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Okay…the 2011 NASCAR season is ALMOST here. We are definitely on the downhill side of the off-season. I honestly don’t know how football and baseball and all those other kinds of sports fans deal with longer off seasons that we NASCAR fans have.

We have some changes to deal with in points and the chase.  Then of course there is the new fuel and the new nose of the car.  (I will say this- I LOVE the look of the new nose!) All of these go along with the usual shifting of drivers to different teams,  sponsors and numbers  changing- which always takes me about four races or so before I get them all programmed into my head.  But what are we without change right?

Of course I am hoping this will be the best season yet for Stewart-Haas (and for Tony). Let’s go get that third championship for Tony! YEY!

That being said I have some Tony Stewart Autograph appearances to share with you if you are going to Daytona for Speedweeks, if you are going to the Las Vegas Race, or live within driving distance of Greenwood Indiana:

  • On Tuesday February 15th Tony will be signing autographs at the Office Depot in Daytona Beach (1560 South Nova Road, Daytona Beach, FL 32114) at 4:00 pm local time.  There will be 600 wristbands available to fans at the location starting at 8:00 am! One wristband per person, one autograph per wristband.  Fans with wristbands MUST be in line no later than 5:00 pm.
  • On Thursday March 3rd Tony is scheduled to do an autograph appearance at the Office Depot in North Las Vegas (1435 West Craig Road, North Las Vegas, NV) at 12:30 local time.   There will be 600 wristbands available to fans at the location starting at 8:00 am! One wristband per person, one autograph per wristband.  Fans with wristbands MUST be in line no later than 1:30 pm. (Misty and I are planning on being at this one! So say Hi if you see us!)
  • On Tuesday March 15th Tony will be doing an autograph appearance at the JD Byrider located at 1703 US 31 South in Greenwood Indiana at 5:00 pm. There will be 800 wristbands available for this one starting at 11:00pm at the location.  One wristband per person, one autograph per wristband.

Just to remind you that the Tony Stewart Foundation is still doing Checkered Flag Fridays – where the first Friday of every month the foundation lists several ebay auctions with autographed items. Some items are unique items- its a fun way to support both Tony and his foundation!  If anyone is looking for a belated birthday present for yours truly look no farther than this particular Checkered Flag Friday auction.  I kid I kid…kinda.

Also if you tweet…I hope you will join me this season in the return of the #goTONYgo hashtags to show support for Tony and the 14 team!!

Ahh if you never had braces you were a lucky ducky.  I work braces for a couple years and getting them finally removed was cause for celebration. No more painful “adjustments” which is orthadontal speak for tightening and no more food restrictions. My particular braces removal celebration included caramel popcorn.  But anyway, NASCAR fans, I digress.  We got our first taste of the new nose on the cup cars without the splitter braces when the cars hit Daytona International Speedway for testing last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I have to say I LOVE the look of the new nose on the cars.  In my opinion, the new nose adds to the aesthetics of the car and makes it look sportier.  Hopefully the lack of braces on the splitter will keep the cars from collection hot dog wrappers, grass clumps and other debris and make possible overheating less of an issue. 

SHR cars

Look Ma! No Braces! The new nose on the cars for this season is visible here in this picture tweeted by Stewart Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) today.

Many drivers were getting their first feel of the new surface on the speedway as well, as Daytona was repaved during the off season.  Many drivers reported it to be quite smooth and likened it to the newer surface at Talladega.  It should make for some interesting racing that is for certain.  I loved that testing was streamed live on the internet because I could tune in from my side of the states.  Seeing and hearing the cars on the track put a huge smile on this fan’s face.  Why? Because it means soon our season with be on again in full swing.

 Just from the little pieces of testing that I was able to watch it is going to be hard for me to get use to certain changes.  It’s really weird seeing Kasey Kahne in the Red Bull number 4 car.  I did see him race for Red Bull in person in Phoenix at end of last season, and it was weird then. Still weird.   Weirder yet?  Is Harvick in Budweiser red and Kurt in the number #22! It’s all going to take some getting used to that is for sure.  However this nothing new to us NASCAR fans; sponsors and teams change because our sport is dynamic like that. 

