Wednesday's highlights from the NASCAR media tour in Concord, N.C., and beyond:
The champ holding court: twitter.com/TerryBlountESP…— Terry Blount (@TerryBlountESPN) January 24, 2013
Blaney was asked where he was a year ago and Brad jumps in with: "Chuck E Cheese." Joey tells Ryan those jokes eventually go away.— NASCARESPN (@NASCARESPN) January 24, 2013
Town of Mooresvillehonors Penske Racing with key to the city. OK, it's not a city. But key to small town sounds strange. #sprintmediatour— David Newton(@DNewtonespn) January 24, 2013
Hendrick stop successful. Swim lessons. Kids fed. Youngest down. Off to Penske I go for sit-down interview w/ @keselowski. Life moves fast.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) January 23, 2013
Kahne's 'do talk of the tour
The biggest story out of Hendrick Motorsports on Wednesday wasn't that owner Rick Hendrick predicted all four of his Sprint Cup drivers could win the championship or that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has 13 unsponsored races for 2013.
It was Kasey Kahne's haircut.
OK, maybe that wasn't the biggest story out of HMS on Day 3 of the Sprint Media Tour, but it certainly got the most attention on my Twitter account and stirred up the most conversation.
"I thought he had a hairpiece on," Hendrick said with a laugh. "He looked like an old guy with a real bad rug."
The haircut, called a fade -- or high fade in Kahne's case -- resembles Vanilla Ice circa 1990. Or as Johnson said, the lead singer from the hip-hop band Kid 'n Play. He called it a boy band, but we'll pretend that didn't happen.
"It's an interesting one," Johnson said diplomatically.
Kahne, one of the shyest drivers in NASCAR, said the haircut was inspired while watching the Los Angeles Lakers during the holidays.
"Whenever [Steve] Nash came back," he said of the Lakers' guard with a blushing smile. "I like his haircut."
Crew chief Kenny Francis gave his driver props for trying.
"It's cool as hell," he said with a sheepish grin. "He does something unique every year."
Francis paused, then continued, "But I wouldn't do it."
-- David Newton
High praise for Danica
"She's a really cool person and I have a lot of respect for her," Earnhardt said Wednesday. "I saw her just yesterday. I enjoy being around her."
Patrick finished 10th in the 2012 Nationwide Series standings (her first full season in NASCAR) while driving for Earnhardt's team.
Now she moves up to Cup full time for Stewart-Haas Racing. Earnhardt believes success will come for Patrick.
"It's just a matter of time until she's competitive on a regular basis," Earnhardt said. "She has certain things she needs to work on and she knows that. She's willing to put in the work. She is doing whatever it takes to be productive and to help speed up the process.
"She understood coming in how steep the learning curve was. She's very open-minded and takes direction well from everyone around her. She's showing signs of progression and speed on the track. I'm excited about what she can accomplish and I support her 100 percent."
-- Terry Blount
Chase is on
Take a wild guess which Hendrick Motorsports driver Rick Hendrick praised the most in Wednesday's media session? If you said anyone of his four Sprint Cup drivers, you'd be wrong.
The correct answer is 17-year-old Chase Elliott, the son of former Cup champion Bill Elliott. The teenage phenom will drive nine Camping World Truck Series events this season, along with five ARCA races, as a developmental driver for Hendrick.
"He's destined to be a star in this sport," Hendrick said of the younger Elliott. "If I had to list all the things I would like for a driver to have on the track and off the track, he's got all of them."
Chase's first race is the CWTS event at Martinsville on April 6. He also will compete in the Truck race at Rockingham eight days later.
Chase was only 15 when he signed a three-year deal with Hendrick in 2011. He already has 13 late-model victories and 39 top-10s.
"People were asking me if I had seen Chase race," Hendrick said. "The last time I had seen him, Cindy [Elliott, Chase's mom] was holding him in her arms. When I saw him racing later and saw how polished he was, I thought, 'This kid can be the future of our company.'
"I said I wasn't going to do anymore driver development, but I think Chase is a special kid. He's been tutored by one of the very best that's ever driven these cars in Bill. That got him on the right path. He's mature beyond his years."
-- Terry Blount
Pressure? What pressure?
So is Bayne feeling the pressure to make it three in a row for the team?
"It's not a lot of pressure since I've been in the shop and seen how they've done it," Bayne said. "It's not magic. It's how well they work together.
"So that takes all the pressure off, because I know those guys are giving me the best race cars I possibly can have. They make great calls in the pit box, so now it's up to me, and I think I have the ability to do it."
