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The Thursday of NASCAR Champions Week in Vegas was a crazy, chaotic day that had us running all over town…literally.  There was the luncheon at the Bellagio (which is a beautiful hotel by the way)…where Dale Earnhardt Jr won his umpteenth favorite driver award…and more importantly- Tony Stewart won the 2010 Home Depot Humanitarian of the Year award (and yes I nearly squealed like a school girl when I found out).

Then it was the Victory Lap and Burnouts down the Las Vegas Strip.  Having attended this last year- Misty and I had the perfect spot for viewing (and pictures and video) the burnouts.  Also? This year rocked because all top 12 drivers did burn outs- last year just Jimmie burned out- the rest just squirreled around the turn! Anyway, we staked out our spot early. Ok, really early, because we didn’t want to worry about it getting usurped.  The weather this year was warmer than last year which was great because by the time they burned out last year I was frozen solid into a Popsicle.  We were so cold that by the end of it last year we were both shaking uncontrollably. This year we were prepared with layers but didn’t need to worry.  So without further ado…some pictures:

Jimmie Johnson burnout on the Las Vegas Strip for the Champions Victory Lap celebration.

Denny lights them up on Las Vegas Blvd.

Smoke burns some rubber on Las Vegas Blvd.

Kyle burns out on the Las Vegas Strip.

Jeff Gordon takes his turn laying some rubber on the Las Vegas Strip.

Clint Bowyer's Las Vegas burnout.

(All photos of the burnouts are credited to ME!)

And Misty with her arms of steel took this great video of the awesome burnouts:

(Video credit: Misty Bethany who is now the chief videographer for badgroove.com)

It’s a family affair…NASCAR is… and this was never more apparent to me than at this year’s Champions Week  Fan Fest at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  The gates opened at 10 a.m.  for fans to mingle in the Neon Garage in anticipation of the driver’s appearances that afternoon.  Fans of all ages, just like the Christmas song says, “from ages 2-92”, were there and they were ready to see the Chasers. 

There were some activities and sights to entertain the fans before the afternoon’s main event, but most began lining up alongside the red carpet almost immediately, looking to get an autograph or a picture of their favorite Chase driver. 

Nothing like standing in the hot sun, elbow to elbow with complete strangers to create some camaraderie and friendship.  NASCAR fans are a pretty friendly and gregarious group of people and when you are shoulder to shoulder together for hours on end you tend to get pretty close, pretty fast sharing stories to pass the time and take your mind off of how bad your feet hurt, and how much longer before the boys arrive.

This kind of quick camaraderie and sense of belonging among the fans didn’t surprise me.  After all what NASCAR fan hasn’t witnessed the same thing in any parking lot and track on the circuit, but what did surprise me was how that sense of family, recognition and belonging carried on with the drivers.  As the top 12 NASCAR drivers inched their way down the red carpet, it dawned on me how much like a family we all are.  These elite athletes could easily have sauntered down the red carpet, smiling for a few pictures, maybe signing an autograph or two to appear engaged in the moment and then carried on with themselves, but they didn’t do that at all.  In fact, just as I said, they literally “inched” their way down the carpet stopping to sign autographs for most, if not all, the fans who asked, taking time to really engage with the fans.  Some even came back to fans that they had missed on the first pass.  In the big scheme of things, the extra 15 minutes it took these guys to walk down the red carpet probably doesn’t matter much to them, but it made all the difference to those fans who watch them week in and week out, year after year.  I have to admit, that the experiences I have had over the last two years during Fan Fest has given me admiration for drivers that I was previously ambivalent or even antipathetic toward before “meeting” them on the red carpet.

To bring home the family feel even further was the way they guys interacted with one another on stage during “Family Feud”.  Watching them tease, joke and laugh at each other, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own family gatherings and struck by how much these guys remind me of my loud, crazy cousins getting rowdy at grandma’s every holiday.  Who knew Clint Bowyer was such a cut up or that Tony Stewart could make Jeff Gordon laugh so hard he literally slapped his knee???  It was fun to watch and made me feel connected to these drivers and this sport even more than I already did.

