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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.

Bristol. It’s a track I usually LOVE.  There is something about the tight quarter  “rubbing is racing” style of driving that we usually get out of Bristol that I absolutely love.  I think some of it might have been due to the TV coverage- but Bristol just didn’t seem to have that zing for me this race.

At the beginning of the race Tony’s car seemed to be alright despite the face that the handling on the car didn’t seem optimal.  Then it seemed to go for semi okay to worse…and Tony seemed to struggle to hold onto the car and would fall back. The car wasn’t balanced right.

Part of me has to wonder if that didn’t have to do with the tire change.  With the need to change compounds mid-weekend Bristol was bound to be a race of who got it right and who didn’t quite catch the set up correctly. It just didn’t seem that team 14 got the changes quite right. Of course I am sure that rear-ending teammate Ryan Newman didn’t help matters.  Tony was apologetic over the radio- I think he just lost track of Ryan in the smoke from Bobby Labonte’s spin.

Race winner was Kyle Busch who got another sweep at Bristol.

The best part about the day? Tony didn’t fall too far in the points. He is currently tied for third with teammate Ryan Newman.

Notes About Bristol:

  • I think ultimately Goodyear and NASCAR did a good thing changing the tire compound…however what I don’t understand is why the teams were only given one set of the new compound to practice on on Saturday?
  • I have been very encouraged by what I have seen from two drivers this year- Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Both seem to have benefited from the Hendrick crew chief swap.  Alan seems to be able to work with Jeff and get him what he needs technically out of the car. And Steve seems to be able to give Dale Jr what he needs. I hope that they both do well this season.
  • That National Anthem by Billy Ray Cyrus? Started out good but I don’t know about the end there…seemed a little sour. Of course I should talk- 3/4th of those in attendance at Bristol would have left if I had sung it.

Next weekend: California Dreamin at Autoclub Speedway.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Daytona 500. As a long time NASCAR fan I appreciate the rich history of the track at Daytona, afterall NASCAR was born on the sandy beaches there. I love that modern Daytona 500 races retain some of the history by being the only races in the series to retain the tradition of qualifying races (the duels/twins). Hell I love Daytona for no other reason than it signals the beginning of my NASCAR season; when the “big boys” take to the pavement nearly every weekend from now until Thanksgiving- racing their hearts out, pushing themselves and their equipment to the maximum. I LOVE Daytona for the excitement and optimism of a new season…that this will be Tony Stewart’s year!

However, there are things I don’t like about Daytona. And they all hinge on the fact that I don’t like it when drivers have to rely on other drivers to get around the track and win a race. The kind of driving we see on the super speedways of Daytona and Talladega especially. That being said- I much more preferred the two-car break away drafting (I think some people have been calling it pod racing but that makes me think of Starwars) we saw this year. Cars would pair up and work around the track in little two car teams. I thought it made the racing far more exciting that they long train-style drafting of years past- where two really long trains of drafting cars would jockey back and forth around the track all day. That racing I did NOT like at all. At least the two-car breakaways made it more interesting.

Sure there were a lot of wrecks and spins and cautions but that is to be expected as this style of driving is new to the drivers. They need to learn what work sand what doesn’t work- and they only way to do this is to see how far they can push it. Afterall, isn’t that what racing is about; pushing until you can’t push any longer? You need to know how far you can go- and you can only find that threshold of too far by going over it a few times. Even experienced drivers like Tony Stewart where having occasional trouble with it. Tony said on his radio during the race “Will someone please tell me what I’m doing wrong that spins guys out?!

Speaking of Tony Stewart, it was very very encouraging to me to see both Tony and teammate Ryan Newman both up towards the front of the pack at different points during the race.  That’s definitely a marker towards a good season ahead.  Tony drafted with several different drivers during the course of the 500 mile race but my favorite was when he was listening to him and Junior draft together.   I enjoyed listening to them communicate directly back and forth with each other instead of playing a complicated game of telephone that includes two spotters like he had to do with other drivers he drafted with like Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.  Tony also seemed to be able to talk directly to Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer so I think it was a Chevy driver thing. I just wish Tony hadn’t gotten shuffled back so far during the green/white/checker attempts as everyone jockied for dancing partners all day.  Tony ended up finishing 13th and is currently 12th in series points with 31 points- which is 11 points behind points leader Carl Edwards.

Of course, the real story of the race is the win by 20 year old Trevor Bayne.  They had been poking fun at Trevor during practice- about how he was always the first person out on pit road in the mornings. How he was an eager beaver sort of driver. How he sought out his idol- Jeff Gordon after driver intros then again after the parade lap. How he worked with his idol during the Gatorade Duels.  He was obviously a quick study. That move at the end of the race- how he jumped down in front of Carl Edwards as they were coming to the checkered flag? That move was something you would see from a veteran driver. It was awesome to witness.  Congratulations to Trevor- he’s one to keep your eye on. He will be going places I am sure of it. If you didn’t see Misty’s post on Trevor’s win- it’s a great read: Fresh Bread, not Sliced Bread, is Good for NASCAR.

NOTES ABOUT DAYTONA:

  • Congratulations go out again to Tony Stewart for winning his 4th Daytona Nationwide victory in a row (not to mention he’s won 6 of the last 7 nationwide races).  I LOVED the oreo paint scheme. I think it was great! You can find the diecast to pre-order available here.
  • Okay…I SQUEALED when I saw the Transformers NASCAR cars on the warm up laps.  Those things look AMAZINGLY COOL! I hope they have them at LVMS when I go- I want to see those things up close.
  • Don’t forget to vote daily for your favorite driver at the Wheaties Fuel Most Popular Driver website (formally the Hambuger Helper Most Popular Driver).

Next Race: Phoenix!