Other changes to look forward to or get use to this season:

  1. Ethanol used as fuel in the cars.  Preliminary reports had the cars getting fewer miles per gallon on the ethanol so we will see how much the switch to a “greener” fuel changes strategy on the track.
  2. Speaking of Ethanol- because of the change to ethanol fuel, the gas can needed to be modified. Because of the modifications to the gas can, it was determined that the catch can man was no longer needed.  It is a plus for pit road safety to have one less man over the wall (especially on smaller tracks with cramped pit roads).  While it may be plus for safety though it probably sucks if you were a catch can man.
  3. Drivers now have to declare a series in which they want to run for the championship.  This I don’t like. Why? Because that means my dreams of watching Kyle Busch sweep all three championships one day has died. Yes I am a Tony fan but I am SURE that Kyle could sweep all three series if he put his mind to it.
  4. There is the possible change in the points system that will be most likely announced soon. 
  5. There is the change in the chase format….playfully called the Jamie Mac Chase Clause (JMCC) between Misty and I.  I think its weird use the last two positions of the chase into more wild card spots given to the two non chase contenders with the most wins. I don’t know how that will change the chase…but I guess we will see.

Needless to say there are a lot of changes this season and not JUST to the drivers/teams.  Here we go NASCAR fans. Let’s buckle in for a new season. And to my Tony Stewart readers all I can say is #goTONYgo!

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Also NASCAR fans- be sure to head over to The Fast and The Fabulous and vote in Round 4 of the Hottest Driver contest. This round pits Stewart-Haas teammates against each other. Go vote…

I read a ton of blogs- some of which aren’t even NASCAR related.  One of my favorite non-NASCAR blogs, Uppercase Woman, posted a “fantasy christmas list” as if there were no restrictions on money, time, anything…and I decided I would do one in my own NASCAR way of course:

Dear Santa-

Tonight as I am curled up on my couch sitting next to the Christmas tree and it’s twinkling lights, I am dreaming of a Stewart-Haas Christmas.  It’s been quite a year for me personally, professionally (you know at my “day job”), and here at BadGroove.  I can assure you that I have been as good as possible this year. I am hoping that you will take a look at my Christmas list this year and can fit some of my wishes it.

First and foremost, I would like Tony Stewart to win the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship.  Is it too much to ask for a third? Sure Jimmie Johnson made history and everything with his fifth consecutive championship this year, but I really want Tony to have his “book-end championships” since he was the last driver not named Jimmie Johnson to win a championship.   Whatever you can do Santa. I realize for this gift will have to wait until next year- I believe that this is a completely fair trade off.  If you think I am worthy of only one gift this year, this one is the most important to me.

Next Santa, I would like for both Stewart-Haas teams to make the Chase…and finish well. Very well (see the above paragraph). 

And while we are talking Stewart-Haas Racing, this is a gift I would like you to bestow upon them- a plethora of sponsors. 

And I would like a driver other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Most Popular Driver award…of course you know I would like the winner to be Tony Stewart but I would be happy if anyone else but Dale would win. 

Santa, I would like for the 2011 NASCAR schedule to change- so that all the races out west would be more scattered throughout the schedule making it easier for us working girls in the west to make it to multiple races without eating a hole in the majority of our vacation leave. 

And since I am shooting for the moon Santa, I would like a nice shiny new Chevy Camaro to find it’s way into the driveway.  I am not too particular about color…but white with a flat black racing stripe would be nice. Or yellow…like BumbleBee from Transformers. Anthing but black will do.

Also, I would like to have some custom paint (or wrapping) on my Chevy HHR.  I am looking for some graphite colored ghost flames on the nose that lick up the side of my car….and I wouldn’t turn down a big Stewart-Haas racing logo on the side or gate area of my car.  It’s something I have been wanting to do to my HHR since I bought it but unfortunately just haven’t found the extra cash to do it. 

I would like for BadGroove to become even more popular than it already is. 

And of course Santa, I want world peace, a better economy, and job assurance for all.  I am sure that is high on everybody’s list this year.

Thank you Santa, I will leave you a plate of cookies like always!

