One of the surprising announcements on the annual NASCAR media tour was that the Sprint Cup Series is getting a new director.
Officials announced last week that John Darby has been promoted to managing director of competition. He will oversee the directors of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, officials, inspection processes and race officiating.
He will keep his current job until a replacement is hired. Veteran crew chief Larry Carter has been considered a candidate.
Hamlin puts off surgery
Denny Hamlin, whose late-season run in 2009 makes him a favorite to challenge Jimmie Johnson for the Cup championship, expects to be good to go at Daytona, even though he tore the ACL in his left knee playing basketball last week.
A team spokesman said surgery is being put off at this point to keep from interfering with his Cup duties, which begin in less than two weeks.
Ragan's new chief
David Ragan, driver of the No. 6 Ford at Roush Fenway Racing, is starting the season with a new crew chief, Donnie Wingo, and almost an all-new crew. With Roush dropping the No. 26 team, Wingo’s old outfit, to meet the NASCAR maximum of four teams per owner, the company has undergone some significant personnel shuffling, Ragan said. He said most of his new crew members came over with Wingo from the 26 team.
“[Wingo] is our head guy; he’s our crew chief; he’s our team leader, and he can bring in who he feels like will make our team better,” Ragan said, adding that one key addition is Loren Ranier, who will be his spotter. Ranier previously did that job for Jamie McMurray when he drove the No. 26.
Kevin Harvick, who fields teams in the Truck and Nationwide series and drives in the Sprint Cup series, said the overall health of racing at the two lower levels seems good, even in a tight economy. He pointed out that rules put in place last year lowered operating costs for truck owners.
“It’s become more affordable to race, and I think the series is going to be as healthy as it’s ever been with Kyle [Busch]’s two or three teams coming in,” he said. “I know we had a couple teams that fell out, but I think there’s more quality teams this year than there has been in a long time.”
He said the Nationwide Series will be OK even though team owners will absorb the cost of introducing a Car of Tomorrow.
Better with three?
Clint Bowyer said that when Richard Childress Racing dropped from four Cup teams to three, losing the No. 07 car driven by Casey Mears, the operation became smoother. He said RCR seems to function better with three teams, even though Mears got great reviews from his teammates.
“For whatever reason, whether it’s the management or whatever else, I just have a feeling that three cars are going to be better for our organization,” he said.
It has been previously. In 2007 and 2008, RCR placed all three of its drivers, Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick, in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Last year none of the four made it.
Daytona International Speedway president Robin Braig said that moving the starting time of the Daytona 500 back to 1 p.m. already is paying off for the speedway. He attributes 5,000-8,000 ticket sales to the change. Braig said fans complained that the later starting times of recent races had forced them to add an extra day of travel and motel costs and caused some races to end under cautions because of late-afternoon rains.
Braig indicated that he doesn’t expect a sellout for the 500, even though 12,000 seats on the backstretch have been removed and replaced by a fan deck. He answered the sellout question by saying he expects a “full house.”