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As many NASCAR fans know…ASK.COM is the official search engine of NASCAR and sponsor of driver Bobby Labonte.

I always like to see what kind of searches lead people to my site…and sometimes they are from Ask.com. I recently got my grubby little mitts on the top 10 NASCAR driver searches for ASK.COM and they are not surprising- well the fact that Kyle Busch is so low on the list is surprising but other than that…not surprising:

1.  Tony Stewart
2.  Jeremy Mayfield
3.  Dale Earnhardt Jr
4.  Jeff Gordon
5.  Dale Earnhardt
6.  Kasey Kahne
7.  Mark Martin
8.  Jimmie Johnson
9.  Kyle Busch
10. Carl Edwards

However my favorite part of the data I got was the Top-10 NASCAR related questions on ASK.COM (my snide helpful answers and comments in  bold italics):

1.  How do NASCAR drivers use the bathroom? The same way you and I do- a via a toilet. I just hope they wash their hands when they are done.
2.  What does NASCAR stand for? If you don’t know you probably aren’t a fan since this is a basic trivia question: National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
3.  How many times has Jeremy Mayfield been married? Don’t know, don’t really care.
4.  Who won the Lifelock 400? The Lifelock 400 at Michigan was won by Mark Martin. The Lifelock.com 400 at Chicagoland was won by…wait for it…Mark Martin. Jeff Gordon came in second for both races as well. What are the odds of that?
5.  Who is Tony Stewart dating? Don’t know, don’t really care.
6.  How much do NASCAR drivers get paid? A whole hell of a lot more than I do but then again I don’t drive 200 mph for 3-4 hours….
7.  How do NASCAR drivers go to the bathroom? They stand up and walk to the nearest facility.
8.  At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 1/8 mile short straight-aways between the first and second, and third and fourth turns are termed what? Don’t quote me on this but I am about 90 percent sure they are called short chutes.  5 percent of me thinks I made it up the other 5 percent is thinking that is a bull riding term…and I am just confused from last weekend’s rodeo.
9.  Who holds the cup series qualifying record at Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Believe it or not I believe that is Casey Mears.
10. When is the next NASCAR race? Usually Sunday (this weekend its Sunday). Some times Saturday.

On Thursday Journo at The NASCAR Insiders asked quite simply “Do You Remember Why You Love NASCAR?”  I actually pondered this a bit in my guest entry over at NASCAR THIS WEEK back in April. It is hard for me to put into words why I love the sport that I love…but I do.  As I mentioned in the NTW piece, I have had a love of cars and a love of motorsports in general since I was knee high to a grasshopper and was just naturally drawn to cars since childhood.

Then there is the first hand experiences of being at a track that assault you from the moment you get out of your car; the noise that 43 cars make that can take the breath out of you, the mixture of oil, rubber, sweat, and a myriad of food mixing and giving each track it’s own signature smell, the rush of adrenaline I get during the flyover (and I am not even a driver). It’s a very physical thing to actually be on hand for a race. It’s a feeling that I can not adequately describe despite my many attempt, and it’s definitely something that someone who doesn’t love the sport just can not get.  My uncle still doesn’t get why I would travel 500 miles to “watch cars drive in a circle.”  Even my own best friend didn’t get it until recently…and she knew me back when I was a geeky little junior high school kid (she didn’t get why I had race cars on my walls instead of Charlie Sheen and Tom Cruise). She eventually learned to tolerate it in me until just last year when I finally (only took like what 15-20 years) turned her into a NASCAR fan and now she LOVES it like I do.

Journo’s original point was that the whole Mayfield drug debacle is drawing negative attention to OUR sport- and as fans and lovers of the sport we need to step back, take a breath and remember what is GOOD about NASCAR this season and right now (goes on to give several examples such as Mark Martin winning races at 50 and first time winners Keselowski and Reutimann). His comments got me really thinking about what do I personally love about NASCAR right now at this point in the season (in no particular order):

