Wheldon lobbied for Ganassi ride, but will wait it out another year
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It coulda' been DanCONCORD, N.C. -- Dan Wheldon might be driving in the Sprint Cup Series this season instead of Dario Franchitti had team owner Chip Ganassi let him. Wheldon said on Monday he had several conversations with Ganassi about making the jump this year from the IndyCar Series, which he won in 2005, to NASCAR. "I talked to Chip enough about it to know that for whatever reason he didn't want to let me move from the Indy car,'' Wheldon said on the first day of the 2008 Sprint Cup media tour. "He definitely wants to keep me [in the IndyCar Series]. We'll see. "I've got some big decisions to make at the end of next season. The main thing is I need to put myself in a strong position so I can make the decision I want to make.'' Wheldon said funding will be a factor. "Obviously with the economy the way it is, it's very difficult to get, particularly with how expensive NASCAR is right now and the way Chip likes to do it,'' he said. "You've got to have good funding. I'm not sure he has a hundred percent as much as he would like to do it properly. "At this point I'm just going to worry about the Indy cars.''
Junior and television ratingsNASCAR chairman Brian France acknowledged that a good year from Dale Earnhardt Jr., who hasn't won in more than a year and failed to make the Chase last season, would be good for sagging TV ratings. "If Dale Jr. has a big year, that will help,'' he said of NASCAR's most popular driver, who moved to Hendrick Motorsports this season. "He's got the biggest fan base and will energize that fan base. But we're a sport and he's got to earn that. I don't think anybody wants him to have success any more than he does.''
Line of the dayFrance on Hendrick Motorsports, which won half of the races last season and has won the past two championships with Jimmie Johnson: "Hendricks is like the New England Patriots on wheels.'' David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nationwide Series getting new car?While those in the Nationwide Series expect to open 2009 with cars based off the chassis that will be utilized fulltime in Sprint Cup starting this season, Robin Pemberton said Monday that nothing has been finalized as of yet. Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said it will be "sometime over the next two years." "We'll continue to work with our teams as we did with the Cup teams when we did their new car," Pemberton said. The Cup Series began using what was then referred to as the "Car of Tomorrow" last season, part of what was to be a three-year phase-in of the new chassis so owners wouldn't see their entire fleets become obsolete at once. But the transition went so well last year that the new car is being used fulltime this year. The biggest difference between the Cup car and the new Nationwide cars will be in the body style, as one of the goals beyond the safety benefits associated with the new chassis will be to give the Nationwide Series its own identity instead of it appearing to be "Cup Lite." There's talk the bodies will be "sportier" in nature, but Pemberton said that doesn't necessarily mean the cars will be branded differently by the manufacturers.
-- Mark Ashenfelter
Tires can be used as teams see fitWith the announcement that NASCAR will allow teams to lease tires from Goodyear for testing at non-race venues this season, Pemberton said the teams can test in whatever fashion is the most beneficial. If a particular team struggles on a road course, it can lease tires designed for road courses. If it struggles on intermediate tracks, it can utilize its entire allotment testing at that style of track. "Teams will be able to concentrate on the places they feel they need the most help at," Pemberton said.
Drive for Diversity lineup announcedNASCAR CEO Brian France would love to snap his fingers and find female, Hispanic and black drivers ready to compete in one of the sport's three national series. That, however, simply isn't going to happen. Instead, drivers will have to be nurtured over time and NASCAR continues to hope the Drive for Diversity will help drivers take the next step. Now in its fifth season, this year's edition of the program will see four drivers competing in the NASCAR Camping World Series with four drivers in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Kristin Bumbera, Michael Cherry, Paul Harraka and Lindsey King will race in the Whelen Series, while Michael Gallegos, Jesus Hernandez, Lloyd Mack and Jonathan Smith will race in the Camping World Series, which is split into East and West editions. Each driver will be competing with an established NASCAR team.