsor and I can’t thank them enough for their unconditional support of our team. I appreciate all of the hard work and effort of Bob Germain and everyone in this organization. I’m really looking forward to seeing what this Germain Racing team will do in 2012, especially as we move forward with Roush-Yates power.”

Barker helped guide Mears to a spot inside the top 35, thus guaranteeing the No. 13 Fusion a spot in the opening five races of the season including next month’s Daytona 500. The veteran crew chief is looking to start the season off on a good note in “The Great American Race.”

“We like our chances at the plate tracks and running well at Daytona will hopefully set the tone for a successful year ahead,” Barker said.

The team will also debut a brand new paint scheme and colors for 2012 which will its debut during Speedweeks.

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Phoenix Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin

Phoenix Racing has high hopes heading into the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when 2004 champion Kurt Busch takes over behind the wheel of the No. 51 Chevrolet for the Spartanburg, S.C.-based team.

The James Finch-owned organization has seen its share of success in the past, most notably in 2009 when Brad Keselowski went to Victory Lane at Talladega Superspeedway. But even after running all 36 races last season, the team has not posted a top-10 finish since April 2010. Now, Finch will turn to Busch to help build the operation into a contender on a weekly basis when the season kicks off at Daytona International Speedway.

Kurt Busch"It's all about Daytona and winning right now," Busch said. "And then it's just one week at a time. It's going to be hard to look too far down the road because we just have to get to the track at Phoenix and take it one week at a time."

With Phoenix Racing being a one-car Sprint Cup team, that limits them to the number of chassis and available resources.

“It’s about racing smart and old-school racing,” Busch said. “It’s like when I raced my dad’s Legend car. If I wrecked it one weekend, I couldn’t race the next. It’s a balance of understanding how to get the best out of the car and protect it.”

Last week, Phoenix Racing took three downforce cars to the wind tunnel to prepare for the upcoming season.

"The one that's the best will go to Vegas, and second-best goes to Phoenix and third-best goes to Bristol," Busch said about the cars. "Then, we will cycle them all around again."

Phoenix Racing is able to lean on Hendrick Motorsports, which provides the engines, for some assistance throughout the season.

"There's one guy that has a Hendrick shirt on and he's a fabricator," Busch said. "He's there doing the crush panels in the cars and some of the detail fab work. When the motors show up, Howard, the main engine tuner comes down from Hendrick, especially with all the new fuel injection things as well. Behind the scenes, there are all types of support. I just haven't been shown exactly what's going on just yet."

Along with the test at Daytona International Speedway last month, Busch has been getting to know and work with his new team, including crew chief Nick Harrison, by making the trek from his home in Mooresville, N.C., to the race shop.

"I spent a ton of time at the shop down in Spartanburg," Busch said. "It's about an hour and a half from my house, so it's almost therapeutic driving there and driving back, with the time you get to think about things as well as create checklists. I'm technologically challenged, so I finally hooked up Bluetooth in my truck so I can talk going down the road."

This season, Busch will not have much free time as he will also race in up to 20 Nationwide races for not only Phoenix Racing, but for his brother at Kyle Busch Motorsports.

"That's going to keep me busy,” Busch said. “That's going to be a good work load to have and I might not be visiting as many baseball parks this year."

Busch’s competitive debut with Phoenix Racing will come in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona where he is the defending race winner. The team has already secured sponsorship for that race with Tag Heuer, which will move to an associate roll in the Daytona 500 and at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Currently, Busch is in a one-year deal to race for Finch.

“There is no contract," he said. "It was just a handshake deal. It reminds me of old school racing and fun.”

Following the turmoil that left him without a ride at Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 season, Busch was quick to thank another team owner that helped him land with a ride for 2012.

"Felix Sabates stuck his neck out for me and helped," Busch said last week on the Sprint Media Tour. "This sport is so tightly connected in all directions that a guy like Felix Sabates can help me get another chance."

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Tommy Baldwin Racing
By: John Singler

Tommy Baldwin Racing labored anonymously throughout the 2011 Sprint Cup Series, with Dave Blaney turning in a workmanlike effort that netted the organization a spot among the top 35 in owner points.

Anonymous will not be one of the adjectives used to describe the three-year-old organization once Speedweeks 2012 gets rolling later this month.

Can anyone say “Danica Patrick,” … “,” … “Stewart-Haas Racing?”

Tommy Baldwin Racing has entered into a collaborative partnership with SHR, whereby Baldwin’s team will field the No. 10 Chevrolet for all 10 of Patrick’s Sprint Cup Series races in 2012.  The alliance guarantees a starting spot for Patrick in the season-opening Daytona 500, thanks to Blaney’s efforts in 2011.  The owner points he earned for TBR have been transferred to Patrick’s No. 10.

“We’re proud of what we’ve established,” Baldwin said of his three-year-old team.  “The opportunity to partner with Stewart-Haas Racing and aid in the development of Danica Patrick is a testament to the hard work we’ve put in over the years.  Danica will have a great teammate in Dave Blaney, who has been instrumental in getting our race team to where it is today.  And with David Reutimann driving the No. 10 car in the races where Danica is not, the team will remain in a strong and competitive position throughout the year.”

