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Team owner Roger Penske preached about a cooperative effort from competitors and NASCAR.
"We've got to be sure we do this together, build this back up, because we need the TV ratings up, we need more people in the stands and I think we need better competition," he said. "I think the folks at NASCAR realize that."
There's more to this season, though, then just fixing problems.
The sport is still rife with competition storylines, starting with Jimmie Johnson's bid to extend his historical roll to a fifth consecutive Cup title. He was the media's 2010 preseason pick to win the championship -- the first time during his run he's not been overlooked in favor of another driver.
"I'm thinking it my be a curse," he laughed. "We'll see how it turns out."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, will try to bounce back from a horrendous season that rattled his confidence. If Earnhardt succeeds, it will only strengthen an organization that Rick Hendrick has established as the very best in NASCAR.
All eyes will be on Hamlin, the trendy pick to upend Johnson based on a torrid close to last season. But he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee playing basketball two weeks ago, and a decision to postpone surgery until after the season has some questioning whether he'll still be a contender.
Then there's his nemesis, Brad Keselowski. The two openly feuded over the final three months of last season over incidents in the Nationwide Series. Hired by Penske for a full-time Cup ride this season, the controversial Keselowski will now be racing every week against Hamlin -- and all the other drivers he's annoyed.
He's not concerned.
"It's so hard to come into this sport and run well when you're worried about making everyone else happy," Keselowski said. "I just don't see how you can do that because in competitive sports, the only time your competitors are happy with you is when they're beating you."
And don't forget Danica Patrick.
The enormously popular IndyCar driver will begin her transition into NASCAR via the second-tier Nationwide Series driving a car owned by Hendrick and Earnhardt. She'll make her stock-car debut Saturday in the ARCA race, and has not fully decided on whether or not she'll run next week's Nationwide race at Daytona.
But the crowd of reporters and photographers surrounding her at Thursday's media day was at least three-deep, and the buzz about her arrival has been a tremendous boost to NASCAR at a time it clearly needs some positive press.
"You'll have people come in and watch a race that would never watch a NASCAR race in their life just because she's there," said defending Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth. "It's good for all of us, and NASCAR, to get some new people to come in and watch the sport.
"Hopefully, they'll like what they see and want to come back."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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