Fan Fest is an awesome experience, a place you can bring your whole family to get a glimpse of the personalities they watch on track every week, and feel confident that nobody is going to be disappointed or disillusioned with their favorite driver.  In fact, the only real danger I see is walking away liking one of the drivers that you previously rooted against on Sunday.

This post compliments the post written by Misty about Fan Fest.

NASCAR’s Champion’s Week festivities in Las Vegas started off on Wednesday with the Chasers for Charity Fan Fest at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Fans mingled around some of the cars (the 24, the 17, the 16, the 99 and the 48 were all present), sampled some tasty bundt cake (from Nothing  Bundt Cakes- whom I have had the pleasure of having before as Misty’s birthday cake in July), mingled and waited for the drivers to arrive.  This year’s fan fest was different than last year. Last year there was a roast- where fairly pricey tickets were sold to the Roast which was held in the Media Center or fans could sit in the neon garage and listen for free.  This year the chase drivers were divided into two teams to play NASCAR Family Fued on the stage in the NEON garage. Anyone could watch. It was much much more fun for the fans who got to interact with the drivers by yelling out answers to help them. It was far more interactive for fans- who enjoyed the game show.   Drivers walked together down the red carpet and up to the stage for family feud so of course I snapped some pictures:

Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart make their way down the Red Carpet to the Family Feud Stage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Photo Credit: Me)

Tony Stewart signs autographs for fans at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's Chasers for Charity Fan Fest. (Photo Credit: Me)

Jeff Gordon signs autographs on the red carpet at Chasers For Charity Fan Fest at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo Credit: Me)

Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer on the red carpet at Chasers for Charity Fan Fest. (Photo Credit: Me)

Take note of Clint Bowyer in this picture. I will be mentioning him in a different post later…but you need to hold this image of Clint in your head for my story later.

Jimmie Johnson and fan on the red carpet at Chasers for Charity fan fest. (Photo Credit: Me)

Jimmie Johnson and fan on the red carpet at Chasers for Charity fan fest. (Photo Credit: Me)

You may have read in Misty’s post about the Family Feud…that Tony Stewart said something that tickled Jeff Gordon so much he was laughing hysterically (and this wouldn’t be the last time Tony cracked Jeff up over the week but more on that later). This actually happened several times during family feud and I would have LOVED to know what the heck was so damn funny Tony:

Jeff Gordon cracks up at something Tony Stewart said during Family Feud...oh to be a fly on that wall. (Photo Credit: Me)

Not the best picture…the lighting was crappy by this point in the afternoon- but you get the picture.  The best part of the Family Feud game was watching the drivers interact with each other off track.  Family indeed!

Ok- so I slacked slightly in posting the points after the Phoenix race (as in I didn’t post em at all) and now poof the season is over.

So first I am going to give you my analysis of the three different points systems then I will give you the numbers if you are interested (after the jump).

I kept track of the NASCAR traditional points system, a Hybrid system that was basically the same NASCAR points structure with NO SEEDING (all 12 chase drivers start at 0), and what I call the BadGroove Cup- a completely stand alone system that had the drivers starting at 0 and had a completely separate points structure.

In all three systems, Jimmie Johnson is your winner.  So that didn’t really make a difference- I guess if you are good you are good.  The Hybrid system made a difference in the top three in that Harvick would have overtook Hamlin for second.  Last place in all three systems was Jeff Burton- so again no difference was made.  Really the only difference was in the in-between drivers that were not in the top three but not last.  For instance in the end Stewart finishes as high as 7th in the standings and as low as 11th  (Hybrid-no seeding).  Greg Biffle finished as high as 5th (BadGroove cup) and as low as 7th (Hybrid-no seeding).  Jeff Gordon finished as high as 8th (Hybrid-no seeding) and as low as 10th (BadGroove Cup).  So the big winner would have remained Jimmie Johnson on all three systems and the big loser would have remained Jeff Burton in all three systems.  Overall the Hybrid system and the BadGroove Cup system rewarded overall consistency in the last 10 races.

I now present to you the results for the last two races (Phoenix and Homestead) in just the raw numbers: (more…)

All I can say is WOW. That was a race! Tony Stewart qualified for the race 11th…and finished the race 11th.  It could have been better yes, but it could have been much much worse (just ask Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, and/or Kyle Busch- whom I will all talk about later in this post).

