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2017 NASCAR: Wednesday Media Tour Notebook
Posted by: ASkyler on Jan 25, 2017 - 06:19 PM
Feature Articles
2017 NASCAR: Wednesday Media Tour Notebook

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By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. is under pressure this season—and not just the sort of natural butterflies a driver feels when he suits up and climbs into the cockpit before a race.

Wallace is racing in the face of unknowns, trusting that a strong performance in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford will prolong his tenure in the car.

A graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and the first African-American driver since 1963 to win a race in one of NASCAR’s national series, Wallace has sponsorship from defense company Leidos for the first six races of the season, and he’s hoping for more.


“We’re in kind of a little tight spot here,” Wallace said on Wednesday during the NASCAR Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We’re trying to figure out the rest of the game plan, but our goal is to be at Homestead for the season finale and win the XFINITY Series championship.

“We just have to overcome some obstacles, get over a couple hurdles to get to that point, but we will be at Daytona. We’ve still got the same mind-set of going in to win every race, do the best we can each and every weekend and put ourselves in the right position, especially with this new (race structure and points) format. I’m going to really enjoy it.”

Wallace finished seventh in the 2015 XFINITY standings but slipped to 11th last year, even though he qualified for the inaugural playoff in that series. Wallace expects to raise the level of his performance this season—in part because he has to.

“Coming into this pre-season right now a lot of changes have been made, a lot of personnel changes, a lot of key people have been moved around,” Wallace said. “I still have Seth (Barbour), my crew chief, behind me.

“We’ve reformatted our team a little bit, and I think we have a great team going into this season. Like I said earlier, I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity we have.”

Four years into his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne is still looking for the sorts of results both he and team owner Rick Hendrick expected when Kahne signed on with the organization in 2010—and then waited a year to take the seat of the No. 5 Chevrolet.

Kahne hasn’t won a race since he triumphed at Atlanta on Aug. 31, 2014. In each of the last three seasons, he has posted three top-five finishes compared with 23 in his first two years with Hendrick combined (2012-2013).

Nevertheless, the gains the entire organization made in the speed of its cars has Kahne in an upbeat mood as the 2017 season approaches. After all, teammate Jimmie Johnson won last year’s championship.

“I think it’s more optimism and just feeling good about where we went last year,” Kahne said. “Where we started—consistent 18th to 20th—was not anything that we wanted, and after the last 12 to 14 races, we were eighth to 10th, so that jump, that consistency that we showed throughout the whole season for the speed of the car I thought was good.

“We’re working hard to make another jump, because eighth to 10th isn’t where we want to be either. Definitely, a lot of progress from where we were the first half of (last) season to where we ended; we can only build on that. We know where we made those gains as a company and as a team, and we will just get better from there.”

In a late-season move in early November, Richard Childress Racing hired veteran Matt Borland as crew chief of the No. 27 Chevrolet driven by Matt Borland.

Though Borland had worked extensively with Menard’s teammate, Ryan Newman, dating to Newman’s days at Team Penske, Menard and Borland didn’t know each other, but that’s a situation both driver and crew chief have been working hard to correct.

“Every time Matt and I spend time together, I get more impressed with him,” Menard said. “We’ve spent quite a bit of time together in the offseason, more so than a normal driver-crew chief relationship, I think, just because we don’t know each other. We made an effort from early November to current to just talk all the time, get lunch, get breakfast, do walk-throughs at the shop.

“He has a particular way about asking questions. He knows the answer, but he’s going to ask you the question to see how you perceive it, and he’s always pushing you to think outside the box a little bit. I’m really looking forward to working with him. We have a really good team built. He’s brought some new guys, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better throughout the year. I’m looking forward to good things.”

With Borland on the pit box, Menard is looking for improvement this season. In 2016, for the first since 2009, he failed to post a top five in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Menard’s only victory in the series came in the 2011 Brickyard 400.

SAE International will honor two NASCAR safety experts with the Ralph H. Isbrandt Automotive Safety Engineering Award.

John Patalak, senior director of safety engineering, NASCAR Research and Development; and Tom Gideon, recently retired senior director of safety engineering, NASCAR Research Development and Safety, will be honored for their SAE International technical paper, “Development and Implementation of a Quasi-Static Test for Seat Integrated Seat Belt Restraint System Anchorages.”

The two will receive their awards during the SAE 2017 Government/Industry Meeting, Jan. 25-27, in Washington, D.C.

Patalak’s work at NASCAR includes researching, developing and approving driver and vehicle safety systems and investigating vehicle crashworthiness and occupant protection issues. Prior to NASCAR, he worked for an engineering consulting firm specializing in vehicle crashworthiness and occupant protection.

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