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I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I said over the course of the race on Saturday night “This race is never ever ever going to end!” The Lady In Black (Darlington) brought us a record number of cautions (17) for the 501 mile race. Like most race fans- I tend to use cautions to use the facilities and stretch my legs.  Well let me tell you there wasn’t one time during Darlington that I thought to myself “Damn I have to pee but I don’t want to miss anything!” (TMI I know but, unlike most of the drivers- and I honestly don’t know how they do it- I have to pee during the course of a standard race).

I will be the first to admit that I didn’t think that Tony had that stellar of a qualifying run and between that run (he ended up starting 18th) and the fact that Tony had never won at Darlington before- I wasn’t expecting a stellar run on Saturday. (My friend would tell you I am too easily frustrated). I didn’t think all hope was lost for Stewart-Haas Racing since teammate Ryan Newman qualified 3rd.

Once the race got underway- however- I noticed Tony inching closer and closer to the top ten- meanwhile Newman stayed pretty much consistently in the top ten even leading for awhile.  However I have to say that the Office Depot/Old Spice pit crew was ON FIRE Saturday night.  There were a couple of times- especially during that last pit stop- that I jumped off the couch and yelled YES!! excited that they managed to get Tony out of the pits first despite having taken four tires and a full load of fuel.  Even though the last absolutely stellar pit stop put him in 8th (the other seven cars opted to stay out) Tony began to move up through the field at an amazing rate and had the race been any longer I am sure that Tony would have caught both second place Jimmie Johnson and winner Mark Martin.  Another race that was so close…Stewart Haas could nearly taste the victory (I certainly could!)  Tony’s third place finish bumps him up to second in points only 29 points away from leader Jeff Gordon.  Ryan Newman’s fourth place finish bumped him up to 8th in points.  Another great night for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Other Darlington Notes:

  • While I always kinda root for David Ragan because he is on my fantasy team and Juan Pablo Montoya)- was I the only one who didn’t think they should have let that frankensteined car back on the track that last time? I mean the front leftside tire wasn’t even touching the tract completely for goodness sakes!
  • More about commercials I am finding humorous- I am really liking the Bobby Labonte/Ask.com commercials.  I am especially a fan of the one where the woman is raving over about how HOT Bobby Labonte is while looking at him through binoculars when her husband tells her to keep it above the Mason-Dixon line. Too bad ask.com sucks as a search engine.
  • During the national broadcast of the race they played a snippet of radio interaction between Joey Logano and Greg Zipadelli. I don’t even remember what it was about- I think it was about a two versus four tire change on the last stop they had. Joey had a question about it and asked Greg.  However unlike the broadcasters I really don’t think it was a power struggle between the two- more like Joey wanted to know what happened….he is a rookie.
  • Don’t forget the Pit Crew Challenge is this week on Thursday. I LOVE the pit crew challenge and when I make it to Charlotte one of these days for the all-star race- I am so fitting in the Pit Crew Challenge!

The next race is this Saturday on SPEED: The All-Star Race….no points…this one is all about the money!

I may have been kidding when I said that I watch Talladega through my fingers- but races at Talladega make me nervous…because I hate sitting there and waiting for “The Big One.”  You know that wreck that Talladega is famous for– the one that wipes out at least a third to a half of the field in one fail swoop…while I sit there biting my nails (ok so now you know..I am a nail biter…have been since I was a kid) watching and hoping that Tony didn’t become collateral damage in the wreck.

At least this weekend I didn’t have to wait very long- at 8 laps into the race the first Big One happened…and Tony seemed to skate through it relatively unharmed. Team Office Depot/Old Spice did seem to do some work on the front end of the car during subsequent pit stops so some minor damage. However I was left to wonder- why is Tony so far back?  I couldn’t decide if he and Newman were just biding their time in the back waiting to make their move up the track or if they were seriously having issues- and of course the national broadcast gave me no clues. ITowards the end of the race though, Stewart starting moving up towards the front- making his way to a race high 8th place, before he unfortunately lost a cylinder and his car started dropping through the field like a lead weight…ARG!  With some help from Denny Hamlin and Dale Jr, Tony’s teammate Ryan Newman was able to make it up to the front of the pack and was holding on until Carl Edwards/ Brad Keselowski hooked up in a late race draft to the front passing Ryan Newman who was being pushed by Dale Junior.  Keselowski held his line with Edwards at the double yellow- which turned Edwards on front stretch about 120 yards from the finish line. Carl’s car flew up the track, going airborne and smacking hard into Ryan Newman and then rolled up into the catch fence. Despite extensive damage to the number 39 car sponsored by The Prelude To The Dream, Ryan Newman was able to continue to pilot the car over the finishline- finishing in 3rd place. Brad Keselowski came across the finish line first, winning his first Sprint Cup race ever.

