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 (This is what originally came out of my pen when I sat down to pen my weekly race review. It wasn’t my usual race report so I kept this and wrote a usual race report which became Oral B 500: Back In  The Saddle Again (Part 1) –  Amy).

Pre-Race Invocation in Atlanta

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, looks on prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

As I sit here, in a car wash of all places, scratching out the rough draft of my weekly race report, the song Back In The Saddle by Aerosmith is a constant refrain echoing against the walls of my skull and will not leave me. It echoes even louder and more constant then the golf tournament playing on the ancient television set turned up far too loud that needs two types of converters just to get the digital signal to the local station. I have effectively started and crossed out and then started over (because I am old school and use paper and pen most of the time- then convert my posts to digital) this post at least three times, all while waiting for my SUV to be be brought around from the back where the washing happens to the front where the hand detailing takes place, because I just can’t seem to get the post quite right. Because obviously I have more to say about the emotion of the race than I do the race itself.

Tony’s back in the #14 Bass Pro Chevy, he’s “back in the saddle again” (and yes the quoted part should be read with that raspy, sing/scream that Steven Tyler is famous for) and for the second time in a season I am both elated and worried at the concept of Tony back behind the wheel. I make no bones about it, I don’t pretend to hide any possible bias- I am not a journalist, I am a NASCAR fan-  specifically a fan of Tony Stewart. I wear my fandom proudly on my sleeve, on my car and in my heart. I am a fan with a website and a will to write, with an outlet I use to talk about the sport I love and the driver I brand as mine. If you have read BadGroove for any length of time, that is perfectly clear.

Back in February I was both elated and worried about Tony getting behind the wheel again after he suffered a severely broken right leg. Was he physically ready? Was he pushing to hard? What if he got caught up in an accident? It was Daytona after all and I am pretty sure that for the whole month of February I held my breath. He had admitted himself that his leg wasn’t 100 percent healed and of course I worried immensely about re-injury, even after showing nearly right away in the duels that those stock cars I love to watch fling around the track at outrageous speeds are pretty damn safe.  Tony Stewart may have been physically broken but he was on the mend and nothing was going to keep him from doing what he loved to do.  Slowly I let that breath I had been holding as weeks turned into months and racing turned back into a beloved routine. Tony was back and I was back to worrying more about mechanical set ups beyond my comprehension then his leg, his health.

Then three weeks ago (what is it about the month of August I implore my fellow Smoke fans?) the unthinkable happened, the completely un-fucking-expected happened. A tragic incident, accident at a race track ended the life of a young racer and forever altered the life of one of the best race drivers in our era.  A driver who’s life blood is motor oil yet whose heart is bigger than most. My driver.

His immediate reaction was to get into the car at Watkin’s Glen the Sunday following the accident, to surround himself with normalcy and routine but at the last minute after what was no doubt a very sleepless night- he understandably withdrew and then stayed withdrawn out of respect and out of need to pull away, to feel, to digest, to cope.

As Tony said, the sadness and pain is nothing that he would ever wish on anyone.  There are no words that can make the pain go away, no words of comfort that can be spoken to the family of Kevin Ward Jr that will make everything “all better.” There is no “all better” no matter how much we hope that there can be. The same holds true for Tony Stewart- there are no words of solace or consolation that anyone can say that will give him peace of mind.

That said- this weekend Tony was back in the car and that familiar worry was back about whether or not he was ready. Is it too soon? Can disappointment on track only add to the pain he feels off-track. I can only hope not. The team had a great car at Atlanta, but the crappy luck was back as the 14 was collected and badly damaged when it got shoved into the wall by another car (and I will implore my fellow NASCAR fans with another question- what the hell is up with Kyle Busch lately) and despite a valiant effort by the team to keep Tony on track- the car later blew a tire and damaged the car further beyond repair.

What I hope Tony did draw from being at the track this week was more than just the comfort of the routine from sitting in the car and buckling himself in. Comfort from the shutting out the world so that all is left is the blur of the speed and an belief you are controlling what most deem uncontrollable.  What I hope he  found instead  was the love, unspoken respect and reverence that was there at the track in aces: From his team and teammates. From his fellow drivers, and NASCAR officials. From his sponsors who came to not just show support silently but to announce it loudly with tenacity and steadfastness. From his “racing family.”

But that support, respect, and reverence was also there from the fans and I am not just talking Tony fans. It was there in a roaring ovation when introduced- filled with not just a sea of Tony Stewart fans but just race fans- 48, 88, 24, 78, 31, 43 the number didn’t matter at that point- just standing and showing support in grief is what mattered. Support that was left in little messages of love scrawled in marker on his pit wall. It’s the support from fans who showed it the only way they could throughout the last three weeks- through internet campaigns and banding together, all race fans, not just Stewart fans, to get topics to trend or to get masses of people to stand for the same two laps as the numbers of both Kevin and Tony’s cars (13 and 14). Support in the form of donations to his foundation to help make a difference in the lives of children and animals in need- causes near and dear to Tony’s heart. Support in the form of blog posts in little corners of the internet.

I am not a touchy-feely person- I never really have been. It’s just not who I am or how I express myself. Yet for the past three weeks I have wanted nothing more that to give Tony a big, tight, wordless hug.  I do not know him, so I can not do this, at least not in the physical sense. But he can consider this a big virtual one.

I hope that Tony is able gather strength from the support that is all around him even if he doesn’t fully grasp the breadth and width of that support, or the why of it. Just that it’s there in the midst of the darkness of this tragedy like bear bond for his soul.