TBR was formed in 2009 and has matured from a single-car team to one that in 2012 will field two Sprint Cup Series entries and a NASCAR Nationwide Series program for Blaney’s son Ryan.  Baldwin is a former crew chief and won the 2002 Daytona 500 with driver Ward Burton.

“This was best for all of us involved, and for Chevrolet,” Baldwin said of the partnership.  “It’s going to be a good deal for both programs.  It helped us fill some slots we needed filled on our side.  We would have loved a 36-race schedule but from the beginning of our talks, it was always going to be 26 races for David (Reutimann), and he’s on board with that.”

Reutimann, who left Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the 2011 season, will drive the No. 10 Chevrolet in the 26 points-paying races where Patrick is not competing.

“I talked with a bunch of different teams and in the end, Tommy’s program seemed to be structured the best for what I wanted to do,” said Reutimann, preparing for his sixth season in the Cup Series.  “Our backgrounds are similar, and our mentalities are close in terms of racing and the things we’re trying to accomplish.  I wanted to be part of something new and this is really a good fit for me.”

If funding can be secured for a third TBR entry, Reutimann would be able to pick up those 10 additional races and run a full schedule.

“Tommy’s working on a bunch of different things right now that may help us run an entire season,” said Reutimann, who finished 28th in points last year with a best finish of second (to Kyle Busch) at Kentucky Speedway.

As for Blaney, he’ll now have to qualify for races on speed, not able to rely on the guaranteed spots that would have been available to him for the first five races by virtue of the team’s top-35 finish in owner points last year.

No worries there, according to Baldwin.

“We’ve been doing this stuff for three years, so I don’t think it’s any different,” he said.  “Dave’s comfortable with it and is used to that pressure.  His hard work has paid off and again, we’ve been discussing this so it’s nothing that he’s not known about.”

In 35 starts last season, Blaney had a best finish of third in the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway.  The veteran driver ran his first Cup Series race in 1992 and is three starts shy of 400 for his career.

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Wood Brothers Racing
By: Pete Pistone

The 2011 season couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team when rookie Trevor Bayne scored a very popular win in the Daytona 500.

The storied organization went about its business the remainder of the year on a limited schedule and enjoyed varying degrees of success along the way.

As the new season dawns, Bayne and the Woods will again team up for a similar campaign hoping to build on the foundation put into place last year.

“I’m excited,” Bayne said. “It’s a big deal for me. It’s what I had hoped for. We’re all excited to be back together.”

The team is expected to field the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford in 13-15 Sprint Cup races this season as it did in 2011 with pending sponsorship perhaps making it possible for additional events to be added to the slate.

"You always want to do more," Bayne said. "We're trying our best. You'd think running good would do that, but it's not enough these days. It's hard to find sponsorship."

The offseason was a busy one for the team, which will again have an alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, putting its 2012 program together.

But in the end bringing back Bayne was the key priority.

“It’s taken a long time to get to this announcement, but it’s good to be back together,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We all wanted to do what was best for Ford Motor Company and its young drivers, and to be sure everybody had a place to race.”

Bayne will run for RFR again in the Nationwide Series to fill out his schedule but admits there’s a challenge to improving on the Cup side when the opportunity to drive in the series is limited.

“It's a learning experience; that series is tough," Bayne said. "We've done good with what we have to work with…have really fast cars, but not working together every week holds you back. I want more top 10s and maybe a top five before the year is over. I learn every time I hit the track in that car."

Another thing Bayne learned last year was the deep history the Woods have in the NASCAR world and the contributions the team has made to the sport since it began.

Being part of the relationship the Woods have with Ford is something Bayne considers very special.

“There’s no question at all that since the beginning, the Woods and Ford were going to stick with each other,” Bayne said. “The Woods are such a great racing family, and it’s amazing that they’re the only one of the original teams that has survived since the beginning.”

As for what to expect when the season begins at Daytona, Bayne isn’t exactly sure what kind of racing will take place during Speedweeks as he tries for a second straight win in “The Great American Race.”

With the many rule changes and tweaks to cars imposed by NASCAR during last month’s pre-season test, just what kind of impact the modifications will have to the two car tandem or pack drafting is still up in the air according to Bayne.

“It’s going to be very different at Daytona,” Bayne said, referring to a rule change that will block off air to the car’s radiator and thereby limit the two-car tandem racing that Bayne so quickly adapted to. “It’ll be like starting all over again, but that’s OK.

“We’ll just go try to do it again.”

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Front Row Motorsports
By: John Singler

Front Row Motorsports will feature a mix of “old” and “new” in its 2012 driver lineup as the organization prepares for its fourth year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

David Gilliland returns for his third season at FRM, replacing Travis Kvapil in the No. 38 Ford.  He’ll have a new teammate with the arrival of David Ragan, who will drive the team’s No. 34 Fusion that was wheeled by Gilliland in 2011.

Ragan departed Roush Fenway Racing at the end of last year after notching his first career victory, in the July race at Daytona International Speedway.

