NASCAR media tour: Day 2

Tuesday's highlights from the NASCAR media tour in Charlotte, N.C., and beyond:

Concussion discussion

Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought a lot of attention to concussions last season when he sat out two Chase races after sustaining his second concussion in six weeks.

Earnhardt
Earnhardt

Is NASCAR looking to change policies or add baseline testing -- a way of measuring whether a driver has suffered brain damage -- heading into 2013?

Not yet.

"Over the years, we've made great strides in our relationships with the drivers in regards to their medical posture or situations,'' NASCAR president Mike Helton said Tuesday. "With the liaison program that Steve O'Donnell puts in play and modifies every year, we've grown in that relationship. So we've got confidence in our current program, certainly.

"Having said that, I think Dale Earnhardt's event last year highlighted to a lot of folks, including the garage area, the other drivers, the seriousness that you should pay attention to when it comes to your own health as a driver so that you've got a pretty good life afterwards.

"Our most current issue is to take what we've learned from Dale's experience and make sure the other drivers know what's out there to collect data and for them to be in practice of, and then it's an opportunity for us to look at what we might institute going forward.''

-- David Newton

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Shake-up in 2014 Cup schedule?

Could we see a shake-up in the 2014 Sprint Cup schedule, particularly as it pertains to the 10-race Chase?

NASCAR executive Steve O'Donnell says the venues will remain "virtually the same.'' He didn't rule out moving a few races around to give the Chase a different look.

"It's too early to say,'' O'Donnell said.

Some fans have expressed a desire to replace at least one of the five 1.5-mile tracks with a road course -- which the Chase never has had -- or a short track. Some have expressed a desire to simply give tracks that haven't hosted a Chase event a chance.

Here's a look at the Chase I'd like to see: Daytona, Bristol, Montreal, Kansas, Talladega, Martinsville, Darlington, Phoenix, Charlotte and Homestead.

What would you like to see?

-- David Newton

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Rainout insurance

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage is taking a lead in the industry by offering fans what amounts to rainout insurance.

It works this way: If a race is postponed to another day due to weather, and if the holder of the ticket can't make the makeup date, he can trade in the value of that ticket to another event at the track within a calendar year.

It's time for other tracks to get on this program.

-- David Newton

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RIP, COT

The new Gen-6 car this season is NASCAR's attempt to take a step back to its roots and make the race car look more like the production models.

NASCAR gradually got away from that idea over the past two decades with cars that went to a common template for the bodies. NASCAR chairman Brian France was asked Tuesday if that trend hurt NASCAR.

"I think it did," France said. "We certainly didn't intend to do that. Our intent was to make the racing better and cut costs. Safety was a factor, as well. But it's fair to say that in doing those things, we weren't as in-step with the manufacturers as we are today. We got away from some of the things that worked well for us, like the manufacturers' rivalries."

For most fans, there is no love lost with the end of the Gen-5 model, better known as the Car of Tomorrow. But NASCAR president Mike Helton said the COT, which is widely viewed as the safest race car ever made, has a meaningful place in the sport's evolution.

"We shouldn't stick a dagger in the Gen-5 program and just say we're glad it's gone," Helton said. "That era created a lot of great moments for NASCAR, like the last two championships. It also led to the collaborative effort that we use now to operate the sport.

"And it also served very well in an era when the car manufacturers were struggling with their businesses and we weren't a front-burner topic for them. We had a car that could survive that era. So there were a lot of positives to the Gen-5 era that we shouldn't overlook."

-- Terry Blount
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Drive for Diversity

During the NASCAR Hall of Fame presentation, NASCAR formally introduced its seven Drive for Diversity drivers for 2013.

The group includes two women (Mackena Bell of Carson City, Nev., and Annabeth Barnes of Hiddenite, N.C.), two African-Americans (Ryan Gifford or Winchester, Tenn., and Devon Amos of Rio Rancho, N.M.) and three Hispanics (Jack Madrid of San Clemente, Calif., Bryan Ortiz of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and Daniel Suarez of Monterrey, Mexico).

Ortiz and Gifford will return to the NASCAR K & N Pro Series East. Ortiz finished second to teammate Kyle Larson in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year race last season.

They are joined by Suarez and Bell. Suarez is coming off a third-place finish in Mexico's NASCAR Toyota Series. Barnes and Madrid will race Late Models for Rev Racing. Amos will compete for the team's Legends program.

-- Terry Blount

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Full speed ahead for Vickers

Who's the busiest driver during the Sprint Media Tour?

Brian Vickers, hands down.

Vickers is scheduled for three appearances with two organizations during the four-day event. His first was Tuesday morning with Michael Waltrip Racing, where he will split time in the No. 55 Aaron's Toyota with Mark Martin again this season.

Vickers
Vickers

Vickers then will appear at Tuesday night's Nationwide Series event for Joe Gibbs Racing, where he will drive a full season in the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota.

He'll appear again on Thursday at JGR as the driver of the No. 20.

That's a lot of stops and a lot of different shirts and appearances, considering most drivers would just as soon skip the tour entirely.

"How lucky am I?'' Vickers said with a smile.

Actually, very. Vickers overcame a serious blood-clot condition in 2010, when he was driving for Red Bull Racing. When that organization shut down after the 2011 season, he was left without a ride for 2012.

He didn't have the MWR part-time ride last year until March.

So to have two teams and three appearances this week really is a good thing.

And if all goes well, he'll have a full-time ride in the MWR 55 next season to talk about.

-- David Newton
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Martin's swan song?

Mark Martin said Tuesday he doesn't plan to drive the No. 55 Toyota after this season.

"My goal is to make this car one of the most wanted rides in NASCAR for 2014," Martin said Tuesday. "I want to help [crew chief] Rodney Childers get there and see him race for a championship."

Martin
Martin

Martin still can race for a championship this year at age 54 -- an owner's championship. He is driving 25 of 36 Cup events this year, sharing the ride again this season with Brian Vickers and team owner Michael Waltrip.

But Martin wouldn't say if his driving career would end after this season.

"It's way too early to speculate on that," Martin said. "I really enjoy working at Michael Waltrip Racing. I'll be around no matter what. But I want to do everything I can to get this team in position to race for a [driver's] championship in 2014."

Martin also would not speculate on who might drive the car in 2014, but Vickers is an obvious candidate.

-- Terry Blount
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NASCAR's iron man

The Mark Martin Training Facility. That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

The title isn't official, but it's possible Michael Waltrip Racing will name its new state-of-the-art gym after the man who designs it.

Martin is taking the lead role in helping his boss build a gym and workout facility that will rival any in NASCAR.

"We just got final approval on the project six days ago," Martin said Tuesday. "This has been an eight-month crusade to get the green light on the building.

"But the strength staff and coaching staff sent me an equipment list I received this morning. So now we have a layout of things, but to build the premier program in NASCAR, it doesn't happen in six months. It's a work in progress to make this program bigger, better and stronger."

Martin is one of the most physically fit 54-year-old men on the planet. Fitness training and a proper diet have been a big part of his life for more than 25 years. So who better to design a gym and a program to help everyone at MWR stay as fit as possible?

As for the naming rights, Martin said: "We're discussing it. We'll see what happens."

-- Terry Blount
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