Via the team release Stewart said this about the team’s choice to come in for fresh tires during the late race caution that had the race going green with only two laps to go:

“Hindsight being 20-20, I probably should’ve stayed out, but we took a gamble and, really, what do we have to lose?” said Stewart, who now has 12 top-12 finishes in 18 career Sprint Cup appearances at the Texas track. “We really don’t have anything to lose. We’re eighth in points, so who cares? I’d rather take a chance on doing something to go forward than worry about losing spots and going backward.” — Team Release

However, I honestly think, the #14 Office Depot team had no option but to pit- having a majority of the field in front of him having fresher (more fresh?) tires from the pit stop before, where they elected to stay out.  As it was Tony restarted 16th and worked his way up to 11th in 2 laps! So obviously the fresh rubber was working- he just ran out of time.

And while Greg Biffle seemed to rule most of the race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, it would be Denny Hamlin edging out a hard charging Matt Kenseth for the win.

***

And now for the “DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA” portion of this post. WOW. How can people say this sport isn’t exciting?? All this drama and Tony wasn’t even involved believe it or not:

First drama one:  Kyle Busch gets held for two laps additional laps (after being held one lap for a pit road speeding penalty) for giving a NASCAR official the finger.  Now personally I think that the 2 laps was a bit excessive for flipping off an official.  I mean, seriously? That totally put him out of contention for even coming close to winning the race.  You can’t tell me that it wasn’t because he was caught doing this accidentally by ESPN, who flipped over to Busch’s in-car camera right as Kyle expressed his displeasure with the call, live as it was happening.  Now I hear that NASCAR is considering even MORE penalties for Kyle’s heat-of-the-moment gesticulation! Really? Think about this, I flipped someone off this morning…and you know what granted while I do this sometimes in fun or jest  sometimes I am really pissed off and it’s the only thing I can do to express myself.  Kyle is right- it kind of is trampling on his freedom of speech or um…gesture.  Yes,  I have already debated this stand with my father who is of the feeling that it was incredibly unprofessional and immature for Kyle to do.  While I do see that point- he was already punished for it by being held two laps in race so do we really need to trample on it further? Because if we do the consequences may backfire as drivers refuse to express themselves at all.  And no one wants to see that. It is the drivers and their personalities that MAKE this sport!

Ok…now onto drama number two: The Jeff vs Jeff battle on the backstretch.  For those that missed that little gem you can check out this video recap of the incident (you will also see dramas one and three mentioned as well).  Unfortunately ESPN didn’t catch the whole on-track altercation as they were distracted by Martin Truex Jr, who was gracefully spinning through the grass causing his third caution of the day.  From what I saw, it looked like Jeff Burton intentionally spun Jeff Gordon under the yellow. Gordon’s car hit the outside wall hard, pretty much destroying the car.  It was a hard impact- you could see pieces of car and what looked like SAFER barrier flying after the impact.  Burton’s car came to rest further down the track at the inside retaining wall.  Gordon was pissed. You could tell by the video of him in his car that he was pissed.  He then walked down the banking and towards Burton’s car which was parked against the inside wall.  Next thing you know Gordon is shoving Burton and the two go fist-a-cuffs for a bit, with some NASCAR officials jumping in between the two of them.  That was some EXCITEMENT right there!  Now from what I have heard and seen of it I think that there was some sort of incident on track, possibly even before the yellow flew between Gordon and Burton and Burton took out Gordon in a fit of frustration. I hate to say this but I LIKE it when the drivers go toe-to-toe out of the car when they are pissed off.  As I have mentioned before I do not advocate using (stock cars or otherwise) cars to retaliate- but get into a good, old-fashion shoving match there against the infield wall and I am all about that! It shows that this sport is intense when you have two respected drivers getting in each other’s face after an on-track incident.  Good for Jeff Gordon for sticking up for what he believes was right, that Jeff Burton wrecked him and under caution no less.  Bravo.