“Front Row has made great progress the last few years and I look forward to helping them advance to the next level,” said Ragan, 26 and entering his sixth full season of Sprint Cup Series competition.  “The team appreciates what I bring to the table and I think it’s a good opportunity for both of us.  I’ve also enjoyed a long relationship with Ford and I’m glad I’ll get to keep working with them.”

In 2011, the last of Ragan’s five full seasons at Roush Fenway, he finished 23rd in the standings with eight top 10s in 36 starts.  His victory at Daytona kept him in the hunt for a wild-card spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup through the end of summer.

Gilliland’s steady work in the team’s No. 34 entry last year lifted the car to 31st in owner points, which means Ragan will have a guaranteed starting spot through at least the first five races of the new season.

Gilliland, 35, is embarking on his third season with Front Row and his seventh overall in Cup competition.  He’s on schedule to start his 200th race in June at Pocono.

“We’ve gotten better year-to-year and even week-to-week in the time I’ve been here,” Gilliland said.  “I’m excited to be back for a third year and to have David (Ragan) as a teammate.  It’s good to be back in the ‘38’ car, too.  It was my dad’s number and I’ve also had some pretty good days at the track with that number on the door.”

Gilliland’s father Butch was a well-known competitor in the old NASCAR Winston West Series, now the K&N Pro Series West.  The family hails from Riverside, Calif.

Gilliland’s 2012 ride also was locked into the top 35 in owner points at the end of last season, assuring Front Row Motorsports of two entries in the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 26.

Gilliland made his mark in “The Great American Race” last year, charging from 39th on the starting grid to finish third (behind Trevor Bayne and Carl Edwards).  It was a sign of things to come as Gilliland posted an average finish of 12th in the four restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.

Gilliland finished the year 30th in points.

Team owner Bob Jenkins sees large potential for continued progress entering his fourth season in the sport.

“I am committed to building a competitive race team and it all begins with the people,” Jenkins said.  “We took some pretty big steps in our race program last year and adding David Ragan is another giant step in the right direction.

“He’s a proven race winner.  Gilliland had a really solid season for us last year.  Roush Yates Engines are the best in the sport and Ford continues to provide invaluable support.  I feel like 2012 is going to be our year to step up to the next level.”

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Richard Petty Motorsports
By: John Singler

On its official website, Richard Petty Motorsports states prominently that “Racing is our DNA.”  For the organization’s namesake, substituting the word “Winning” for racing would also be appropriate.

“King Richard” won 200 races in his Hall of Fame Cup Series career, tops on NASCAR’s all-time list.  The two drivers wheeling his RPM Fords this season, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, have combined to start only 154 races.

But for 2012, the arrival of Almirola and the return of Ambrose – who is coming off his first career win – have sent expectations soaring as RPM prepares for its fourth season.

The big buzz has settled around Almirola, who replaces AJ Allmendinger in the famed No. 43.

“One of the things I am most excited about is to have the chance to drive a car as iconic as the No. 43,” said Almirola, a Florida native who’ll celebrate his 28th birthday next month.  “There is so much history surrounding it and to have my name above the door will be really special.”

Almirola has raced sparingly in the Cup Series since his debut in 2007.  He concentrated solely on the Nationwide Series in 2011, where he raced for JR Motorsports and finished fourth in points.

Almirola hasn’t driven a Cup car since November 2010.  Ironically, it was a Richard Petty Motorsports entry.  He filled in for the departing Kasey Kahne for the last five races that season and posted a career-best fourth in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“This is the first real opportunity I’ve had to drive the Cup Series full-time,” Almirola said.  “Last year, the ‘43’ had a lot of speed and was competitive on a weekly basis.  Greg Erwin is a great crew chief and I’m excited to work with him.  Everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports has a lot of enthusiasm and drive, and I’m really looking forward to getting started.”

It was that enthusiasm and drive that lifted the team into 15th place in the final 2011 owner point standings, assuring Almirola of a starting spot in at least the first five races of the new season – beginning with the 54th running of the Daytona 500.

“Ultimately, we felt Aric would be the best fit for the team, and for our current and potential partners,” said Petty, who recently signed Smithfield Foods, Inc. as a sponsor for 15 of Almirola’s races in 2012.  “We’ve had the chance to watch his progress for the past several years and we had success with him in the past.  We’re confident in his potential as a Cup Series driver.  Aric has all the makings to be the next bright star in our sport.”

Ambrose, 35, is entering his fifth year in the Sprint Cup Series and his second at RPM.  2011 was his best season at NASCAR’s top level.  With veteran crew chief Todd Parrott calling the shots, Ambrose rose to 19th in the final point standings.  He had 12 top 10s in 36 starts, including the victory in August at Watkins Glen International.

Stanley Black & Decker is among the partners returning to sponsor Ambrose’s No. 9 Ford in 2012.

In addition to the two-car effort in the Sprint Cup Series, RPM will field a Nationwide Series entry for Michael Annett this year as he makes a full-season run at the championship.

Speedweeks will open Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway.  As Ambrose seeks win No. 2 in the Cup Series, Almirola will continue pursuit of his first victory in the Feb. 26 Daytona 500 … a mere two days before the 52nd anniversary of the boss’s initial Cup Series win.