Amy

Well greetings out there to all my readers!!!   It’s that time of year isn’t it? The time when going to the mall makes one crazy because there is no parking and the weather is crappy and there are people everywhere and stores are sold out of what you want and really all you want to do is “wad up some cash and throw it at people” (direct quote from Misty)  instead of trying to find gifts…but somehow think that my 3 year old and 9 month old nephews wouldn’t really go for the wadded up cash approach.  Maybe that’s just me (and Misty).   Anyway- if you have a Stewart-Haas Racing fan, a Tony Stewart fan, a Ryan Newman fan, or a NASCAR fan on your list here are some gift suggestions for this year:

1. For Stewart-Haas Racing fans (in particular Tony Stewart fans) I highly suggest the new Office Depot Racing 2011 calendar:

I present to you the cover of the 2011 Tony Stewart calendar. (photo credit: Edelman)

I mean who can resist 12 full months of Tony Stewart (and crew).  It’s available at most (but not all) Office Depot locations as well as ONLINE.

2.  Office Depot is again this holiday season selling their Teddy B. Caring bears (as seen here with Tony Stewart):

Tony Stewart and Teddy B. Caring have a meeting. (Photo Credit: Edelman)

Proceeds from the bear go to The Office Depot Foundation which has many programs throughout the year for children and families, including the ever popular National Backpack Program which supplies new backpacks and book bags filled with school supplies to children in need.  It’s a program that Tony Stewart himself has worked with for two years now helping the foundation hand out the backpacks and book bags to children and service organizations. Tony says, “It’s amazing to see the look on a child’s face when they receive a new backpack and are able to head back to school with an extra boost of confidence. Every child deserves that, and I would like to encourage everyone to consider giving a Teddy B. Caring bear as a gift this holiday season in support of the great work the Office Depot Foundation does all year long.” The bear is a 16 inch GUND bear available at Office Depot.  Or you can also pick up a smaller version that is an ornament/ gift card holder.

3.  You can make a donation to the Ryan Newman Foundation or Tony Stewart Foundation on behalf of your fan. Both drivers are heavily involved in giving back.   The Ryan Newman Foundation focuses it’s efforts on getting the message out there to Spay and Neuter pets- to help prevent overpopulation, urges pet seekers to get their pets from shelters or rescues.  They also heavily support conservation efforts to perserve the great outdoors for future generations AND support the Rich Vogler  Scholarship program for youth interested in careers in auto racing.  The Tony Stewart Foundation‘s mission services children with life-threatening illnesses, abused and endangered animals and injured drivers.  I have had the pleasure in our interviews with Tony of talking to him about his foundation and it’s amazing to watch his countenance change when he starts talking about children and animals especially.

4.  You can also find great Stewart-Haas Racing gear and gear for both drivers on sale over at the Stewart-Haas Racing online store.  Each driver also has a separate online store: Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman.  You can get everything a fan could dream of between the three sites.

5.  And I have to bring up my favorite NASCAR book that I have read so far this year…and that is The Weekend Starts On Wednesday.  The book is an ode to and of  NASCAR Fans.  It’s a great read that most any NASCAR fan will enjoy.  I have read it and it truly makes me proud to be a NASCAR fan.  The author is witty and the book is extremely well written.  I highly recommend it!

Tony Stewart, owner/driver of the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Office Depot Chevrolet and teammate Ryan Newman spent time with Office Depot employees at headquarters in Boca Raton Florida, thanking them for their hard work and celebrating the sponsorship relationship the drivers have with Office Depot.

Stewart and Newman took part in a Q&A session, hosted by SpeedTV Broadcaster John Roberts:

Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman address Office Depot employees at headquarters in Florida. Photo Credit: Edelman

The pair even presented Office Depot with an autographed hood:

John Roberts Hosts Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman at Office Depot Headquarters. Photo Credit: Edelman

 The duo then autographed items for the employees taking part in the celebration:

Tony Stewart signs autograph for Office Depot employees at the sponsor's headquarters. Photo Credit: Edelman

And…ok sure…another gratutious picture- Tony answers questions from the media while teammate Ryan Newman looks on. The photographer in me LOVES this picture…because Stewart is in the front but Newman is there in the background….it’s a great picture:

Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman address the media at the Office Depot Staff event. Photo Credit: Edelman

 Office Depot employees were also visited by Miss Sprint Cup Monica Palumbo and an autograph session with author Andrew Giangola who was on hand signing copies of his book THE WEEKEND STARTS ON WEDNESDAY for employees (If you haven’t read Andrew’s book you should pick up a copy NOW! It really is a good read and makes me proud to be a NASCAR fan!)  I wish my department at work would have Tony and Ryan come to one of OUR all-hands meetings.  Hee.