Points wise Tony Stewart remains in 4th place (a mere sixty seven points out of the points lead) after finishing 23rd.  Ryan Newman’s 3rd place finish at Talladega catapulted him up into thirteenth in points.

Notes About Talladega:

  • Sam Hornish seemed to do extremely well considering he was suffering from flu like symptoms. While Travis Kvapil stood by in case he needed to be relieved…Hornish worked hard to maintain his position in the race- only to be collected in a late race crash.
  • While I am as much as a fan of alternate paint schemes as the next guy…and I actually have a thing for yellow cars- Jeff Gordon’s yellow Pepsi Challenger paint scheme (and then the blackhooded-yellow and white car) made it extremely hard for me to find him in the pack.
  • Speaking of extremely hard to find in the pack I am starting to be able to zero in on Tony’s new paint scheme..unfortunately I am consistently having to answer “IS THAT TONY?” from whomever I am watching the race with.
  • Joey Logano did excellent during Talladega- I saw him do some great manuevering to avoid crashes…he is coming along well- thanks to the seasoned experience by his crew chief Greg Zipadelli and the Home Depot crew.
  • Am I the only one who thinks its a little ironic that during the pre-show, Carl Edwards was featured piloting Jeff Hammond around in a plane- and then at the end of the race Carl Edward’s car went airborne?
  • Speaking of which- last I heard 8 fans were injured by flying debris from Carl Edward’s car. I wish them all a speedy recovery.

This weekend we go Saturday night racing at Richmond. Let’s go Team Office Depot/Old Spice!!!

Well this was a race that I attended in person. The first leg of my journey was driving 500 to Las Vegas. Hung out with BFFM and on Friday BFFM drove 300+ miles to Phoenix where we checked into the hotel.  We tried to use the hotel’s computer to check qualifying while we were in the lobby but it was running slow so BFFM used her blackberry to get us some answers.  The next morning we drive to the track- it was easy to get to.

Yeah the track is out in the middle of the desert- but it was actually a really nice track. The only kabuffle we had the entire day was figuring out where to trade in our pit pass tickets for actual pit passes and after getting misdirected a couple times we finally got that taken care of.  The midway was probably the smallest midway of the tracks we have been to but then again- the track was a lot smaller in general than the other tracks (Las Vegas and Fontana).

TSR-Jones show car at Team Chevy booth at PIR Midway

TSR-Jones show car at Team Chevy booth at PIR Midway

Joey Loganos merchandise trailer was the LEAST populated one.  The most populated ones were of course Jr, Gordon and Stewart.

Joey Logano's merchandise trailer was the LEAST populated one. The most populated ones were of course Jr, Gordon and Stewart.

We made our way to the pedestrian tunnel and under the track and into the infield and were amazed that basically we were allowed to just meander around the pits pretty much.  That was pretty fun although I admit that occassionally I felt like I was in the way- even though I tried to be extremely cognizant of all the work going on around me- and to be sure not to impede that.

The Garages at PIR were a buzz with activity

The Garages at PIR were buzzing with activity.

Tony Stewarts Office Depot pit crew gets things ready for the evening race.

Tony Stewart's Office Depot pit crew gets things ready for the evening race.

Jimmie Johnsons Lowes pit crew gets things race before the evening race.

Jimmie Johnson's Lowes pit crew gets things ready before the evening race.

Mike Houston, tire carrier for the #24 Dupont pit crew of Jeff Gordon, seeks some shade on pit road.