And for the final drama of the race- After the above mentioned wreck, it was decided to have Jeff Gordon’s pit crew pit Jimmie Johnson’s 48 car while the 48 pit crew packed up the 24 group’s pit box. Ouch.  However, whomever made that call- made a wise one.  Jimmie’s crew seemed to be falling apart at the seams all day, after repeated poor pit stops- including one four tire stop in the 16+ second mark.  Yeah I am sure there are some majorly bruised egos on the 48 pit crew…but one bad pit stop I can see…but FOUR bad ones? Really? You are a four-time champion’s pit crew…your driver is contending for his record breaking fifth consecutive cup title. Yes I am sure you are all under immense pressure…but FOUR? Really??  Jeff’s over-the-wall crew stepped in under what I am assume was Chad’s call and they did not just step in…but they stepped UP and were able to pit Jimmie with decent times.  That is what I call GOOD teamwork.   Just this afternoon Hendrick Motorsports announced that the 24 pit crew will be going over-the-wall for Jimmie Johnson for the last two races of the season.  This is good for Jimmie who I understand is in title contention- but wow- why punish Jeff because his pit crew is ON IT!  I mean his pit crew has been in the running for the fastest pit crew for most of the year! It seems like they are punishing Jeff Gordon for having a good pit crew.  Hopefully the 48 crew can figure out where the disconnect was and get it ironed out for the next two races for Jeff.

One final note about Texas- two fans were hurt during the race when a brake pad flew through the eighth story window of the Speedway club in the first turn. From what I was able to find out, it doesn’t seem like the injuries were life-threatening, thank goodness. I wish them a speedy recovery- no one wants to see anyone get hurt at a race!

Next race: Phoenix

Well I don’t have much to day about the race from Saturday evening. Tony qualified 15th for the race at Richmond.  His car seemed to start off really strong as he managed to work his way up to third at one point.  Then he just started falling back further and further. Unfortunately I was not listening to his radio communications and I am unsure as to why he had this drop…I assume it was poor handling that they were chasing.

Tony finished 16th, one lap down to race winner Denny Hamlin. However- it doesn’t really matter because Richmond was the last race of the “regular” season for NASCAR. Now it get’s stressful for us fans.  Now it’s the playoffs.

Tony is seeded 6th in the Chase fifty points behind chase leader Denny Hamlin.

Notes About Richmond:

  • I was surprised that since the Richmond race fell on Patriot’s day this year that there wasn’t more patriot paint schemes ran.  I think I saw maybe two (Jeff Gordon and Kevin Conway).  I don’t count Ryan Newman’s Army paint scheme- as it was the usual Army paint scheme he runs…but if you want to count it-that is 3.
  • I was saddened to hear that Tony Stewart’s grandfather passed away the morning of the race. I was dismayed when one of the journalists (Lee Spencer) asked Tony to “reflect” on it at the post race presser all the chase drivers went through. DISMAYED. Why don’t you rub some more salt into that wound there?  Tony handled the question with the utmost professionalism…but still I am dismayed it was even brought up.  (Still shaking my head at that one).

The Chase begins Sunday September 19th at Louden, NH. GO TONY GO!

So Chicagoland. I was looking forward to watching this race. First off, Tony was driving the #14 Back-To-School paint scheme on his Impala.  That is probably one of my favorite alternate paint schemes…because as a kid I would remember how much I looked forward to shopping for school supplies.  Secondly,it was a Saturday Night race…and I like those.  Thirdly, I was encouraged because Tony had a good qualifying run and qualified 3rd! That is an awesome qualifying effort from Tony and the Office Depot crew!

JOLIET, IL - JULY 09: Tony Stewart, driver of the  Office Depot Chevrolet, smiles after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LIFELOCK.COM 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway on July 9, 2010 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

JOLIET, IL - JULY 09: Tony Stewart, driver of the Office Depot Chevrolet, smiles after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LIFELOCK.COM 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway on July 9, 2010 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

At the beginning of the race Tony was strong. Very strong. Making is way up to second after falling back a couple of positions at the start of the race. The car just looked good on the track:

JOLIET, IL - JULY 10, 2010: Tony Stewart (14) and Jeff Gordon (24)during race action for the LifeLock.com 400 race at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL.

JOLIET, IL - JULY 10, 2010: Tony Stewart (14) and Jeff Gordon (24)during race action for the LifeLock.com 400 race at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL.

