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Ahh, it was so great to not just have cup cars out on the track but to have those cup cars to be racing.  No matter what the format of the Shootout or how drivers qualify for the Shootout, I look forward it because to me it signals the beginning of the season, points be damned.

I admit during the off season, while reveling in the fact that my driver won his third championship, I’ve been pondering the momentum SHR may or may not carry into the 2012 season.  Last season was not the best of seasons for Tony Stewart and his #14 Office Depot/ Mobil 1 team.  I don’t think even Tony would argue with me there. Granted there were some near wins during the regular season, like Las Vegas (which broke my heart because I knew how much he wanted to win there after our interview and to see him come oh-so-close only to not win) and the more positive 2nd place in New Hampshire (where he finished second to teammate Ryan Newman).  But despite a few bright spots (that were not winning so how bright could they really be) was frustrating for our driver (and his fans right).  I honestly don’t think I have ever worried as much as I have about Tony making THE CHASE (NASCAR’s version of playoffs/Championship) as I did this last 2011 season.  Luckily he did by the skin of his teeth (whether or not he thought he deserved it).

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, jokes around during qualifying for the Daytona 500 at Daytona. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images North America).

Then it was like someone flipped a switch. Tony’s CHASE run was nothing short of amazing, with the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 team winning a record 5 out of 10 CHASE races.  And don’t even get me started about that race at Homestead, that amazing race that Tony NEEDED to win. He not only managed to win but passed 118 cars to do it. A race where the team and driver had to overcome damage early in the race, a bad pit stop, a rain delay and you know 42 competitors. A race where it was quite obvious that the driver was….well driving his ass off.  Oh yeah and they happened to take home a CHAMPIONSHIP because if it.  That rocked.

Even though the season ended on a high note, that doesn’t mean that the momentum will follow through and don’t think that doesn’t worry me.  SHR underwent some fairly major changes at the end of the season and during the off season.  There were sponsor additions (Outback and Quicken Loans) for Ryan Newman’s car. A new crew chief, Steve Addington,  was hired for Tony Stewart, after letting go Darian Grubb. The long empty Director of Competition position was filled by Greg Zipadelli (big surprise there right?) after being vacant most of last season.  And the BIGGEST change of all, the addition of a third, albeit part-time team with the #10 of Danica Patrick.  Yes, technically the car is fielded by TBR but we all know that was done to guarantee Danica a start in the 500 without having to sacrifice Tony or Ryan’s owner points.  So that adds a new crew (maybe- Stewart-Haas has a third pit crew they offered out to other teams) and a new quasi-teammate to the mix.  That is a whole lot of change for an organization. Change that may (or hopefully may NOT) hinder momentum because there are new people getting use to an existing organization and an organization getting use to new people.

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the Daytona 500 at Daytona. (Picture Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

That being said, I am VERY pleased with what i saw at the Shootout momentum wise.  Considering that Tony’s car had signifigant damage during practice and the team was able to repair the car and get it to point where he was obviously very competive, it is exciting to witness. Yeah, Tony didn’t win but he came darn close.  Even Kyle Busch mentioned during his postrace that he hooked up with Tony because he knew that the 14 was fast.  So as a fan of SHR and in particular Tony Stewart, I am definitely liking what I am seeing from my team so far this very young season.

Now, as far as the 500 on Sunday? It’s going to be a crazy race.  NASCAR worked hard during the off season to break up the tandem drafting and judging by the Shootout, it worked.  The return of “pack” racing is something I find crazy stressful to watch at the superspeedways.  Packs mean there is less room to correct for an “oopsie” with out hitting someone else.  Recovery space is limited.  When you do make a mistake (and someone always does- it’s human nature) there is a very good chance that multiple cars will be involved, thus a better chance of a more “spectacular” crashes. And when I say “spectacular” I really mean “scary as hell, oh god please let driver x by okay” kind of crashes.  So there is that to worry about.

On the plus side, Tony WAS strong in the shootout. Hopefully he will be equally strong in his Duel race.  And for those who like numbers- this is Tony Stewart’s 14th Daytona 500.  I think it’s time for him to finally win one!  I know Tony must want that jewel in his crown- who wouldn’t.

So…#GoTonyTo and as always #ImWithSmoke!

Also- be sure to check out our new “Misty’s Mazin’ Moment” column- this week she tackles The Shootout. And her Misty’s Messed her unMentionables moment of the Shootout!

Hey Indiana Stewart-Haas Racing fans- here is a head’s up.  First you saw them qualify P1 and P2 in Loudon. Then you saw them finish 1-2 in Loudon. Now you can meet them both in Indiana at different Office Depot locations in advance of the Brickyard 400! That’s right Stewart-Haas teammates  Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart are doing autograph sessions for fans in their native state of Indiana.