Richard Petty claimed the first of his 200 career victories on Feb. 28, 1960.

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Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin

After a disappointing 2011, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates looks to turn things around from what team owner Chip Ganassi called a "pathetic" season.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray went winless last year and wound up 21st and 27th, respectively, in the final Sprint Cup Series point standings. The disappointing year prompted Ganassi to make a number of changes in the offseason that included naming Chris Heroy as Montoya's crew chief and Max Jones as head of competition. Last fall, John Probst also joined the team as technical director.

Montoya is optimistic about the chance to improve on last year’s performance for the No. 42 Chevrolet team and was encouraged by what he saw during the team’s offseason testing program.

Earnhardt Ganassi"Last year we were, by race 10, like eighth in points," Montoya said. "May for us was terrible and I think there were a lot of distractions and the team just headed the wrong way. I think Chip really handled everything well. He hires a bunch of great people. I'm excited about this year. Everyone is working well together and you can see the changes, so I can't wait to get to the racetrack."

After winning three races in 2010 including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, McMurray and the No. 1 Chevrolet group suffered through a disappointing follow-up campaign.

"Honestly, when you have a season like that it makes you appreciate what you had in 2010," McMurray said. "I sat here and was so excited about getting the season going because we ended running so well. Our season started out OK and slowly got worse. Chip has made a lot of big changes and brought a lot of new people in. I think our excitement comes from the changes we have seen. I don't know if it's going to be immediate, but they have made a lot of change to our cars."

Kevin "Bono" Manion will be back as the crew chief for McMurray and the pair will look to regain the magic from 2010.

"I feel fortunate to still be part of the team," Manion said. "There were a lot of changes. It seems like yesterday that we had a great season in 2010. Hopefully, that was part of his decision to keep me on. Everyone has a resume and credentials and they speak for themselves. Through the years myself, and the teams I have been associated with, have wins and championships so that's good news."

Heading into 2012, Earnhardt Ganassi has all of its primary sponsorship spots sold and will see its core partners - Target, Bass Pro Shops and McDonald's - return along with a number of new sponsors on McMurray's car.

Banana BoatMontoya will be backed by Target for the fourth consecutive season. Clorox, Energizer, Huggies and Degree for Men will also be the primary sponsor on the No. 42 with the first coming with Clorox at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

McMurray, who will return with Bass Pro Shops and McDonald's, will debut three new primary sponsors with Belkin (Martinsville - April), Banana Boat (Pocono - June) and Liftmaster (New Hampshire - Sept.).

With sponsors and new personnel now in place, Earnhardt Ganassi hopes to rebound and be much more competitive in the coming season.

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Joe Gibbs Racing
By: Pete Pistone

An offseason of changes has Joe Gibbs Racing hoping for better results in 2012.

Despite seeing two of its drivers make the Chase, JGR wound up with an ultimately disappointing season that prompted crew chief changes with two of its three teams.

Mike Ford and Greg Zipadelli have both left the team with Darian Grubb coming to crew chief for Denny Hamlin and Jason Ratcliff elevated from JGR's Nationwide Series program to work with Joey Logano. While Dave Rogers returns to guide Kyle Busch, team president J.D. Gibbs believes the overall shake-up will reap benefits this season.

"Look we didn't perform the way we'd have liked last year in a variety of ways," Gibbs said. "But we didn't think we needed to completely start over and tear everything down. The core of this race team is very solid and for us these changes will only help us get stronger we hope for 2012."

After guiding Tony Stewart to last year's title, Grubb found himself dismissed from Stewart-Haas Racing. He quickly landed with JGR and is enthused about the next chapter in his career and helping Hamlin return to the championship-contending form of 2010.

“I’m really excited to join Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 11 FedEx team,” Grubb said. “We’re having lots of fun, we’re having lots of meetings. We’re kind of setting the course for what we want to do. We want to go out there and be competitive.”

Hamlin is trying to put last year's disappointment in the rear view mirror as quickly as possible and focusing on what lies ahead. He thinks the addition of Grubbs and a new perspective will get his team back to one of the premier entries in the sport.

“It will take him some time to understand what I need in my car and for me to tell him what he needs to hear, so that part will be a little bit of a transition, but I think right now we have enough motivation and confidence that that should carry us until that point happens,” Hamlin said.

“The first five or six races are not my strong suit. That’s going to be good because those are the race tracks where I kind need to improve on and that’s where we are going to learn each other’s communication before we get to Richmond and Martinsville and Texas, where we are expected to win. By then, he will have an understanding of what I need out of my car and we’ll live up to those expectations when we come around.”

Busch will also try and put last year behind him and the controversy that swirled around him in the aftermath of his Truck Series incident with Ron Hornaday at Texas Motor Speedway. Busch was parked for the weekend's Sprint Cup Series race for his behavior and reportedly nearly lost both sponsor M&M's as well as his ride because of the altercation.

But he's set to focus on the new year and not dwell on what happened in the past.

"There’s no one to blame but myself,” Busch said. “There’s an opportunity for me to become a better person, to grow and learn from this, and I’m looking forward to those days. I want to be with Joe Gibbs Racing, I want to be in NASCAR, I want to be driving the M&M’s Toyota.

