Inotes:/I Gibbs Movin To Chevy

JOLIET, Ill. – In a move that could cut the number Pontiac cars running full time in the Winston Cup Series in half, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sunday it will switch to running Chevrolet Monte Carlos in 2003.

If a test session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway goes well in the coming weeks, Gibbs said, he may run Chevrolets in “a few races at the end of the season.”

Currently only five Pontiacs run full time on the Winston Cup circuit - Gibbs’ No. 18 Bobby Labonte and No. 20 Tony Stewart, the No. 14 with driver Stacy Compton, the No. 10 with driver Johnny Benson and No. 36 with Ken Schrader.

Stewart, seventh in the standings with a pair of wins this season, said he is a little uncertain of a switch to Chevy, but knows Gibbs Racing must do whatever is necessary to win.

“Ever since I ran a stock car with Harry Ranier back in 1996, I've been in a Pontiac,” Stewart said. “And even then, when I was just another guy trying to break into NASCAR, Pontiac was very supportive of my career. Obviously, they've been pretty good to me, on the track and off. I've always said that these cars all look the same from behind the steering wheel, and I never really got into the debate about manufacturers. But lately, especially this year, I think we've seen areas where the Pontiac could use some help.

"I just want what everybody else has. I don't want to be beat by a rules package. If I'm going to get beat, I want it to be by another driver. And I think being in a larger group, where Joe (Gibbs) can go into the NASCAR hauler and plead our case if it needs pleading, will help, because it won't just be Joe, it'll be Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and DEI. We've been so good with the Pontiac for so long that we need to find new ways to make ourselves better. Comparing our cars to a bunch of different teams that have the same stuff we do should make us a better a race team. As a driver, that's all I'm ever looking for."

With now just three cars left on Pontiac’s roster for next year following the four-car exodus of Bill Davis Racing and Petty Enterprises to Dodge prior to the 2001 season, questions persist regarding the car manufacturer’s future on the circuit.

However, Doug Douchard, NASCAR group manager of GM Racing, said they are in talks with other teams to run Pontiacs next year and does not doubt the manufacturer will be in Cup in the future.

“The first thing I need to clear up is that Pontiac will be racing in 2003,” Douchard said. “… the Pontiac was approved in late June for competition for 2003 – the new Pontiac was approved. We’re very excited about the new car. We’re working on some new teams. We’re in negotiations with some teams. I’ve been contacted by quite a few teams about potentially becoming Pontiacs.

“We’re quite confident that we’ll have a good lineup for next year top campaign for the Pontiacs and there is really no question that we’re going to be there. I know there has been speculation about that. But, with the new Grand Prix and the new production car, we’re excited about next year.”

Gibbs won six races with Chevrolets between 1993 and 1996 with drivers Dale Jarrett and Labonte before switching to Pontiacs.

“I still think back to GM when I first went into the meeting with Herb Fishel (in 1991), I don’t think I had a driver, I don’t think I had anything,” Gibbs said. “But, these guys were willing to gamble and go with us, so we’ve got a strong allegiance to GM.

“We feel like starting next year, we’ll be in a better position as a race team, where we can benchmark our cars against a lot of other good cars. It’s just a pure numbers for us and we feel like we’ll be better off in that situation. So, that is really the reason for the change.”

Waltrip, NAPA to Return to No. 15
Not too long ago Michael Waltrip’s career at DEI and his sponsorship with NAPA was rumored to be over. Then came the Pepsi 400 and his second career Winston Cup Series win which has made all the difference.

NAPA Auto Parts announced Sunday it will stay on as sponsor of the No. 15 DEI Chevy through the 2004 season, and Waltrip will be along for the ride.

“It’s been so much fun being a part of the NAPA family,” Waltrip said. “Over the last year and a half we’ve developed wonderful relationships with NAPA store owners and NAPA customers. NAPA uses NASCAR to sell products. I understand that, and I think we’ve produced a valuable partnership in a short time.”

Waltrip is 12th in the Winston Cup points standings, with four Top 5s and seven Top 10s. He also has 10 Top 10 starts. Last year was his first season driving for the late Dale Earnhardt, and though he struggled and finished 24th in the points he won the Daytona 500 and finished second in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

“Michael Waltrip is living up to what Dale saw in him and he’s in tremendous asset to the company, both as a driver and part of the company’s personality,” said team owner Teresa Earnhardt. “We’re especially proud of the season Michael is having. (This) announcement reinforces that we are committed to fulfilling a long-term plan. With long-term sponsorship and our sound corporate structure, there is no question that DEI will remain one of the leading forces in NASCAR Racing.

“We have the resources in place to and we will be relentless in our pursuit of the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.”

Petty Making Friends in Chicago
The last time Kyle Petty made his way through Chicago on his 8th Annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America two weeks ago he made a 12-year-old friend named Jaclyn Bauer of suburban Morton Grove, Ill.

Bauer is the winner of the “Design a Cool Helmet for Kyle” contest and present Petty with the red, white, and blue striped helmet resembling an American flag. Petty then wore the helmet on the sixth day of his cross-country motorcycle trip for charity.

“This is definitely one of the coolest helmets I’ve seen,” Petty said. “I think the design the American flag with hundreds of children on it, really expresses the meaning of the Charity Ride. I can tell Jaclyn put a lot of time and thought into designing the helmet, and I can understand why she had a hard time parting with it.”

The helmet was auctioned off at a special Charity Ride event in Hot Springs, Va. For $20,000 and Petty then returned the helmet to Bauer in a ceremony prior to Sunday’s Winston Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway.

“One of the riders on this year’s Charity Ride heard that Jaclyn really wanted to keep the she designed,” Petty said. “So when the helmet was auctioned off, the rider bid on it with the intention of returning it Jaclyn. I’m honored to have the opportunity to present this helmet to Jaclyn, and I want to thank her for helping raise $20,000 for the Victory Junction Gang Camp. That’s really what the Charity Ride is all about. It’s a bunch of good-natured people coming together to help others.”

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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