Loudon winner Ryan Newman and Loudon runner up Tony Stewart will sign autographs in their native state of Indiana(Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett MRD/CIA Copyright, CIA Stock Photography)Inc.

Loudon winner Ryan Newman (who hails from South Bend, IN) starts the autograph sessions at the Office Depot located at 16650 Mercantile Blvd in Noblesville IN on July 27th. Ryan Newman will be signing autographs for 600 fans starting at 4:00 pm. A wristband is required for the event. Wristbands will be distributed on a first come first serve (one wristband per person) basis at the Office Depot starting at 8:00 am. There will be one autograph per wristband and one wristband per person.

The following day (July 28th) Tony Stewart, who hails from Columbus, Indiana, will be at the Office Depot in Carmel, IN to help THE OFFICE DEPOT FOUNDATION donate 5,000 sackpacks filled will school supplies to representatives from from local schools and non-profit organizations (FYI sackpacks are not available to the general public) that assist Indiana’s school-age children. After the donation, Tony Stewart will sign autographs for 300 fans at the Office Depot in Carmel. This Office Depot is located at 12417 Meridian Crossing in Carmel, IN. Tony’s autograph session will start as soon as the sackpack presentations are over- so at approximately 4:15 pm. You will need a wristband for an autograph. A wristband is required for the event. Wristbands will be distributed on a first come first serve (one wristband per person) basis at the Office Depot starting at 8:00 am. There will be one autograph per wristband and one wristband per person.

Get their early, wear comfy shoes and have a blast!

Wow, what a weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing.   I admit I was quite pleased when Ryan and Tony qualified 1-2 (although that little teeny competitive person inside me was chagrined that it wasn’t the other way around).  Tony isn’t always the best qualifier- so when he qualifies top 10 I get pretty happy. When he qualifies top 5 I get damn happy. When he qualifies top 2? I do a jig. Ok not really- but I was ecstatic and hopeful for his run on Sunday.

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, poses with his team and Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, and his team on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LENOX Industrial Tools 301 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images North America)

It appears I had every reason to be hopeful.  EVERY REASON.  I settled in for the race with my cell phone and my note pad close.  I started off on the TNT national broadcast- only for the pre-race. Once the command was given to start engines I switched it over to Stewart’s DirecTV HotPass channel where for the second week in a row I just stayed on the HotPass Channel.  I have decided that I like the HotPass because I get the radio communications between Tony, Darian and Bob without draining my battery on my phone and having to relaunch the Sprint ap every time I go to read a text or a tweet- which during the race is quite often.

Anyway- it was quite obvious by the way Tony Stewart moved through the field that he had a car to be reckoned with.  Especially if you consider that during the pre-race show all the drivers interviewed mentioned how hard it would be to pass at Louden.  I don’t remember anyone saying anything different.  Tony seemed to be able to work his way up through the field a couple times and made it look easy.  EASY!  Whoo.

Ryan Newman (R), driver of the #39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, is congratulated by team owner and second place finisher, Tony Stewart (L), driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LENOX Industrial Tools 301 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)

I will readily admit that the competitive side of me came out when Tony was running hard trying to catch Ryan.  I was standing there in front of the TV-hoping Ryan would run out of gas. I know, I should hang my head in shame a little for hoping Ryan would run out of gas, after all that is Tony’s  teammate.  All I can say is that, Tony is my driver and he could be racing my mom out there and I would still be rooting for Tony. It’s just how this fan/driver relationship works.

Tony’s second place finish has moved him into a tie for 10th place with Denny Hamlin.  I can only hope that this 1-2 weekend at New Hampshire signals the start of better luck for Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing.

Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, is congratulated by teammate Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, after Newman won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LENOX Industrial Tools 301 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images North America)

Notes on Loudon:

  1. You see that picture up there of Tony congratulating Ryan in the car. The one right above this notes section? You might have to look carefully because it’s small but Tony’s hand is out congratulating Ryan.  I LOVE that picture.  Why? Well, as I mentioned I was watching the race on Tony’s HotPass channel and seeing him celebrate Ryan’s win and his second place from his incar camera was GREAT!  He was UBER excited!!!  Then hearing that one of the first things Tony said when he got out of his car was that he was “so damn proud” that he “couldn’t see straight” made me laugh.
  2. I love listening in on the radio communication. How else would I have known that Tony was mad because the hose that cools his feet wasn’t hooked up and I found that out because he stated over his radio that he in charge of hooking up said hose could drive the car the next time the hose didn’t get hooked up.  So Tony wasn’t hot-headed he was hot-footed.  Ha! I crack myself up.  Not to mention the kind words he had to say about Andy Lally.  LOVE it because that is what is going on right then and there in the car in my driver’s head.
  3. Oh and I am hearing that there is a rumor out there that Carl Edwards may be signing with JGR for next season…I am not sure if JGR is going to a 4 car team or if that means someone is out of one of the JGR cars.  I guess we will find out soon enough.
  4. I still have to say that I would be happier if Ryan and Tony’s finishes were reversed, but still pretty damn happy.
  5. But we really need a win now. Just saying.
  6. Oh and before I forget- Tony mentioned during his post-race press conference that Darian was dealing with pneumonia while on the pit box…I sure hope he’s feeling better soon!