  • Silly Season. I will proudly stand up and say I LOVE the rumors flying around about silly season. Will Harvick be with RCR next season? Will Brad Keselowski get that full time ride an if he does who will it be for? Will Joe Gibbs Racing be bringing on a fourth car? Will Stewart-Haas be fielding a third car? Will Danica make the jump to NASCAR? Who doesn’t love the surmising and the speculating that comes with this time of the year. Last season? I was all wrapped up in the Stewart-Haas thing (read I was shocked out of my socks) so much that I didn’t have much of a chance to enjoy all that goes with silly season…this year I can sit back and enjoy throwing my twelve cents in for whatever its worth.
  • That Stewart-Haas racing currently has two cars in the top 12 in points. I have been a Tony fan a long long time…I was shocked when he made the jump to owner/driver. I didn’t doubt him, I was concerned but I jumped right on board when I saw how excited he was. But how GREAT is it that he is up there leading the points with teammate Ryan Newman behind him in 7th place in points so far? Yes I know a lot can happen between now and the chase but it’s great right now.
  • Speaking of the chase- I love how drivers are teetering on the edge of making it…or not. It’s better than Bubble Day for the Indy 500! Will Biffle or Reutimann or Bowyer be able to fight their way into the chase? Will Kyle Busch, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth be able to stay in the chase? It’s drama at it’s best people!
  • That NASCAR, tracks and drivers are starting to embrace social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to reach out to us fans. I think that they are important tools- I am on twitter through out the day- more than email. It works for me. I admit to a slight addiction to facebook as well. I love that I can get updates (both personal and official) from these sites without having to hunt around for them. I hope more drivers come on board (hint hint Tony). NASCAR is even working with a group of selected bloggers in creating a Citizen Media Corp- which also rocks because bloggers are fans not journalists or sportscasters and have unique opinions and thoughts that they want heard- and it’s a great feeling to be included and listened to. Plus the more NASCAR bloggers unite in any method the stronger the voices are and thus the more we are heard.
  • The Mayfield drug debacle. Yes it’s turning kind of circus-like and pretty soon we almost expect to see someone like Jerry Springer jump in, however- I am going to disagree with Journo and say that this situation is bringing an important subject to light.  It’s something that hasn’t really been talked about much. And no matter what the ultimate outcome specifically regarding Mayfield’s case in particular- I think that NASCAR will emerge with one thing: a stronger and more broadly understood drug policy.
  • Kyle Busch. You may love him or you may hate him, but everyone has some feeling about him. He’s stepped into the “NASCAR BADBOY” role that some feel has been missing.  He’s young. He’s hot. He drives a mean car. He says the first thing that comes to mind (ok he reminds me of Tony so you know I like him). At Infineon I was actually in the crowd on the track during driver Intros…and when he was announced he was booed so viciously that it made me actually stop taking pictures and turn around to see if I needed to run for cover. Do I think he deserves it? No. Do I think he handles himself well? Most of the time. Do I think he has talent? Hell yeah. I also thinks he brings a little something to the table excitement wise- whether its a war of words between him and Junior or a little bitterness over some on-track action with Tony, you have to admit it adds excitement.

Of course this is not an inclusive list of ALL things I love about NASCAR on any given day. It’s just a brief list I came up with in response to a question. There are more long standing things about the sport that I love too. There are GOOD things to love about this sport all the time.

This might be old news to some of you and I meant to mention it a couple days ago but I wanted to tell you that Tony Stewart will be featured on CNBC’s “Inside Track: Refueling the Business of NASCAR.”  The hour long program, hosted by CNBC Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell will go one-on-one with the chairman and CEO Brian Friance to discuss how he plans to weather the storm. The program will also take viewers inside the garage of driver-turned-owner Tony Stewart.

“Inside Track” will premiere on CNBC on Thursday July 9th at 9:00pm EST (check local listings…for DirecTV users this CNBC is channel 355).

I have had my DVR set for nearly a week…forgive me for giving you all such short notice!

So on Tuesday when I posted about the NASCAR Citizen Journalist Media Corp formation Valli (whom I love) made the comment that she hoped I got nominated or included because she would love to read about ME standing at Tony’s hauler asking him questions. This made me giggle to myself.  This is something I can NOT imagine myself actually doing. Maybe standing on the edges of the media hords and if I am feeling REALLY ballsy maybe snapping a picture or six.  Not that I wouldn’t LOVE to do it…I just am not the bravest of people although I have gotten better.