“I have a strong path ahead that I’m excited about and looking forward to, and learning and growing and understanding that the ground that I made last year has been awesome.”

Logano will have Ratcliff as his first Sprint Cup crew chief other than Zipadelli, who left for the Director of Competition role at SHR. He comes into 2012 off a disappointing campaign and many believe the year will be "do or die" for Logano's Cup career.

However, he doesn't see it that way and thinks a fresh perspective and outlook moving ahead with Ratcliff will generate positive results in the coming season.

“I’m really pumped up about having Jason as my crew chief,” Logano said. “He is an awesome guy and we had a chance to work together over on the Nationwide side for three races last season.

“Being able to work with him is a good, fresh start for our team. It’s going to be a good thing for us. It was time to do something after the type of year we had. This was a mutual deal that I think will help us out in the long run. We had to move on and now we need to work hard and go out and start winning."

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Michael Waltrip Racing
By: Pete Pistone

A pair of veteran drivers and a Chase-experienced crew chief have joined Michael Waltrip Racing for 2012 in hopes of taking the team to the next level of competition.

Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin join the driver lineup at MWR which includes returning Martin Truex Jr.  Bowyer brings 5-Hour Energy as a major sponsor for the new No. 15 Toyota, with former Earnhardt Ganassi Racing crew chief Brian Pattie also coming on board.

"There’s a lot to prove, starting over like this," Bowyer said after testing with the team during January's Preseason Thunder in Daytona.  "I’m up for the challenge.  I think with that test, you see what you’ve got and how you stack up against the competition.”

A five-time Sprint Cup Series race winner during his career with Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer said he jumped at the chance to join MWR, and have Truex and Martin as teammates.

“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?  It would be awesome,” Bowyer recalls.  "I raced a lot with Martin back in the Nationwide Series, had a lot of fun battling it out with him. It’s going to be a good combination.  I’ve always had good teammates at RCR and I feel like it’s a good strong lineup at MWR, now.”

Martin ended his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports last season and will take the wheel of the No. 55 MWR entry for 25 races.  The car will carry Aaron's sponsorship with Waltrip taking the ride for at least five more races.

The size of the schedule and the opportunity to help contribute to the growth of MWR were just two of the reasons Martin decided to join the organization.

“I've had a great offseason,” Martin said.  “Had the time of my life with Hendrick Motorsports and made friends for life there.  But this is a new challenge from an organization standpoint, a lot of new faces, and then a lot of guys I've worked with before.  I couldn't believe it when I walked through the shop the first time.  You can't believe how many people I've worked with before who are at MWR now.”

Martin was determined to stay active in the Sprint Cup Series after leaving Hendrick but needed to find what he calls the right fit for the next phase of his career.

“It's exactly where I want to be in life right now,” Martin said.  “I'm thrilled to have a company like Aaron's behind us, a huge supporter of NASCAR, and I think it's going to be fun.  I'm expecting to do a lot of smiling this year.”

As does Truex, who wasn't able to put together the kind of season he'd hoped for in 2011.  But the former Nationwide Series champion feels refreshed about his prospects for the coming season with the new-look organization.

“We can contend for a spot in the Chase,” Truex said.  “We had a lot of speed last season, but we also had a lot of tough luck.  If we can correct the little things, I think we’ve got the speed and the people to do it.  It’s just a matter of racing smarter, being better prepared and making better decisions.”

Team co-owner Waltrip shares that optimism.  The addition of Martin and Bowyer, plus a closer relationship with Toyota Racing Development in its engine program, has the two-time Daytona 500 winner feeling confident heading into the new season.

"A year ago, I was nervous about who we were going into 2011,” Waltrip said.  “I didn’t like our direction, I didn’t like the way our cars were being built, I didn’t like our philosophy on building them.  But you can’t change things overnight.  We crept toward a new philosophy.”

Waltrip believes it will add up to victories as well as being a title contender in 2012.

"We have to win more than a race.  We just can’t win one race and finish 16th in the points,” Waltrip said.  “We have to win multiple races and we have to make the Chase.  We have to be right there fighting for it, at least.”

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Re: Team by Team Previews

Penske Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin

The 2012 season will see a new driver join Penske Racing as the team takes to the track hoping to build on last year’s performance that saw them rack up five Sprint Cup victories and put two drivers in the Chase.

This season, Brad Keselowski will team with AJ Allmendinger, who comes over from Richard Petty Motorsports to drive the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge after Kurt Busch and Penske parted ways in the aftermath of last year’s controversies.

Penske RacingAllmendinger, who has made his way up through the open wheel ranks before entering the Sprint Cup Series in 2007, has been testing with new crew chief Todd Gordon as he prepares to make his Penske debut at Daytona International Speedway in search of his elusive first Sprint Cup win.

"I've worked hard to get to this point," Allmendinger said.  "I have not quit when I could have quit.  I could have gone back to open wheel racing and I didn't want to do that.  I've shown that I can keep improving each year and that's what I have done.  It's time to go out there and keep improving.  The only way to do that is to win races and make the Chase."