Mike Houston, tire carrier for the #24 Dupont pit crew of Jeff Gordon, seeks some shade on pit road prior to the start of the race.

Pit Road at Phoenix International raceway

Pit Road at Phoenix International raceway.

Let me speak for a second about the picture above. This I took from pit road looking towards turn four.  See that hill right there? For $35.00 you can drag your chair up the hill- called Rattlesnake Hill and not just for sport and sit there with no midway access. I do not understand why you would want to do that when you can pay $25.00 to sit in the lower level grandstand seats. Crazies. I mean you might get to see a little more of the track but still…I like the ability to be able to go to the bathroom or get a hot dog easily if needed!

Now for the actual race. We were sitting in the AJ Foyt Grandstands in the close seats (row 8 I think) and they might be “cheap” seats but I thought they were pretty damn good- we could see most of the track.  During the warmup laps I was fascinated by the fact that I could actually see in the right side and into the cockpit. I don’t know WHY this fascinated me but it certainly did. I could literally see Tony Stewart sitting in his car hands on the wheel when they drove by (and other drivers as well)…and it was kind of cool to see them right in there car.

When the green flag dropped so did my jaw. Literally.  I think I spent a good 10-15 laps slack jawed.  I do not have the right words to describe the experience but it was louder and faster and just more exciting than any of the previous races I have gone to.  I have mentioned recently that going to an actual race can almost be an assault on your senses…I had no idea!  I don’t know if it was because I was sitting closer to the actual track that I have at other tracks but it was just completely amazing.  It was constant action on that track. I don’t know how the race played on TV because while I did DVR it- I have yet to watch the national broadcast. My brain did not have time to rest at all.  Of course I was paying attention to Tony on the track.  I was trying to keep track of where Ryan Newman was in relation to Tony (the scoring pylon only went up to 15th place) – which became increasingly difficult as the leaders started lapping cars.  I was watching the packs running close together for trouble.  And while I love the smell of a race, being this close actually started to give me a little bit of a headache towards the end from the fumes (of course not leaving my seat for the whole race probably didn’t help the headache).

Tony and Team Office Depot/Old Spice did well throughout the race. There was one kinda crappy pit stop – from which the team rebounded from quickly and well. Tony was in the top five most of the day and even lead the race for a while.  In the end Stewart just did not have enough to catch Mark Martin at the end, coming in second- the highest place finish yet for the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Office Depot/Old Spice.  I really can’t wait for Stewart-Haas to get their first win.  It’s coming soon. I can feel it. The team is clicking really well- and as soon as that last component snaps into place this team will be in Victory Lane.

This coming weekend: NASCAR is in Talladega.  And Amy will be watching between her fingers!

Ok…my non-NASCAR friends are not going to get this…but this has had me chuckling since yesterday:

LOLNASCAR- You crack me up!

I know Logano's a rookie but still this made me laugh!

Thanks LOLNASCAR!

Sunday was a clear but blustery day at Texas Motor Speedway.  Team Office Depot/Old Spice started seventh on the starting grid and Stewart was soon quickly moving his Chevy Impala up the field as the race starts- and is in 3rd position by lap 30 of the race.  Because of the long initial green flag run – the field begins to cycle through a round of green flag pit stops starting around lap 50 and ending around lap 54.  Stewart stays out long enough to lead a lap before coming in for his service coming out third. Stewart quickly begins working his way up the field again and soon he passes Matt Kenseth to take the lead when Kenseth gets a little loose. The first caution of the day, due to debris- no doubt because of the wind, has Tony coming in to pit from first place- a slight miscue by the pit crew caused him to lose valuable time in the pits- dropping him two places down to third on his way out. Stewart remained consistent throughout the day- maintaining no further back than the top ten.  The Office Depot/Old Spice pit crew rebounded quite well from their early race miscue and was then able to get Stewart out efficiently and quickly at the end of the race- when track position was most valuable.

