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Surprise! I decided to get these out starting today so you wouldn’t be left wondering.  Anyway last year the Vegas race (the UAW 400) was our first NASCAR race live and in person and this year BFM decided to take the reins in planning everything.  I just wrote her a check when she told me how much our tickets would be. She picked the seats and the activities and everything…and let me tell you I had a total blast. She picked us some awesome seats in the Petty Terrace (right across from Pit Exit).  I am going to have to break up my experience into three posts: Qualifying Day, Race Day and Driver Appearances otherwise you all would probably kill me for the length/picture ratio.

QUALIFYING DAY (Friday)

After our great time last year in the Neon Garage BFM and I decided that Qualifying day is the best day to have the garage passes (in Vegas the Garage passes are expensive…friday alone is $99.00 but both of us thing they are WELL worth it).  We got to the track probably around 9:00 ish and spent a good portion of an hour and a half or so just messing around the midway checking out the merch haulers and stuff.  The busiest haulers seemed to be Junior (no suprise), Tony (probably his fans stocking up on new merch) and Digger (yeah Digger has his own little merch booth).  Then it was off to the neon garage:

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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.

  • Ok- as a race fan I am going to make a confession to you. My friend and I discussed this during our respective lunch breaks on Thursday and we are both equally confused.  I do not understand HOW the field is set at Daytona.  I mean I understand that the first row is set on qualifying day. And some but not all Go-or-Go homers are locked in the field on time.  Then there are the Gatorade Duels.  Where the field is split in two 60 lap heat races. But from there I do not understand how the field is then set.  At least I am not the only one… Tony Stewart doesn’t understand either!
  • Speaking of Tony,  let’s talk about Stewart-Haas Racing for a minute.  I am just wondering if the people who thought they wouldn’t be competitive out of the box are eating crow right now? I could be biased since Tony is my driver but Stewart-Haas Racing seem pretty damn strong to me. Stewart did well in the Shootout.  Both Tony AND Ryan did well in on Pole day. Tony did awesome in the Duels. Ryan seemed pretty solid in his duel as well until take out by Ruet.
  • Email exchange with my friend regarding Ryan Newman’s crash during the second Duel:
    • Me: Do you think “Tony the Owner” will have a talk with Ryan Newman about getting pissed at Reutimann or will “Tony the Owner” understand because of his experience as “Tony the Driver”.  AND will “Tony the Owner” be pissed at Reutimann for wrecking “his” race car? All things to think about.
    • Her: Tony the Owner”  will prob manslap* Newman and buy him a beer- lol!
  • I may be a Tony fan but I was glad to see Jeff Gordon have a good finish.  And for the record? I like his new paint scheme this year.
  • Speaking of paint schemes. I have decided officially I like the Office Depot paint scheme better than the Old Spice paint scheme.
  • Raygan Swan’s Splash N Go article this week on NASCAR.COM earlier this week was a silly guide to fans.  I think she was trying to be tongue in cheek- however she tells fansLast, get your supplies. Umbrellas for the Fontana, Calif.” However I do not recommend this….if you are heading towards Fontana FYI- Umbrellas are not allowed at the track in Fontana (or in Vegas) unless they have changed the track rules from last season!

Dear DirecTV- AHHHH now you have really made me mad. After having hotpass for two years now- you decide to drop it? THAT REALLY SUCKS!  I greatly miss being able to hear what is going on in Tony’s car during the race. DAMN YOU!  I bet you still have the other sport packages! Why did NASCAR have to be cut? —Disgruntled, AMY  PS. Don’t try to tell me to get that NASCAR.COM thing where I can hear the audio…doesn’t work for me because I have dial up…AND my computer is not in the same room as my TV.

Dear QVC- You have angered me too!  How? Well first there is a big deal made about the FOR RACE FANS ONLY show that is starting off this season with Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart as guests. So I dvr it- and hear wonderful things about it.  I was really looking forward to getting some glimpses of the Stewart Haas Racing shop. I go to watch said DVR and end up with two hours of an electronics showcase. MAJOR FAIL, QVC! MAJOR!  Your in disgruntlement- AMY PS. Don’t try to make up for it by showing me all the cool diecasts of Tony’s that I can’t afford.