Case in point: The first race of any type that I attended in the flesh was an Indy Car race at Laguna Seca when I was in high school (this was before they split into the two leagues known as IRL and Champ- and was then known as CART). He bought weekend passes complete with paddock passes and brought his big Minolta camera (before dslr’s were affordable by the public) and he would basically just wander right into the team stalls if they weren’t roped off to take pictures. My little, shy teenage self was mortified at him doing this and would usually wander away when he would pull these shenanigans. He even somehow bs’ed his way into the Team Havoline Hospitality Tent that was set up near the grandstands where we were sitting. Granted I was more shy then (I am sure I have told you the story about how he basically had to push me up to AJ Foyt to get his autograph because in my brain I was ALL THAT IS AJ FREAKING FOYT!!! and then I froze).

Fast forward to a couple years ago- my dad got comped tickets to see the Sportscars series running at Laguna Seca that included access to the paddock. He has one of his Canon DSLRs and I had a camera with me too…and I started wandering up to the different stalls and taking pictures but I always made sure I stayed dutifully out of the actual stall and out of the way of any crew members. We both walked up to one of the garage stalls and I took a picture and carried onto to the next stall. Suddenly I feel like I have lost my party so I look around…and he has actually WALKED INTO the garage stall I was just peeking into and is all squatted down to take his picture.  I just chuckled and stood outside waiting for him because I have this complex – I am not big on breaking rules…and the garages are like their domain – I am just there trying to take a picture or seven- so I definitely wouldn’t just wander in like my dad does.  If I really really felt the need to wander into the garage stall- I would ask the nearest crew person. My Mom,  who went with us even asked “Is he suppose to be in there?” I shook my head no and said “No…he just has balls of steel when it comes to that kind of thing.” Of course she was horrified that I would say that in public but it’s true.

So I guess I would just have to learn to be braver than I am…but it would definitely be an experience.

There has been a lot of talk in the NASCAR community including by NASCAR (as in the sanctioning body) itself about how to make the sport better. How to increase race attendence (um lower ticket prices) and television viewer ratings and the like.   A lot of suggestions are being talked about and batted around by various media and fans and guess what? NASCAR is starting to listen.  First they recently created the NASCAR FAN COUNCIL a tool NASCAR will use to survey their fans about opinions on all sorts of topics and ideas regarding NASCAR and how to make it better.  I think this weekend we saw the first baby step towards that with the new double-file restart (shootout style- so drivers will NOT have to worry about battling lapped cars for position).

Even more recently, NASCAR has announced that it will start giving more access to citizen journalists (and by that I am going to interpret it as bloggers). I think this will be an awesome opportunity and all I can say is “How do I sign up?”  Seriously.  Sign me up.  I don’t know what would qualify one to be a “citizen journalist” but it sounds like a great idea to me.

There is some grumbling from traditional NASCAR media that this is NOT a good idea- that allowing us mere “bloggers” to have a little bit of the inside stuff will make their readership suffer and honestly I really don’t see how that could be the case. I think there is a different standard and a different expectation of information coming from a site say like mine that has a bent for a specific driver when compared to traditional media coverage. To me it’s like apples versus oranges. Obviously my posts focus on Tony Stewart. I mention other drivers and other happenings within NASCAR because I love the sport and it is all intermixed. However I am not going to write articles like the ones you are going to find at NASCAR.COM, FOXSPORTS.COM, YAHOOSPORTS.COM, ESPN.COM etc.  My articles would still have a bend towards Stewart. They would also be more personal experiences less reporting of news. They would be more the human story type of thing.

When I think of a NASCAR Citizen Journalist I think of people like Valli at TheFastandTheFabulous.com. I absolutely love it when Valli makes it out to a race because I know that she will write about it the following week.  But its more about her experiences and less about rules and standings and points and that kind of thing. Its more about what it was like to stand with the traditional media at Kasey Kahne’s hauler.  Or what it’s like as a fan to stand in the garage area and watch drives buzz in an out. What it’s like to to interview someone like Kyle Petty or David Gilliland.  Or about experiences at a track she hasn’t been to before. I think you get my drift.

I think that both traditional and “citizen” journalists have important things to say about the sport and I really think that NASCAR is doing an awesome thing thinking about this seriously.  I don’t know yet what kind of exeperience NASCAR is looking for in a citizen journalist or what kind of access they would give that blogger…but its an interesting idea…and I am still raising my hand to volunteer.