Said Stewart, in his post race team release, of the crew:

“Our guys had a couple rough spots on pit road in the beginning, so I just calmed them down, told them to take a deep breath and just slow down a little bit.  They had great stops the rest of the day. I am proud of those guys they rebounded really well.”team release

Tony was able to keep his car in the top five- finishing in fourth after a late charge and pass by Greg Biffle.  Stewart advanced to fifth in the points standings.  Teammate Ryan Newman spent most of his day a lap down in positions 24th-26th- but was able to gain late in the race as well- getting not only his lap back but finishing 15th.  Jeff Gordon, was able to hold off an impressive blistering charge through the pack late in the race made by teammate Jimmie Johnson to win his first ever race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Other Notes about Texas:

  • Rookie Joey Logano had an impressive qualifying effort at Texas- unfortunately his performance in the race wasn’t quite up to par- and at one point smacked the right side of the car pretty hard against the outside wall.
  • Jr. missed his pit stall again at Texas.  Maybe they should have someone stand in front of his pitboard and jump up and down?  Does his crew chief not count him down when he is entering?  When Tony was with Greg Zipadelli I know Greg would always start with “Ok you are 10 away…5 away, turn in…wheels straight put on the brake” I don’t know if Darian does the same thing for Tony- I assume so.
  • During the pre-show Chris Myers mentioned kind of off-handedly that a driver makes no fewer than 50 decisions a lap during a race.  Can you imagine trying to make 50 decisions going 180 mph- per lap?
  • One of the big news items this week is that NASCAR will be taking the first place car, the second place car’s engine and a random finisher’s car back to the R&D center to do post race inspection- instead of doing it right there at the track.  Does this mean they will be looking harder at the cars and engines?  Or do they think that the inspectors will be fresher after NOT having been at the track all day? Either way it’s an interesting and sudden decision.
  • The other big news is that NASCAR is either heavily considering or has already decided to move the end of year banquet from New York to Las Vegas.  Personally? I think it’s a great idea because I am so there. SO THERE.
  • Aric Armirola can be added to the newest list of drivers possibly out of a ride sooner rather than later.  It was mentioned on the pre-show that if a sponsor is not found by the Phoenix race for Armirola the Earnhardt Ganassi shop will pear down its three car operation down to a two car operation retaining drivers Martin Truex Jr and Juan Pablo Montoya. Armirola joins the likes of Kvapil and Gilliland who are in similar situations.
Next week is an off weekend for NASCAR- the weekend after Easter has NASCAR back in the desert at PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY.

After a weekend where two of the three practices and the qualifying session were rained out the weather looked beautiful for Sunday’s race at Martinsville.  Martinsville is the shortest track on the circiut but Sunday’s Goody’s 500 was definitely not short on action. I personally, thought Sunday’s race was one of the best this season.

Of course part of that could be because both Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman had top ten finishes. Tony finishing the day with an awesome third place finish- the best for Stewart-Haas Racing so far this season.  Ryan Newman finished the day in 8th place- a personal best for his since beginning his tenure at Stewart-Haas racing at the beginning of this season.  Both Tony and Ryan’s teams seemed to be working quite well on Pit Road despite the inherient cramp conditions in the Martinsville pits as well as having some non-choice pitstalls.

Since qualifying was rained out – the field lined up by points.  Initially Jeff Gordon, who started on the pole since he leads the points race right now, took the lead and seemed to stay in the lead a good portion of the race.  His only challenger seemed to be Denny Hamlin- who also looked fairly strong. His car seemed to get stronger while Gordon’s handling seem to fade late in the race- causing him to have a fourth place finish. In the end- it was a shootout between Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson- with the two swapping the lead back and forth several times during the last 22 laps or so. At one point during the swapping back and forth of the lead, Hamlin and Johnson were both practically sideways side by side in the turn.  In the end- Jimmie Johnson was able to get his first cup win of the season.