His major complaint about the car was that it was a bit tight.  Around lap 38 there was a caution flag- so all the teams came in for pitstops.  I was watching Tony’s DirecTV Hotpass channel so I could see Tony sitting on pitroad…and continuing to sit and sit on pit road.  I could see the other cars that were well behind Tony leaving pit road.  It was frustrating.  I heard Darian say “Sorry about that, Bud” to which Tony replied that he could see what was happening and not to worry about it- they would get them back. What you ask? That would be the 15 spots they fell during the pitstop.  Apparently what happened is the wheels on the jack got stuck in a seem and caused the delay in the pitstop. Arg! Tony restarted in 17th.  Tony seemed calm but I wasn’t!

When the race went green again it was like Tony was on FIRE. He was passing people left and right…quite literally. Even his spotter said “That’s pretty sweet!”

I had to chuckle at Tony’s reply which was “I’ve got a little business to take care of…” which you know- is Office Depot’s theme…”Taking care of business.”

Taking care of business- I should say so because Tony was soon in the top ten.  He would stay between 7th and 10th for the rest of the race and would finish 9th.  He remains 9th in the sprint cup points. Points leader is still Kevin Harvick.

Race winner was David Reutimann.  It was cute to see David win a race. I always want Tony to win. Always…but I wouldn’t begrudge Reut a win.

Notes about Chicagoland:

  • As I mentioned I was watching the Tony Stewart channel on DirecTV hotpass. I have to say…HOTPASS YOU STILL STINK!!!  There was one point where Tony was very obviously holding on an animated conversation with Darian or his spotter during one of the late race yellows. I know this because I could see his incar camera. He was waving his hands around- it was OBVIOUS he was having a conversation…but they were obviously editing it so we didn’t get ANY of that conversation.  Your HOTPASS stinks. I ended up at that point going and getting my laptop and listening to the SCANNER on the NASCAR.COM Trackpass…which was weird because it was a bit behind the TV surprisingly.  But at least I got more of the conversation that way…unfortunately I missed most of the good stuff.
  • Robby Gordon ran SMACK into Bill Elliott’s disabled car. I mean he hit him HARD! I was glad that Bill was ok.  That was crazy. Did Robby’s spotter miss the spin?
  • Whilst listening to the bantering back and forth between Darian and Tony I heard Tony describe his car as “nervous.” Um what the heck did that mean? Nervous? Did it have butterflies?

Next week the Sprint Cup cars have a week off. The week after is huge. It’s the BRICKYARD!

Every single time I go to type Sonoma it comes out Sonomo. I can’t explain why but I can tell you that over the last week or so I have had to correct myself umpteen times.  So anyway- Sonoma.  I went to this race last year…I sat in turn 7 where all the action was this race…or a lot of it and thought these seats were pretty good except for the potty situation (only portapotties…and nasty gross ones at that…although I do admit I have never been it a portapotty that was the epitome of cleanliness).  As a matter of fact this picture here where they are all coming down the hill …this was heading right towards my seat:

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 20: Tony Stewart drives the  Office Depot Chevrolet during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway on June 20, 2010 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 20: Tony Stewart drives the Office Depot Chevrolet during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway on June 20, 2010 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

So Tony qualified 7th for the race. The word of the day even before the race started is “forward bite” everyone seemed to find it elusive and unfortunately the 14 team was no different, adjusting on the car even on their last pit stop with 24 laps to go.  Unfortunately because they were green flag pit stops that put Tony out on the track in 24th. Fortunately Tony was able to fight his way up the field and ultimately finished 9th. He is now 10th in the standings.  The race winner was Jimmie Johnson getting his first road course victory in his home state. 

Notes on Infineon:

  • Did you know that there was an after race altercation between Tony Stewart and Boris Said? Of course not- because TNT failed to mention it.  After the checkers Tony went up and knocked into the side of Boris’s car in retribution for a previous on track incident.  Said’s crew chief chased Tony into the garage area. You can read about it here.
  • Jeff Gordon has made no friends at Infineon. Martin Truex Jr. wants his pound of flesh and made no bones about telling all the television viewers so.  Elliott Sadler was also a victim of Jeff’s aggressive driving and wasn’t too pleased either.

Next weekend: Louden!