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As a Tony Stewart fan, I went into the 2011 Sprint Cup chase extremely pessimistic.  After all, Tony Stewart went into the chase saying he thought the team was wasting a chase berth with the way they had been performing.  Of course we all know what happened; Tony Stewart went on a tear- won FIVE of the ten Chase races (something that had NEVER been done before)  including the season closer at Homestead-Miami, thus winning the Chase by TIEBREAKER.  It was both exhilarating and stressful to be a Tony Stewart fan towards the end of the 2011 chase.  I was AT the Phoenix race and spent most of the race perched on the patio of the media center- watching the race through my fingers.  I don’t even remember much about the Homestead race- except that I was so stoked that I promised my family that if Tony won the championship I would treat them to dinner at the Outback. Guess you all know what I had for dinner that night.  What made the chase so great last year- especially during Homestead was that it was so CLOSE- and to win it Tony Stewart HAD TO WIN THE RACE- a second place wouldn’t cut it.

CHICAGO, IL- SEPTEMBER 12: (L – R) Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Martin Truex Jr, Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Clint Boyer, Denny Hamlin, Kaey Kahne and Tony Stewart pose in front of “The Bean” as part of NASCAR Chase Media Day and NASCAR Contenders Live on September 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. They are the twelve drivers competing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. (Photo Credit: David Banks/Getty Images North America)

This year however, I feel EXCITEMENT going into the chase because this year NASCAR’s Chase for the 2012 Sprint Series Cup could be brought home by ANY of the 12 drivers. I personally do not count ANYONE out.  Sure Tony’s the reigning champion and I would LOVE to see him become a FOUR time champion. Denny Hamlin goes in to the Chase seeded first and his crew chief Darian Grubb no doubt feels he has a point to prove. But I can’t count out Jimmie Johnson- he’s won five and is looking hard for 6. With FOUR of the 12 cars being Hendrick Motorsports cars that means mathematically (and I am NOT good at math people) there is a 1/3 chance that winner could be a Hendrick car- and Junior has been looking strong and CONSISTENT all season. And Jeff Gordon has been driving like a maniac (in a good way) these last few races.  And Kasey’s had some bad luck but pretty much had that first Wild Card spot in the bag in Richmond. Kenseth no doubt would like to leave the 17 team with a Championship before jumping over to Joe Gibbs Racing next season.  Harvick is tenacious and they didn’t give him the nickname THE CLOSER for anything.  Then we have dark horses like Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr and Clint Bowyer who have also been RIGHT there all season long.  And I would NEVER ever ever count out Brad Keselowski. In my mind- right before we go into the first race of the Chase it is ANYONE’s trophy right now.

CHICAGO, IL- SEPTEMBER 12: Front row L-R The Next 9 drivers Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Cameron Hayley, Dylan Kwasniewski, Daniel Suarez, Sergio Pena, Kyle Larson, Darrell Wallace and Corey LaJoie, back row Eleven of the NASCAR Chase drivers L-R Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. at a party as part of NASCAR Chase Media Day and NASCAR Contenders Live on September 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo Credit: David Banks/Getty Images North America)

As a NASCAR fan, the fact that it is anyone’s championship right now is EXCITING. Of course I still want Tony Stewart to win it!

CHICAGO, IL- SEPTEMBER 12: Tony Stewart (C) speaks with young drivers who are from the Next 9 at a party as part of NASCAR Chase Media Day and NASCAR Contenders Live on September 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo Credit: David Banks/Getty Images North America)

Who do YOU think will win it all?

I was wondering about what kind of racing the “new” new Bristol would produce. I wondered about how the grinding would effect the track and the grooves.  I was working when practice was happening on Friday so didn’t really even get to see any cars on the track.  I had no idea what to expect. During pre-race some drivers kept stating that it would be hard to pass. That is never any fun to watch- so I honestly worried that the race would be terribly boring. Qualifying had been rained out so Tony started 21st, that being his position in first practice.