More Notes on Martinsville:

  • Best Work In of A Sponsor Product: Comes from Saturday’s Practice telecast on SPEEDTv where journalist said to Tony Stewart “This really stinks doesn’t it?” talking about the weather- and Tony retorted “It DOES NOT stink because we have OLD SPICE as a sponsor so it does NOT stink!”
  • Tony was apparently cussing at himself during the end of the race: “I was just cussing at myself because I wasn’t close enough to do anything about it.”
    Tony Stewart, on the winning pass (third)
  • I love how now that Rick Hendrick has been quoted as supporting Tony Eury Jr as Crew Chief for Dale Jr- that the Fox Commentators (I think it was DW) are now stating that part of the reason that Dale is having poor finishes is Tony Stewart’s fault because he recruited Darian Grubb away from HMS.  Um…no.
  • I was glad to hear that even Jeff Gordon gets frustrated during a race- as he threatened to “knock his head off” if Denny (or it might have been Tony- I thought Tony when I first heard it but my friend says no he was talking about Denny) he bumped him again.
  • I had no idea Joey Logano was so tall- (direct from my notes after seeing him standing next to Greg Zipadelli during the national anthem.)
  • Poor Kyle just couldn’t catch a break this race- seemed he was spinning more times than a hula hoop! Neither could Matt Kenseth- always a driver or six short of being the lucky dog.
  • Was it my imagination or did Jeff Gordon slight Tony Stewart’s third place finish in his post race interview?  Jeff felt he had at least a third place car…but he finished fourth (and maintained his points lead).

Next Week: Texas Motor Speedway.

Well I have said it before and I will say it again. I love short track racing.  My dad was watching with me and was bored – frankly I think there is too much going on for him to keep track of at any one time.

Unfortunately it was not a great day for the Office Depot/Old Spice Impala judging by their 17th place finish.  It really bites to be stuck having to watch the National Broadcast of a race and be a fan of a driver who is not in the top ten or so- because not enough coverage is available.   I know the broadcasters can not cover an entire 43 car field- so I do understand that…it just bites because there isn’t enough information on what isn’t going right with my team and it is that that I do not like.   I do thank DirecTV for the free hotpass this season but I guess because it is free they eliminated my favorite part of hotpass- the channel known as the SD Channel last season which would let you watch the national broadcast while listening to one of several driver audios (and if Tony wasn’t a Hot Pass driver his audio was ALWAYS in the SD line up). I really REALLY miss that (and the fact that Tony has yet to be a hot pass driver).

Ok- so since the change to the track at Bristol- I think the cars can move around better on the track for the most part- so I loved the increase in side-by-side racing. That rocked.  I was also glad to see that Ryan’s US Army team seemed to be doing better and stayed in the top 10 most of the day finishing in 7th and removing them from the “danger zone” when it comes to being in the top 35 in owner points.

Since Tony definitely wasn’t really in any sort of contention to win I was glad to see Kyle win there- especially after such disappointment at the Nationwide race on Saturday.  If you missed the Nationwide race, Kyle ran quite strongly in it only to have a tire problem late in the race foil the win and Kevin Harvick eventually went on to win the Nationwide race).

More Notes on Bristol:

  • I was sad to hear during the pre-race broadcast that Kvapil’s ride will most likely fold unless they are able to find major sponsorship by Martinsville.  If you read this blog at all last season- you know that I really have YeahI really think Kvapil has talent and ability and hope that anyone out there looking for a driver would consider him.  I think he has talent.
  • I was also impressed with Joey Logano.  While he wasn’t able to keep the car clean- he was able to work himself out of some pretty hairy situations well- he seems to be learning pretty fast. Too bad his engine blew at the end.
  • Just how many incidents was Jamie McMurray in?  He is usually pretty good at keeping out of trouble it just kind of humored me that it seemed that every other caution there he was spinning out.
  • I really liked the National Anthem this race. It seemed like so far this season the national anthems have been less than…desirable (Vegas was the worst…and I was in the stands there).
Next Weeks Race: Martinsville- My favorite paperclip!

Saturday started with final Daytona 500 practice for Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas racing- and ended badly for the pair. Ryan Newman blew a tire- sending him up the banking and into the wall where he collected his teammate/owner Tony Stewart.  That was not the way one wanted to start their day.  However only hours later Tony Stewart stood in victory lane at the Nationwide race where he drove the Number 80 Hendrick car to victory.  Not a bad turn around in one day. However, Sunday would be the day where all eyes were on Stewart-Haas racing’s number 14 and 39 Chevrolet Impalas.

Watching this Daytona 500 was much like driving while blind deaf.  I did not have the advantage of having HOTPASS this year since DirecTV decided to drop the only sports package I cared about.  I really missed being able to tune into Tony’s in-car radio because it’s how I judge how he feels about the car and his progress during the race.  That way I am not relying on the race announcer’s view of what is going on- I can pretty much tell for myself.

