NASCAR NOTEBOOK: Unveiling of 2013 Sprint Cup Chevrolet was worth the waitEarnhardt regrets hiding injury
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- After a lengthy wait -- and no small amount of chicanery -- NASCAR has a complete set of 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race cars.
Roughly 11 months after Ford introduced its 2013 Fusion at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Chevrolet unveiled the new SS model its teams will race in the Cup series next year.
On display in the Encore Theater at the Wynn were representative cars from the four primary Chevrolet teams: the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing SS, driven by Kevin Harvick; the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports SS, driven by Jimmie Johnson; the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing SS, driven by Tony Stewart; and the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing SS, driven by Jamie McMurray.
Like the previously revealed Fusion and Toyota Camry, the Chevrolets looked racy and -- perhaps more important to NASCAR and its fans -- distinctive. Like the Ford and Toyota, the Chevrolets mark a significant return to brand identity, an aspect all but lost with the generation of Cup cars introduced in 2007.
"It's sharp," Johnson said. "I saw my first logoed car at our photo shoot a few months ago, and it's strong looking… Ultimately, I think the fans' and the manufacturers' voice has come through, and we want brand identity. We want it to be seen."
For the longest time, Chevrolet didn't want its cars to be seen in their un-camouflaged splendor. Chevys that participated in sponsored NASCAR and Goodyear tire tests sported a checkerboard pattern, disguising their identity lines.
Cars used for photo shoots, such as the one Johnson mentioned, were transported in secrecy, away from prying eyes. When NASCAR recently announced rule changes that allowed greater latitude in the positioning of sponsor decals on the 2013 cars, those modifications were made on the fly.
Cosmetically, the new cars are an important step toward accentuating the difference between manufacturers. From a competition standpoint, however, they are not nearly as radical a departure from their predecessors as was the new car in 2007.
"This, you've got to work within certain boundaries to get a performance boost," said Jeff Gordon, "but you're going to have a car that still looks the way it needs to look and performs the way it's supposed to perform.
"The box is tighter, and all the teams are smarter. You look at the competition out there today, and we've all learned so much about bump stops, splitters and the under-tray of the car and aerodynamics. A lot of that will transfer to this car."
The new Chervolet SS is derived from the Australian built Holden Commodore, a rear-wheel drive car with a V8 engine. Gordon considers it a bit of a throwback, but he's glad the new race car incorporates the rear-wheel drive aspect.
"I'm excited that it's a V8 with rear-wheel drive," Gordon said. "These days, if you look at where things are going manufacturer-wise, it's kind of getting away from that, but I think that the race fans -- they like that -- and the car enthusiasts -- they like that. I applaud them for putting that into this car."
A LONG WAIT
It took Roger Penske 28 years to win the trophy he originally proposed to tire maker Goodyear.
One of the highlights of Champion's Week is the presentation of a 1:12 scale gold car to the Sprint Cup champion. That's a tradition Penske established long ago on the IndyCar side of Penske Racing and one he suggested to Goodyear for their Sprint Cup program back in 1984.
"I'd been with Goodyear as a tire distributor for many, many years, and Bob Murcer was the president, and he said, ‘All the drivers get up and say ‘I'd have finished better, but I blowed a tire,' and I don't know what to do," Penske recalled after the Myers Brothers ceremony. "I had gotten a fellow outside of Toledo (Mike Dunlap) that had done these gold cars for us when we won Indy.
"I said, ‘Why don't you have him build a gold car, and you give that to the drivers, and they'll talk awful good about Goodyear in the future.' He thought that was a good idea. We had one made for him, and ever since, it's been the trophy given to the (champion) driver."
This year, for the first time, it goes to a Penske driver -- Brad Keselowski.
EARNHARDT REGRETS HIDING INJURY
In part, the 2012 Cup season will be remembered for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s exit from the No. 88 Chevrolet because of a concussion.
In retrospect, Earnhardt regrets not taking a hiatus from competition sooner than he did.
On Aug. 29, during a tire test at Kansas, Earnhardt sustained a concussion in a hard crash. He knew he was hurt but decided to keep the severity of his injury to himself.
A subsequent crash at Talladega caused a second concussion and forced Earnhardt from the car for two races.
"I think I should have taken the first concussion more seriously," Earnhardt said Thursday, after being honored as the sport's most popular driver for the 10th straight year. "I think I should have been smarter about it the first time, when we crashed at Kansas. I didn't feel good, and I started getting nauseous after that.
"I knew right then, for damn sure, that I had a really bad concussion. I wish I would have taken that more seriously. I don't know if it would have changed anything. It's a tough decision to make, going into the Chase. I'd dealt with concussions before, and I thought that I'd just drive through it, and it's be over in a couple of weeks…
"But I wasn't lucky enough to avoid another accident, so I feel foolish in that regard, that I was careless."
Missing two races cost Earnhardt any possibility of winning his first championship and dropped him to 12th in the final standings.