Tony's Friday Media Availability

Tony Stewart addressed the media on Friday at Bristol. (Photo Credit: The Official Tony Stewart Facebook Page- click the picture to be taken to the original)

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(Editor’s Note: Yesterday longtime BadGroove reader Kevin M. Boots shared his experience at Watkins Glen on Friday and Saturday.  As promised yesterday here is the conclusion- all about Sunday.  Again I just want to thank Kevin for sharing his experiences and his pictures from the track at Watkins Glen! – Amy)

Sunday, I drove up to the track earlier than I did Saturday. I didn’t park in the infield. I drove to my usually spot near Gate 5. I took my little secret route, “the back way” to the track. There is never any traffic on this road, there is never any traffic getting to this road after you get off the hill. There is a barn on a 90 degree corner along this back way in that says “Bat Cave this way” It makes me laugh every time I see it. (more…)

Here is this week’s list of recommended NASCAR reads that I liked and thought you might enjoy:

Nationwide’s Eric McClure, his family, starting over a year after tornado- Dustin Long for Sports Illustrated

Kevin Harvick Gives Update on Josh Jones, Better Known As Twitters @Mother_Function- Jeff Gluck for SBNation.com

Tony Stewart Wins Denny Hamlin’s Charity Race- Hank Kurz, Jr For AP/YahooNews!

Paul Menard Crewman Goes After Hendrick Team Member After Pit Road Incident- Bob Pockrass for Sporting News

Stewart Not Happy With NASCAR, Pit Crew at Richmond- Jon Gunn for Sporting News

Hendrick Motorsports Still Searching For Elusive 200th Win- Dustin Long for Athlon Sports.

Scott Speed Interview (12 Questions)- Jeff Gluck for SBNation.com

The Daly Planet: Day Two: The TV Bait And Switch- The Daly Planet Editor

Gratuitous Tony Stewart Picture:

Tony Stewart at Richmond- (photo credit: Tony Stewart Official Facebook Page- click picture to be taken to original)

A Softer Side Of Smoke- Charlie Leffler for The Mechanicsville Local

Kyle Petty Not Concerned About Direction Of Victory Junction Gang Camp After Removal of Wife Patti- Bob Pockrass for Sporting News

Jimmie Johnson Repeats As ‘America’s Most Influential Athlete”- Jeff Gluck for SBNation.com

NASCAR Needs More Wrecks and Here’s How It Can Do It- Jeff Owens for SportingNews.com

Birds Of A Feather- Joe Menzer for NASCAR.com

12 Questions with Martin Truex Jr- Jeff Gluck for SBNation.com

Gratuitous Tony Stewart Pictures:

The expression says it all:

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, stands in the garage are during practice for the NASACAR Sprint Cup Series 400 at Kansas Speedway. (Photo Credit: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images North America)

Tony Stewart changing a fan's oil in Texas. (Photo Credit: Mobil 1 Facebook Page)

By now most, if not all, race fans know that NASCAR’s sanctioning body parked driver Kyle Busch all weekend for an incident involving Ron Hornaday Jr. during the Camping World Truck series race on Friday night.  Instead Denny Hamlin piloted the Nationwide race car Kyle was suppose to run on Saturday and Michael McDowell drove the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing car in today’s Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Busch’s stead.

I don’t often watch the truck series races and that was the case this past Friday night. I only heard about the dust-up after the face. I’ve seen the replays multiple times. I’ve heard Kyle’s post race words and read his open letter of apology.  I’ve listened to Mike Helton’s explanation of the penatly. I’ve listen to Coach Gibbs. I’ve read parts of the letter from sponsor Mars. I’ve listened to commentators and drivers and fans.

I do realize that Ron Hornaday Jr is/was running for a championship. So was Matt Kenseth at Martinsville when Vickers repeatedly wrecked him last weekend. NASCAR took no action there- after all isnt it “boys have at it?” Is the idea not that the drivers are to police themselves? I also realize that Kyle did wreck Hornaday intentionally under a caution. A caution that had just come out and there were no safety vehicles in their vacinity.