Anyway- during this first race weekend for the newly Stewart-Haas racing, emotions had to run the complete gamet during the week.  The team went through three race cars before the race on Sunday- a feat I am pretty darn sure they were not pleased with.  Ryan Newman’s primary car was wrecked during the Gatorade Duel number 2 on Thursday when he was wrecked by David Reutimann- forcing Newman into his backup car.  Then during the final practice on Saturday, a tire blew and Newman collected teammate/owner Stewart.  Because of the late practice tangle, Stewart had to go to his backup car and Ryan Newman was forced to use Tony’s backup Shootout car, thus sending both cars to start at the back of the field for Sunday’s Great American race.

By lap 25 Stewart had driven his car from 37th to 14th.  After taking on gas and tires during the competition yellow, Stewart was in obvious high spirits as the broadcast switched over to his radio to catch him singing “Ole Ole Ole Ole” and then telling his crew chief Darian Grubb that he didn’t have anything else to do. Announcers later state that Tony believes he has the best handling car out there.  And during short runs on fresh tires Tony seems to be able to draft well and pass cars- charging towards the front. However it seemed to me that the longer the green flag run, Stewart’s car just didn’t seem to have the ability to cut through the field with the ease it did early in the runs.  Also a big kudos to the Team Office Depot pit crew who seemed to get Tony in and out of the pits quickly…Tony rarely, if ever, dropped position after a pitstop…he always seemed to gain a position or two.  I hate to say it but it seemed last year Tony would lose three -five positions during pitstops alone.

Meanwhile teammate Ryan Newman never seemed to really get a feel for the car under him. He was at a serious disadvantage- in a car that was not set up for him or for this race.  The US AMY team did a great job getting the car rewrapped and decal’ed up so that at least it looked like Ryan’s car and not Tony’s. However they did have a slight problem in the pits when Ryan came in for what he thought was a problem with the tire, the crew somehow dropped the car off the jack after the tire had been removed and then had to pick it back up to put the tire up – costing Newman valuable spots in the pits and on the track- a mistake that he was never able to overcome on the track.

At the end of the evening, however, Matt Kenseth ended up winning the rained-shortened Daytona 500 after having led just one green flag lap.  Tony Stewart finished 8th while teammate Ryan Newman finished 36th.

As for Stewart-Haas racing- I think they accomplished one of the bigger tasks on their to-do list for the start of the 2009 (their inaugural) season.  They came to Daytona extremely competitive.  I think good things are going to come out of this team in the very near future.

Other Notes on Daytona:

  • I heard from the national broadcast that Ryan Newman’s crew chief Tony Gibson even used Sharpie markers to cover over some of the last bits of red on the backup car. This I think deserves the race award for most innovative use of a sponsor product.
  • Best quote from the entire speedweeks session at Daytona? Comes from none other than Mr. Tony Stewart who was quoted as responding to the question if going to a backup car after the happy hour crash was a disadvantage to his ability to win the 500 with “I don’t know, Rocket Scientist-I’m sitting here with a backup car. What do you think?”
  • I am probably going to feel the wrath of Jr. Nation for saying this but I really think that frustration was a definite mitigating factor that lead to Junior’s on track skirmish with Brian Vicker’s that ended up taking out a lot of the key players in the race.  I think Junior might not have been thinking clearly because he was pissed about the penalty that he incurred at the previous pit stop.  Junior was held one lap for having the right front tire on the pitbox line which apparently is considered out of bounds.
  • I am also still questioning Joe Gibbs Racings decision to rush Logano into a full-time cup ride. I seriously don’t think he was ready. He seemed to be smacking that car against the wall everytime he went out there and that last incident with Scott Speed  Logano nosed the car into the wall pretty damn hard.  I said this last year and I will say it again…Logano might be too green to be out there with the cup guys on a weekly basis. I still say that Logano should have run a full season or two in the Nationwide series first to break in slowly to the Sprint cup series.

Next weekend NASCAR takes us to the Autoclub Speedway in Fontana California.