Kurt Busch hugs Tony Stewart

Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, welcomes back Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

(Note: This is not what first came out of my pen when I sat down to write my weekly race report- that will follow tomorrow. But this is the race report much akin to what you are use to- Amy)

Tony and Crew walk to the grid

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, walks with crew members on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Much to the glee of Tony Stewart fans (myself included) their driver was back this week at Atlanta for the Oral B 500. The weekend started of with a presser, a heart-felt statement read by a Tony Stewart we haven’t seen before: a very raw, obviously heartbroken one.  It was hard to watch and some wondered why he even bothered with a presser since he wouldn’t be taking questions himself. Personally I think that was mostly a “I am here to race, but I won’t answer your questions because the investigation is still ongoing and I frankly I am still quite raw about the incident so please for the love of Pete just leave me alone while I get back into the swing of racing.” I can’t imagine the amount of media pressure and scrutiny he felt like he was under, what the team felt like it was under. (more…)

Tony Stewart Atlanta Presser

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, speaks to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

“I’ve taken the last couple weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family, and also to cope with the accident in my own way. It’s given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted. I miss my team, my teammates. I miss being back in the race car.  I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.”– Tony Stewart, Atlanta Media Presser, August 29th, 2014

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*TQMS= The Quotable Mr. Stewart. Click here for previous editions of the TQMS posts.

#KeepDiggingTony #StandWithSmoke

Winding Up For The Pitch

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, throws his hans device at Kevin Harvick (not pictured), driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, after an on-track incident  at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 23, 2014. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)

I couldn’t resist the title. After the Denny/Harvick incident I actually tweeted that.  But I am getting ahead of myself. Bristol is one of my favorite tracks to watch on television; it and Martinsville. I guess I am a just a short track racing girl at heart.  Jeff Burton was again piloting the #14 Bass Pro Chevy for our driver Tony Stewart.  He qualified the #14 25 for the race- I wasn’t able to catch ANY of practice or qualifying so I couldn’t gauge how the car was running and had no idea what to expect from our team 14.

I was pleased to see that once the green flag flew Jeff Burton was able to move up through the field, slowly and steadily picking off positions one at a time fairly methodically and patiently- a feat that is not easy at a track that known to ignite the tempers of even the most mild mannered of drivers. Crew Chief Chad Johnston made an interesting call during a caution at lap 198 and that put the 14 car up in the top four of the race! That right there was a BEAUTIFUL thing to see. (more…)

This week’s TQMS is about your passion- it’s exactly what I needed to read this week:

Tony in Texas 2012

Tony at Texas MotorSpeedway, 2012. (Photo Credit: Tony Stewart Facebook Page)

“It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or what you’re doing or what they’re doing, there is something that we all enjoy doing, and I don’t care what you’re responsible for, what your job title is,” Stewart continued. “If you are not doing in your life what you love to do and what you’re passionate about doing, why are we here? What is the point of living our life if we aren’t going to find things we love and enjoy and are able to do it?” — Tony Stewart in One Year Later: Smoke Talks Sprint Car Return by Mike Kerchner

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*TQMS= The Quotable Mr. Stewart. Click here for previous editions of the TQMS posts.

#KeepDiggingTony #StandWithSmoke

What Turn 4?

What Turn 4? The #14 Code 3 Associates Mobil 1 Chevy of Tony Stewart turns lap at the Tricky Triangle. (Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tony Stewart Facebook page)

It was another bad luck race for Tony Stewart and Team 14 at the evil little tricky triangle track known as Pocono.  It started with  Tony Stewart qualifying the #14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet 16th for the race in Long Pond, PA.

The race start time was moved up slightly because of possible weather in the area in the afternoon. I was actually kind of impressed- previously NASCAR has been resistant to moving race start times to outrun weather.  I liked that the were being a little more proactive.

Prayer Circle

Tony Stewart and crew form a prayer circle before the GoBowling 400 at Pocono Raceway August 2014 (Photo Credit: ommy Grassmann/CIA Copyright/Tony Stewart Official Store Facebook Page)

(more…)

I just could NOT resist posting a bonus TQMS today after what Tony said after wrecking out at Pocono:

Tony at Pocono

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Code 3 / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, gets into his car in the garage during Practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway on August 1, 2014 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
(Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)

“Man. I tend to end up on top of Paul (Menard) a lot… IN THE CAR, I MEAN. IN THE CAR.” Tweet from @MartySmithESPN

Um really Tony?!?

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*TQMS= The Quotable Mr. Stewart. Click here for previous editions of the TQMS posts.

#KeepDiggingTony #StandWithSmoke

Tony and Code 3 Associates

Tony and Code 3 Associates at Martinsville earlier this year. (photo credit: Tony Stewart Facebook Page)

“We’re honored to have Code 3 Associates as a partner with Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s nice to know there’s an organization out there that takes care of a sometimes overlooked but very important family member- your pet. Taking care of animals has always been important to me, and when we started our foundation, we made animal welfare a priority. To be able to promote the work of Code 3 Associates so that it can do even more work for people and their pets is very satisfying.” – Tony Stewart, Pocono Team Release July/August 2014

Tony will be running the Code 3 Associates paint scheme this weekend at Pocono! #KeepDiggingTony- we are rooting for you.  While speaking of Code 3 Associates- you can join Tony and become a member (it’s free and you have a chance to win great prizes) of Code 3 Associates. Join now! You can also check out the Code 3 Associates Facebook Page for more information about this organization. If you join now, according to their facebook page you are in the running for an autographed picture of Tony Stewart and PorkChop. I wonder which signed it? ;-)

Tony is contemplative

Tony at Martinsville earlier this season. (photo credit: Tony Stewart facebook).

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*TQMS= The Quotable Mr. Stewart. Click here for previous editions of the TQMS posts.

#KeepDiggingTony #StandWithSmoke