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*-manslap is defined by my friend and I by that strong shoulder (or sometimes back) pat/slap that men give each other. Usually in a WAY TO GO kind of way. Not to be confused with the “good game” butt slap.

Ahhh do you hear the sound of the engines?  I do and they sound good.  Saturday was the day I was waiting for: The Bud Shootout.  Originally I thought I was going to have to boycott the shootout because the new rules initially left Tony Stewart out of the shootout because he switched from Toyota to Chevy for this season.  But luckily the wildcard system allowed Tony into the Shootout, with new teammate Ryan Newman sitting on his pitbox.  Tony Stewart started the shootout in 6th position and he was all over the track- everywhere from last to even leading for a few laps towards the end of the first segment.  I will say that one of the most incredible jobs driving during that first segment and possibly during the whole race has to go to Jeff Gordon for winding his way through that first wreck. The wreck that took out rookie drivers Joey Logano and Scott Speed.

Stewart’s biggest complaint was that his car was too tight and seemed to struggle during most of the second segment of the race.  During the very last caution he took a gamble on a pit stop and ended up lining up 8th for the green-white checker finish.  I admit I questioned the pitstop but apparently the car wasn’t too his liking (DAMN I MISS MY HOTPASS).   Due to the wreck that ended the race, Tony lucked out and ended up third because the accident tangled up drivers in third through 7th position.

It was my first glimpse of Team Office Depot and they seemed to be right on.  Pit stops looked nice and clean and Tony seemed fairly calm despite having a car that was all over the place. It was a good finish in typical NASCAR style-part effort part luck.  Seeing Team Office Depot in action makes me even more excited for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.

And speaking of the Daytona 500 I want to also talk a little bit about Pole day on Sunday.  First off I was esctatic to see Ryan Newman come out of the Stewart Haas stables so strong and nearly make the first row of the 500. I think that says a lot for the Army team.  However- for some reason I thought Tony’s car was the one who was in the top 35 in owner points not Ryans- so that surprised me a little bit that Tony was out there trying to qualify on time (although it makes sense if I think about it considering he would have the past champion’s provisional to fall back on if needed). However this makes for a VERY nervous Amy during qualifying. I didn’t watch all of it but luckily I was able to catch the bits and pieces I needed- including Tony’s run.  During Tony’s run I was actually pleasantly surprised. While he didn’t grab the pole or even get a top five – he did manage a top ten and was able to lock into the field on time and not have to worry about falling back on the past champion provisional.  I know that I read somewhere that Darian Grubb wants to help Tony focus on qualifying better and I think he is off to a great start.

Random NASCAR notes for the week:

  • There are so many changes of drivers and sponsors this season that it is taking me a long time to wrap my head around them all. It seems to me that the one I am having the hardest time remembering is Casey Mears being in the Jack Daniels 07 car.  And I can’t even find Clint Bowyer in that Cheerios car.
  • Speaking of can’t find a car…Tony’s new car too closely resembles Kasey Kahnes car to me. During the shootout I would really have to squint to tell who was who. I have a feeling that the Vegas race is gonna be an experience with me often losing Tony and mistaking him for Kasey Kahne and vice versa. At least until I get my Team 14 eyes trained.
  • Scott Speed.  I hate to say it but I don’t really like him.  He acted like a goof during the National Anthem, he acted like a goof giving his post-accident interview.  He just is a bit too goofy for me.
  • Way to go Travis Kvapil who had an awesome qualifying run and was also able to lock himself into the 500 on speed. Good Job. If you have been reading for any length of time you know that while I love Tony- I am also a strong supporter of Kvapil because I think he has great talent.
  • How embarrassing it must have been being Joey Logano during the Bud Shootout Draw.  Because the starting positions are disguised in Budweiser bottles and because he is only 18 he had to be accompanied by his crew chief Greg Zipadelli who actually had to draw for him.  He was the only driver who did not pick their own bottle.   I will say that I do applaud it though since Logano is technically underage.

Coming Soon: The Tony Stewart Advertisement Machine and Why I Don’t Collect DieCasts