-- Terry Blount
Hendrick on 2012: "We feel like we fumbled the ball in the closing minutes of the game. We want to get back to the Super Bowl."— Terry Blount (@TerryBlountESPN) January 23, 2013
Yeah, I'd say there's a winning tradition here.lockerz.com/s/278895371— Mike Massaro (@MikeMassaroESPN) January 23, 2013
Niners, of course
Elliott Sadler is a big NFL fan. So who's he picking for the Super Bowl: San Francisco or Baltimore?
"The 49ers," he said. "They have an amazing offensive line. It's very big and very agile. And Colin Kaepernick right now is playing at a level that few quarterbacks can play at.
"I listened to Jaws, Ron Jaworski [on ESPN], and he said Kaepernick may be the most athletic quarterback ever to play in the Super Bowl. That says a lot from a guy who played in the Super Bowl."
Sadler was asked if Jaworski admitted he was the least athletic quarterback to play in the Super Bowl.
Sadler laughed and said: "I think they bleeped out that part."
Sadler, the runner-up to the Nationwide title last season while driving for Richard Childress Racing, said he couldn't be happier about his move this season to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing and compete for the title again.
"I'm in a really good place right now," Sadler said. "This is as comfortable as I've felt in a long time, as a person and as a driver. I really feel welcome at Gibbs and feel like I'm part of the family. I think I've found a home that can last a long time."
-- Terry Blount
Put a 3 on this car and what would it remind you of? And it races under the Earnhardt name. Pretty cool. twitter.com/TerryBlountESP…— Terry Blount (@TerryBlountESPN) January 23, 2013
Cessna joins the party
These are tough times for sponsorship in NASCAR, but Chip Ganassi proves it's still possible to be a new major sponsor to the sport.
At the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing stop to start Day 3 of the media tour, EGR unveiled the No. 1. Cessna Chevy that Jamie McMurray will drive this season.
Cessna replaces Bass Pro Shops, which moved to Tony Stewart's car at Stewart-Haas Racing.
"It truly feels special for me to bring a new sponsor to NASCAR," Ganassi said. "Cessna will be displayed across all our racing platforms. It means a lot that Cessna believes in us."
EGR struggled the past two seasons, but clearly Ganassi is doing something right in the marketing department.
He said the organization has only four races to sell this season on its two cars, driven by McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Target, the primary sponsor on Montoya's No. 42 Chevy and two of Ganassi's Indy cars, has been with Ganassi for more than 20 years.
The unveiling of the new Cessna Cup car came in a hangar at Concord Airport. The car was displayed next to a Cessna Citation X jet and a Bell helicopter.
The car has a sleek, black design. Put a 3 on it and the Chevy would remind many fans of a legendary car that also was associated with the Earnhardt name.
-- Terry Blount
No bull's-eye here
Hopefully, Austin Dillon is better at driving stock cars than he is playing darts.
With help from ESPN's Mike Massaro, I took the grandson of Richard Childress Racing down during Tuesday night's Sprint Media Tour fun 'n' games night promoting the Nationwide Series.
It was a festive evening of darts, pingpong, Pop-A-Shot and Golden Tee.
But the real fun everyone wanted to talk about was the upcoming season. It has the potential of being one of the most competitive the series has seen in a long time.
The field is deep. More drivers -- including former Nationwide champion Brian Vickers and two-time series runner-up Elliott Sadler at Joe Gibbs Racing, Regan Smith at JR Motorsports, Sam Hornish Jr. at Penske Racing, Trevor Bayne and former X Games star Travis Pastrana at Roush Fenway Racing, Parker Kligerman at Kyle Busch Motorsports and even Dillon at RCR -- have a legitimate chance to win the title than we've seen the past 10 years.
You easily could see this group win more races than the Sprint Cup regulars who dip into the second-tier series.
"You look at the Nationwide Series this year, there's nothing easy,'' said Smith, the 2008 Cup rookie of the year who moved back to the series after losing his Cup ride at Furniture Row. "This could be as competitive as the Cup races when it's all said and done. It could be knockdown, drag-out wars.
"That's why we're all so pumped up about the season. You look at the list, this is the Nationwide Series I remember when I was a kid. When I was 16, 17, 18 breaking into the series and you showed up and there's 50 cars and of those 50 cars it was tough to make races because it was such a good series. Now it's getting back to that.''
That's a good thing after years of watching Cup drivers come down and dominate -- at least in terms of wins.
"I really think you're going to see a microcosm of what the sport is going to look like in 10 or 15 years,'' Kligerman said. "The kids that are successful this year are the kids who are going to be successful in Cup one day.''
You could feel the excitement.
Darts for Dillon aside, that is.
-- David Newton