Gratuitous Tony picture:

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 15, 2011 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Don’t forget next weekend is an off weekend for the Cup cars…they will be back the following weekend at Indy. Go Tony Go!

At a previous race during this season someone asked Tony Stewart to describe his car and his chances for that particular race. I have no memory of what race it was or who even asked him the question. I honestly don’t even remember if it was something I saw on print or on TV. Anyway, he described his car and his chances for that particular race with the phrase “cautiously optimistic.” Most everyone knows that Tony Stewart is the king of snappy, derisive one line comebacks (and this is one of the reasons he’s my driver) so why this particular, non-Stewartesque quote stuck with me all this time I haven’t a clue. It was obviously something my brain felt the need to file in it’s bulging back pocket. (more…)

I became familiar with EFX Perfomance probably about a year ago when I noticed Tony Stewart had been wearing a necklace and I could tell it had letters on it but from the pictures I had seen- I couldn’t tell WHAT it said.  I asked a fellow blogger (who was interviewing about to interview him) to see if she could find out what it said/what it was- and she kindly did.  So I am NOT surprised that I saw the press release last week come across my desk stating that EFX  Perfomance had developed a partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports to bring driver specific bracelets available for purchase.  (more…)

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

Here are some visual goodies from the Richmond Weekend:

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

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

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

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

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

Notes about Richmond:

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

Next week:  Darlington’s Southern 500 on SATURDAY night

Restrictor plate racing brings with it it’s own set of rules and lately it’s own style of racing. The two-by-two “pod” style of racing that we saw at Daytona in February was indeed back again at Talladega. It was no surprise that during the extended first practice when it featured many pod runs (two cars bump drafting all the way around the track).

The two car tango that we have been seeing at the plate tracks brings with it two “issues” that seem to be on everyone’s mind. Of course you know I am going to throw my opinion in the ring. (more…)

So after a strong start to the 2011 Sprint Cup season it is hard to see Stewart-Haas racing strugggling. As a Tony Stewart fan it’s REALLY hard.

Over a week later I still don’t understand what happened at the end of the race in Fontana. Tony seemed to have a strong car- but that car just faded away that last run. Was it lack of tire? Mechanical? I still don’t understand what caused the fade away that left him finishing 13th after such a strong run all day long.

Then today- we have Martinsville. Tony didn’t have speed in practice earlier in the weekend. He qualified poorly (28th) on Saturday.  Then when the race started, he just seemed to fight an ill handling car all day while trying to conserve tires.  He was able to work his way up to a high of 20th at one point. Judging by radio communications Darian seemed to have some sort of plan to get Tony track position so he has something to work with.  Unfortunately that plan wouldn’t really get placed in effect after Stewart was penalized for changing lanes before reaching the start finish line during a restart.   I admit- that one had me shaking my head.  Okay…shaking my head and cursing like a sailor.  I it is disheartening to watch your team have a couple of bad weeks.  Tony finished 38 laps down in 34th position. He dropped to 11th in points.

Race winner for both Fontana and Martinsville was Kevin Harvick. I can only imagine Junior Nation is NOT a Harvick fan after the last several laps of Martinsville.

Notes:

  • Two drivers who had GREAT days- Dale Earnhart Jr and Jeff Gordon.  I swear I could hear the crowd at Martinsville go wild all the way over here in California when Jr took the lead during the last 30 laps of the race.  Jeff Gordon also had a great finish considering he qualified 21st.  He rose from 19th to points to 12th in points. That puts him right behind Tony.  Jeff is going in the right direction. Tony however is not.  Dont think I am not starting to panic about points.  Yes I know that there is a lot of racing left in the season…but I worry because we are going in the wrong direction.
  • The tire issue that everyone seemed to be concerned about didn’t really seem to be that big of a deal after all.
  • Was it just me or did Martinsville seem to take FOREVER to finish? Maybe it was just because I was cranky because Tony was having a bad day.  Any Kevin Harvick fans want to weigh in on the length of the race?

Next week we are racing under the lights at Texas on Saturday night.