Gordon, who led Penske's No. 22 Nationwide team to six victories in 2011, is already impressed with how the Penske teammates are working together.

"I think Brad and AJ get along," Gordon said.  "I think they communicate well, talk about what's going on with the racecars.  The model that will make us successful is if we are one race team with two racecars."

Keselowski is returning to the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge with crew chief Paul Wolfe and is looking forward to having Allmendinger as a teammate.

"He's brought a great attitude to Penske Racing," Keselowski said.  "His credentials show that he has the ability to continue to improve and get his way to Victory Lane.  Hopefully, we can work together and both be there."

Keselowski turned in what many consider a breakthrough 2011 season that saw him capture three wins, make the Chase and eventually finish fifth in the point standings.

"We continue to raise expectations which is good, but now we have to go deliver" Keselowski said.  "I'm ready to get to work."

The No. 2 Dodge will continue to carry Miller Lite sponsorship and colors in the coming years after Miller announced last month it's signed a contract extension to sponsor Keselowski, who also signed an extension with Penske in December.

Penske RacingPenske also will field two cars in the Nationwide Series with Keselowski and Parker Kligerman splitting time in the No. 22; while Sam Hornish Jr. will run for the championship in the No. 12.

"I was able to learn a lot last year," said Hornish, who captured his first career win at Phoenix International Raceway.  "I just feel like we’ve got a lot of things going for us.”

Alliance Truck Parts and Wurth Group will sponsor Hornish.

Penske Racing will again be the only Dodge team in the Sprint Cup garage but appears ready to continue the upward trend from its 2011 season.

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Re: Team by Team Previews

Hendrick Motorsports
By: John Singler

Standing on the threshold of a milestone victory and with a new face in its 2012 driver lineup, Hendrick Motorsports is ready to roll into its 29th NASCAR season.

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, with a combined nine Cup Series championships between them, return to the fold along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kasey Kahne replaces Mark Martin behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet.

And all four are chasing a piece of stock car history. The organization’s next Cup Series victory in a points-paying race will be the 200th for Hendrick Motorsports. Petty Enterprises is the only other team in NASCAR’s 63-year history to reach that milestone, topping the all-time list with 268 victories.

“When I look through all the pictures and I remember the celebrations, I can remember vividly that I didn’t know if I’d ever win one race,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “When you say you’ve won a race in the Cup Series, you’ve accomplished something. But when you think about 200 wins, it’s unbelievable.”

Gordon, a four-time Cup Series champion, is responsible for 85 of those victories, including Hendrick Motorsports’ 100th win in June 2001 at Michigan International Speedway.

“To be able to do that meant a lot to me personally,” Gordon said. “The speed at which the next 99 happened is pretty incredible. You look at what Jimmie Johnson has brought to our organization and you look at all the other drivers who have contributed … it has been amazing.”

In 2012, Gordon is celebrating the 20-year anniversary of long-time sponsor DuPont – which has been with him since his Hendrick debut in 1992. He’s coming off a solid 2011 campaign in which he qualified for the Chase as the No. 3 seed. Gordon faded to eighth in the final standings, ending the year with three wins.

His total of 85 Cup Series victories leaves Gordon third on the all-time list, behind only Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).

As for Johnson, forgive him if Speedweeks feels a little strange this year. It’s the first time since 2006 he’ll arrive at Daytona as something other than defending champion. Ironically, it was Tony Stewart who carried that designation then … just as he does in 2012.

Johnson also qualified for the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, maintaining his status as the only driver who’s participated in all eight title series since the format was first introduced in 2004.

He ended the year sixth in points, 99 behind Stewart. Johnson won twice, including the Chase race at Kansas Speedway in October that left Hendrick Motorsports at the doorstep of win No. 200.

Earnhardt also made the 2011 Chase, making Hendrick the only team with three entries for the post-season. However, “Junior” was unable to snap his long winless streak that has now reached 129 races dating back to Michigan in June 2008.

Earnhardt heads into Speedweeks this year attempting to become the first driver to win back-to-back Daytona 500 poles since Ken Schrader put three straight together from 1988-90. Hendrick Motorsports has led qualifying for “The Great American Race” two years in a row and three of the last four, with Mark Martin No. 1 in 2010.

Martin is gone from the No. 5 Chevrolet, replaced by Kahne – who can’t wait to get the new season rolling.

“The Daytona test (last month) was the first time I started to feel like I was part of the team and it’s been really good,” said Kahne, who finished 14th in points last season driving for Red Bull Racing.

Kahne underwent successful outpatient knee surgery on Feb. 10 and has been pronounced ready for the season. After experiencing swelling in his left knee, an MRI revealed a torn meniscus. The common arthroscopic procedure was done in Charlotte, N.C., leaving the 31-year-old driver to shift his focus back to his new surroundings.

“It’s been everything I expected up to this point,” Kahne said. “I have four years here that I know are going to be stable and competitive, with great people and a great team around me.”

The optimism of the four Hendrick drivers heading into the 2012 season has found its way into the top tier of the organization, as well.

“I can’t remember ever going into a year with four teams as strong as we have now,” said Hendrick.