It is not cheap being a NASCAR fan.  Race tickets, driver memorabilia (especially if your driver changes teams), transportation, hotels etc can all add to the cost of being a fan if you go to a race.  This is not to say it is not possible to be a fan without going to races- but I don’t think any fan will argue with me that going to a track doesn’t enhance the experience of fandom by about a hundred gazillion times.   Case in point: for the race in Las Vegas in February/March- our tickets alone were $450 and yes that is per person. Granted we did get weekend passes and we got them for the Richard Petty Terrace (those terrace seats? They kick ass- great view!) and we splurged and got one day in the Neon Garage (only one day- Friday- which is the cheapest of the three days). And we sprung for preferred parking (probably won’t do that again- it wasn’t really that big of a savings and their signage on how to get there sucked and we ended up driving around in a big circle and we had even been to the speedway before so…not worth it really).

So I thought to myself, is possible to go to a race without dropping $500 (per person) or more for the entire weekend? I found out that the answer is: Yes! I just did it myself. If you read with any regularity you probably know that my friend and I decided, kind of last minute (or it was last minute to us- the obessive trip planners) to make a dash to Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) last month to watch the Subway Fresh Fit 500K live and in person.

Part of the reasoning for that quick trip? It had to do with the fact that we found out that some of the tickets at Phoenix were down to $25 dollars each (yes I am that Amy, in the stands in her Tony Stewart gear). Granted these tickets were in the first 8 or so rows- but we were told by someone who had been to Phoenix that you would pretty much have a good view no matter where you sat- so no need to spring for the expensive tickets. I will be the first to admit I was a little unsure sitting as far down as we were sitting (in the AJ Foyt Grandstands in row 8- which because of the stairs was really more like row 4) but I am telling you that we had awesome seats. Our whole experience at PIR was awesome really. The trick here- as I mentioned before is waiting as long as possible to buy your tickets.  We waited until a month before.  You want to wait long enough that some of the better tickets are lowered- but not so long that they might be sold out.

Next comes the hotel- because it was Phoenix and it was about 800 miles one way for me (and 300+ for my friend in vegas) we defintely needed a hotel.  We decided to use hotwire.com to book our room.  We have never used it before- frankly the idea of not knowing exactly which hotel I am staying at BEFORE I PAY scared me so I have never used it before.  But I decided to bite the bullet and try it. We found an awesome hotel at the airport for $50 a nite.  It saved us over 40%! It was a major chain and the hotel was extremely nice!

Those are my two major tricks. Here is how the weekend broke down monetarily (and I rounded up and this would be for me- who lived farther from the track):

Hotel: 50 (per night- there were two of us and we stayed two nights so that’s 50 per person)

Trip Insurance: $4 per person

Gas: 150.00 (rounded up- based on driving 1700 miles round trip in a car getting 25 mpg with gas being 2.20 a gallon- my trip through three states had gas being anywhere from 2.35 to 1.89)

Ticket: 25.00

Track food: 10.00

Track drink: 20.00 (and yes I took in a beverage- but I didn’t want to get dehydrated- it was the desert)

Merchandise: 65 (I bought two hats and a plastic backpack)

Food (travel food off track): 75.00

Splurge of the trip (pit passes): 50.00

For a total of $449.00 a person for the entire race weekend trip. About the same price I paid for just my race tickets for the Vegas race. So not exactly CHEAP but there are a lot of things you could pare down from my list…if you didn’t splurge on the pit pass that knocks 50 bucks off right there.

One of NASCAR’s journalists and four time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association’s George Cunningham Award, David Poole passed away on Monday. It’s a sad day for motorsports indeed but most of all for his family- as he was only 50 years old and leaves behind a family: a wife, two sons, a daughter and a grandson.  Lots of bloggers and journalists are writing wonderful tributes to him- so I would like to point you in the direction of a couple of ones that stand out to me:

The NASCAR INSIDERS: The End of an Era

Dustin Long: Bidding A Friend Fairwell

Monte Dutton: David Poole Leaves A Void, Personally and Professionally

Revvin’ Jim’s Rants and Raves: David Poole Will Be Missed

NASCAR.COM: Charlotte Writer Poole dies

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!