I am not saying that Kyle didn’t take it too far. He did, afterall, wreck a championship contender intentionally under a caution.  NASCAR should not look the other way and I am not suggesting that they do.  Parking the truck for the remainder of the race was a good start. Points and monteary fines for Kyle Busch and Kyle Busch Motorsports should probably follow.  My big issue is parking Busch for the Sprint Cup race.  At the time of the incident Kyle was not driving for Joe Gibbs racing during the truck race.  It’s no different then when Tony stewart or Kasey Kahne go racing for their own dirt teams on friday nights.  Their actions at those tracks should not effect their current sprint cup rides much in the same way that Kyle’s incident in the truck series should not effect his Sprint Cup ride. Sure penalize and fine the everloving hell out of Kyle Busch and KBM but not JGR. This is the same stand that I took when Kyle got in trouble for his excessive speeding in North Carolina earlier this year. That had nothing to do with Joe Gibbs Racing either.

I admit I am surprised that according to the ESPN pre-race pole that 55 percent of those polled think that Kyle Busch should be let go by Joe Gibbs racing. I wholeheartedly disagree with that, which should not be a surprise.  I have a feeling that many of the NASCAR fans voting for the pro-firing must be the Kyle Busch haters. You know the ones. The booers. The same fans who write things like Kyle Busch Crash HERE X on the Safer Barrier by the start-finish lines at the tracks. The same fans who boo his crew as they push their car onto the qualifying grid. The same fans who harassed his wife on twitter- which is so beyond not cool to me.  It’s one thing to use social networking to call out a driver for their actions – it’s a completely other thing to call out or harass their spouse, girlfriend, or other family member or loved one.  That is not cool at alll.

Taking Kyle out of the race effectively ruined any remote chance at a decent chase finish. He is now mathematically eliminated from the chase. It also pretty much ruined the race at Texas Motor Speedway for both Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano- his teammates. They spend the weekend sharing notes on their cars and handling. Kyle is very obviously a BIG part of that looking at the finishes by both Hamlin and Logano.  Joe Gibbs Racing has already suffered enough for Kyle Busch’s actions while racing for Kyle Busch Motorsports. I don’t think any further action is necessitated by NASCAR or any of the JGR sponsors.  I keep hearing the voice of Kyle Busch singing in the newest Toyota commercial “Everybody wants a second chance.”

I work Monday- Friday, 8:00am – 5:00pm so I was a wee bit disappointed that Watkin’s Glen was rained out.  Now it’s not to say that I wasn’t tempted to call in to watch the race.  Sure I was tempted, but it is our busiest times of the year right now at work plus I kinda like getting paid and “rain delayus to next dayus- aka race related illness” are not considered appropriate uses of sick leave – of that I am almost certain. So I watched the first several laps on TV until 7:30am (remember I am a west coast fan) when I begrudgingly got in my car mumbling the whole time about wanting to watch the race and drove my butt to work where I wouldn’t be able to watch the race.

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, leads Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, during Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images North America)

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Instead of complain about the run Tony had- I thought I would focus on the end result. He may have had an ill-handling car and he may have started back in 31st- but he finished ninth- I will take a top ten finish any day! Tony finished 9th and is now 10th in Sprint Cup Standings.

Here are some visual goodies from the Richmond Weekend:

Tony also took part in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown- racing the Prelude To The Dream Late Model Chevy on Thursday evening:

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Prelude To The Dream Chevrolet, makes a pit stop during the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond International Raceway on April 28, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images North America)

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents The Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 29, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images North America)

The Fox pre-race show featured a Darrel Waltrip interview with Tony and promised more of the interview online at the FoxSport’s NASCAR page. Well I found that little tidbit for you and embedded it here so you don’t have to worry about missing the rest of the interview with DW:

I think they left some of the best parts of the interview for the online portion!

Notes about Richmond:

  • I LOVE the looks of the Mobil 1 paint scheme…especially the firesuit…but I have to say that it’s hard for me to find that car on the track! It’s much easier for me to find that Office Depot red machine!
  • I think Fox actually did a decent job covering what was going on with this race. I didn’t feel like things were happening during commercials…and when things did happen they seemed to come right out of commercial break to show us.
  • I know Misty agrees with me- but that race was one that seemed a bit too long. What do you think?
  • I kind of wanted to see Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya go nose to nose a little bit after the race…after all isn’t that what “have at it boys” is all about?

Next week:  Darlington’s Southern 500 on SATURDAY night