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Re: Team by Team Previews

Richard Childress Racing
By: Pete Pistone

Richard Childress Racing is set to embark on a very busy season with programs across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.

RCR will downsize from four to three Sprint Cup entries in 2012 with Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard the trio of drivers hoping to bring team owner Childress this year’s crown.

Kevin HarvickHarvick returns to the No. 29 Chevrolet but with a new crew chief as Shane Wilson comes on to replace Gil Martin. Despite winning four races last season, Harvick came up short in his bid for a first Cup crown and is looking to the team’s personnel change as a catalyst for better results in 2012.

“We have a good personal relationship,” Harvick said of working with Wilson in the Nationwide Series. “I like the way that he goes about the leadership and the way he lets his guys do their jobs.”

Harvick, who will become a first-time father later this year, divested his KHI Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series team and believes his refocus will be beneficial in making the Sprint Cup effort even stronger.

“The only thing that I want to do that we have not been able to accomplish in my career is win a Sprint Cup championship,” Harvick said. “That’s the big box left open without the check in it that Richard and our whole organization want to put a check in hopefully as quickly as possible.”

Burton also has a new crew chief in Drew Blickensderfer, who worked with David Ragan last year at Roush Fenway Racing. After suffering through yet another disappointing season, Burton is also optimistic that the changes made to his race team will lead to improved performance this year.

Jeff BurtonBurton is ready to do his part.

“Part of my role as a driver is to do the things I need to do to make sure that car is fast enough,” Burton said. “Last year obviously I didn’t do a good job. I don’t think I did a bad job in my driving. I think I did a bad job of being integrated, being forceful enough at times; I could have done a better job to help move us in a direction.”

Menard joined the ranks of Sprint Cup winners last season with his first career victory at NASCAR’s highest level coming in the Brickyard 400.

He nearly made the Chase as a wild card but despite missing the playoffs, believes the foundation of last year’s success will keep the No. 27 team headed in the right direction in 2012.

“I feel like I’ve been welcomed into the whole group a little bit more so than in the past,” said Menard, who will again pair with crew chief Slugger Labbe. “Richard is a guy that’s at the shop basically every day. I see him a lot. I talk to him on the phone. It’s a family atmosphere.

“There’s a lot of people that have been with Richard for a long time. We’ve got some good, hard-working young guys coming into the fold, too. That is kind of the future of the company so it’s a pretty exciting place.”

RCR will field a fourth Sprint Cup entry for at least the first five races of the season. Elliott Sadler, who will run full-time for the team’s Nationwide Series program, will take the wheel of the No. 33 for the season-opening Daytona 500.

“It’s just a great opportunity Richard has given me,” said Sadler, who finished second in last year’s Nationwide Series title fight. “I can’t wait to run the 500 and be with this team for another Nationwide season.”

Brendan Gaughan, who will run in a select number of Nationwide and truck races for RCR, gets the call to take the Sprint Cup ride for the next four races after Daytona.

“Second chances don’t come along often,” said Gaughan. “Especially the caliber of Richard Childress Racing. It’s the second dream come true. I just have to do it right, do the right things and let the Childress machine do its stuff.”

Sadler and Gaughan will have defending truck series champion Austin Dillon in their Nationwide stable this year as the young driver continues his ascension up the NASCAR ranks.

Dillon, who will pilot a No. 3 Chevrolet for RCR in NASCAR’s number two division, brings a great deal of confidence to the new season after his successful truck series effort.

“I’m really excited to be running for a championship next year, the same opportunity with great cars and a great team,” Dillon said. “It’s so much fun to run a NASCAR series and run for a championship, it’s just awesome to do that.”

Ty DillonDillon’s championship-winning truck ride will see his younger brother Ty fill the seat. After an impressive ARCA campaign in 2011, the youngest brother has high hopes for his move to the competitive truck series.

“I've got the trucks that won a championship last year, so I have all the resources and the ability to do it," Dillon said. "I have confidence in myself and my guys that we can go out there and get it done. It's just going to be overcoming our bad days and making them good."

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Re: Team by Team Previews

Stewart-Haas Racing
By: Pete Pistone

Tony Stewart is ready to defend his 2011 Sprint Cup Series championship with a new-look racing team that carries a lot of confidence into the new season.

Stewart climbed to the top of the NASCAR mountain last season with his dramatic title win over Carl Edwards. He’s spent the winter months enjoying the fruits of his hard work but at the same time trying to prepare his team for another shot at the championship.

"I'm scared of heights, so I don't try to get up too high,” Stewart quipped. But, no, it's felt good this winter. It's definitely been a short off-season, but had a lot of changes, obviously, having Steve Addington on board and having my great friend, Greg Zipadelli back on board. We're very excited about it.

"It's been a short off season, but we're having fun watching the changes of Stewart-Haas Racing and how it's going to help us be better this year."

Addington came over from Penske Racing to fill the crew chief position vacated by Darian Grubb’s departure and has had no trouble fitting right in at his new home.

“It's been awesome,” Addington said. “To come in and work with a group of guys like (Ryan Newman’s crew chief) Tony Gibson has made the transition of just asking me or telling me everything that I need to know and give me the information that I need to get started and where I need to look for stuff.

