Media Tour Notebook
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on January 27, 2017 | 9:40 A.M. EST
Team Penske's Joey Logano was among the drivers who voiced their support for NASCAR's new race format during this week's pre-season media tour. (Photo: Andrew Coppley)
See Also: NASCAR Announces New Race Format | Sponsorship Questions for Patrick | Furniture Row Racing Set for Two | Gaulding Joins BK Racing | LaJoie Signs with BK Racing | Test Sparks More Road-Course Racing Talk | Daytona to be Waltrip's Last Race
The unofficial start to the 2017 season took place earlier this week with NASCAR's 35th annual pre-season media tour in Charlotte, N.C. Although the proceedings were presented in a more compressed fashion than in years past, drivers from across NASCAR’s top tier addressed the assembled press.
Here are some of the more interesting subjects covered during the relatively low-key tour:
Major Support for New Race Format
Drivers could not stop singing the praises of NASCAR’s decision to break each race into three stages, beginning next month during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway. There was nearly unanimous optimism that the new format would create better competition while at the same time, enhancing the championship picture.
"It's the right thing for the sport," said Joey Logano, echoing the sentiments of most every driver. "Every lap just became way more important. Every race became way more important. If you're a fan going to the Martinsville spring race and your driver already won a race before that, he wasn’t really racing for anything. He's thinking about the Chase in the fall. But now, there's something to watch that race for and something for him to race for.
"The way this whole format is structured is for everyone to race hard and put on a great race for our fans. I don’t see anything but good things coming out of this." See Also: Johnson Ready for New Format | Keselowski Touts New NASCAR Format
Earnhardt Back and Staying
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pumped about being medically cleared after missing half of the 2016 season while recovering from a concussion. He made it clear that he plans on racing for a while longer and despite watching 37-year-old Carl Edwards walk away from the sport earlier this month, Earnhardt doesn’t plan on exiting any time soon.
"I don’t know when I’m going to stop racing, but I want to make that choice and not have it made for me.," he said. "All that stuff showed me how much I have going for me and how fun this really is. You can make it difficult or you can enjoy it. This is an incredible position to be in and it’s an awesome sport, and driving the car is fun. The grind is so long. You’re doing it year after year after year and it doesn’t seem like we had much of an off-season.
"You actually work harder in the off-season. I can see how you get wound up and burned out. I'm not feeling that way right now and I’ll be much more self-aware down the road, trying to remember what this is and what position I’m in, and not take it for granted." Read More
Edwards' Departure a Mystery
The abrupt announcement by Carl Edwards that he was stepping away from NASCAR is still something many drivers don’t understand, including his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammates.
"I didn’t know until coach (team owner Joe Gibbs) called us before the press conference," Matt Kenseth said. "I was very surprised. The more I think about it, I’m not shocked. But I didn't see it coming. Carl has always been his own guy. Thinking about him and his personality, it doesn’t totally shock me. He does his own thing and he decided that’s what he needed to do." Read More
Kahne Remains Confident
Kasey Kahne missed the playoffs again last season, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver remains optimistic for 2017. He hasn’t won in 83 races, the longest drought of his Cup career. However, Kahne ended last year on a positive note with more competitive runs and believes that will carry over to the new season.
"First off, anytime any of us have a month or two off, and we all know we're starting at zero here in a couple weeks, everybody feels good about it and is excited to get the season started," said Kahne, who hasn’t won since Atlanta in September 2014. "A lot of it has to do with the way we finished last year and the progress of our team, what Jimmie Johnson did, what Chase Elliott did. Those things were key and they were highlights.
"Our No. 5 team did the same, we made a lot of gains and we were much stronger the last 12 races of the season."