“Matt Borland's got a great group in the engineering department and those guys have been very, very welcoming in getting me started and seeing where we're at and see what direction we need to get going."

Zipadelli, who teamed up with Stewart in several successful season when the pair worked at Joe Gibbs Racing, is looking forward to taking on the role as Director of Competition for SHR and a chance to oversee what at times will be a three car team next year with Danica Patrick’s limited Cup schedule for the organization.

"Yeah, it's a great opportunity for myself,” Zipadelli said. “Next chapter in my life, maybe stepping back a little bit as a crew chief goes. I was excited to find out I was going to have the opportunity to do ten races and kind of help put this deal together.” Stewart Haas Cars

Zipadelli will call the shots for Patrick in her ten-race Sprint Cup effort, which will begin with the Daytona 500. Patrick will be part of a relationship SHR has with Tommy Baldwin Racing with the No. 10 car driven by David Reutimann in 16 additional races to the former open wheel star's ten event schedule.

She’ll run the entire Nationwide Series slate for JR Motorsports in 2012 in addition to her Cup program. As for beginning that portion of her NASCAR career in the biggest race of the season, Patrick likes her chances in “The Great American Race.”

“But I think that at Daytona, the cars are very fast as you guys can see, and as we saw already at the test,” Patrick said. So I feel good about that race. I feel good about… I mean, I was lucky enough to get to run with Tony in the Nationwide race last summer, and that went pretty good. So I feel good about Daytona.”

Stewart feels pretty good about his entire race team. The three-time Sprint Cup champion believes the re-tooling that took place within the organization during the winter months will not only help the team’s effort in 2012 but even further down the road.

"It's been a short off season, but we're having fun watching the changes of Stewart-Haas Racing and how it's going to help us be better this year," Stewart smiled.

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Re: Team by Team Previews

Roush Fenway Racing
By: John Singler

Roush Fenway Racing heads into the 2012 season celebrating a silver anniversary, preparing for its 25th year in NASCAR’s premier division.

Carl Edwards would like nothing more than to mark the occasion with his first Sprint Cup Series championship, which narrowly eluded him in 2011.  Edwards finished the year deadlocked with Tony Stewart in the final point standings but lost the tiebreaker, five wins to one.

Matt Kenseth, a Cup Series champion himself in 2003, finished fourth in points last year and actually had two more wins than Edwards.  Veteran driver Greg Biffle gives RFR a savvy, experienced lineup heading into Speedweeks 2012 which opens Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

The team has downsized, eliminating its No. 6 Ford from full-time Cup Series competition this season although 2011 Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will drive it in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Team owner Jack Roush was justifiably proud of his organization’s efforts in 2011 but says it’s time to turn the page with a new season about to begin.

“I have cautioned everyone not to assume that (because) we have all this momentum coming out of 2011, we’re assured of carrying it into 2012,” Roush said.  “We’re certainly going to build from last year.  It was one of our best years ever, from the standpoint of how competitive our teams were across the board.”

Although Edwards won just one race, he was the model of consistency with a series-best 19 top-five finishes … 10 more than Stewart.  He left the season opener in Daytona leading the point standings, a position he held for more than half the season.  Edwards will be working with crew chief Bob Osborne once again in 2012.

Kenseth – paired up with crew chief Jimmy Fennig – is the senior member of the Roush driver lineup, starting his 13th full season in the fold.  He qualified as the No. 4 seed in last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and that’s exactly where he finished.  Kenseth’s 20 top 10s in 36 starts included victories at Charlotte, Dover and Texas.

Biffle – who’ll be working with crew chief Matt Puccia – didn’t have the kind of year he was looking for in 2011, finishing 16th in points.  But as he begins his 10th full season with Roush Fenway, Biffle is chomping at the bit to get started in the wake of NASCAR’s new rules package that awaits the teams in Daytona.

“I’m jacked about the Budweiser Shootout,” Biffle said of Saturday night’s season-opening special event.  “We have different radiators, fuel injection and all kinds of different rules so this is a test for all of us.

“Everyone in the Shootout gets an opportunity to see how the car drives, see how many laps you can really push, and you just try to win the thing.  No holds barred, no points … this is a race for fun and we don’t have to bring that car back next week.  I can’t wait.”

All three RFR drivers will participate in Saturday’s Shootout, with an eye on the big prize a week later.

“It can be helpful in preparing for the Daytona 500,” Kenseth said.  “We’ll see how the car handles and figure out if there’s anything we might have missed or can improve upon before the ‘500’.”

For his part, Roush said he is pleased with the team’s preparations for 2012 – including the transition to NASCAR-mandated fuel injection.

“We’ve had all winter to work on lab tests and the fuel injection testing has worked out very well, with no glitch or failure,” Roush said.  “We’ve been able to concentrate our best people into the programs we have and it’s made us stronger from a personnel standpoint.

“Sitting here from this vantage point, 2012 looks great,” Roush continued.

In addition to the three-car Sprint Cup Series effort this season, RFR also will field a full-time Nationwide Series program for Stenhouse and a partial schedule for Trevor Bayne that is contingent on sponsorship.

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