It’s no secret that Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart are  not only avid outdoors men but love casting a line when given the opportunity.  Being the  fairly competitive people I can only believe they are since they race cars for a living, can you imagine what you get when you throw the both of them in a lake for a charity fishing competition.  That is exactly what both drivers were doing yesterday- they were fishing for charity at Lake Okeechobee in Florida for the Office Depot Foundation Charity Fishing Tournament.

Tony Stewart and His Fish!- 2010 Office Depot Foundation Charity Fishing Tournament. Photo Credit: Gort Productions

Doesn’t it look like Tony was having a GREAT time? Sounds like he did:

“I had a great time fishing and all for a great cause,” Stewart said. “I’ve had a chance to work with the Office Depot Foundation on its National Backpack Program for the past two years, and it’s one of the most rewarding things I do. The National Backpack Program makes a real difference in the lives of kids who might not otherwise be able to go back to school with the tools they need to succeed. It’s pretty amazing to see their faces light up when they get a new backpack.”

The money raised from the tournament will be used to support the Office Depot Foundation’s mission to support the quality of life for children, strengthen communities, encourage economic growth and empower schools and non-profit organizations.

Over at the Office Depot Racing website in the Ask Tony section- someone recently asked Tony who was a better fisherman- Stewart or Newman…to which Tony answered

“Unfortunately, I have to say Ryan. I think I’m good, but whenever I fish with Ryan, he always seems to do better. He’s pulling in fish after fish and I’ve got nothing.”
That wasn’t the case during the charity fishing tournament:  Stewart’s fishing team reeled in a total catch of 14.4 pounds, while Newman’s team wasn’t far behind with 9.4 pounds.

All I can say is WOW. That was a race! Tony Stewart qualified for the race 11th…and finished the race 11th.  It could have been better yes, but it could have been much much worse (just ask Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, and/or Kyle Busch- whom I will all talk about later in this post).

Via the team release Stewart said this about the team’s choice to come in for fresh tires during the late race caution that had the race going green with only two laps to go:

“Hindsight being 20-20, I probably should’ve stayed out, but we took a gamble and, really, what do we have to lose?” said Stewart, who now has 12 top-12 finishes in 18 career Sprint Cup appearances at the Texas track. “We really don’t have anything to lose. We’re eighth in points, so who cares? I’d rather take a chance on doing something to go forward than worry about losing spots and going backward.” — Team Release

However, I honestly think, the #14 Office Depot team had no option but to pit- having a majority of the field in front of him having fresher (more fresh?) tires from the pit stop before, where they elected to stay out.  As it was Tony restarted 16th and worked his way up to 11th in 2 laps! So obviously the fresh rubber was working- he just ran out of time.

And while Greg Biffle seemed to rule most of the race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, it would be Denny Hamlin edging out a hard charging Matt Kenseth for the win.

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And now for the “DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA” portion of this post. WOW. How can people say this sport isn’t exciting?? All this drama and Tony wasn’t even involved believe it or not:

First drama one:  Kyle Busch gets held for two laps additional laps (after being held one lap for a pit road speeding penalty) for giving a NASCAR official the finger.  Now personally I think that the 2 laps was a bit excessive for flipping off an official.  I mean, seriously? That totally put him out of contention for even coming close to winning the race.  You can’t tell me that it wasn’t because he was caught doing this accidentally by ESPN, who flipped over to Busch’s in-car camera right as Kyle expressed his displeasure with the call, live as it was happening.  Now I hear that NASCAR is considering even MORE penalties for Kyle’s heat-of-the-moment gesticulation! Really? Think about this, I flipped someone off this morning…and you know what granted while I do this sometimes in fun or jest  sometimes I am really pissed off and it’s the only thing I can do to express myself.  Kyle is right- it kind of is trampling on his freedom of speech or um…gesture.  Yes,  I have already debated this stand with my father who is of the feeling that it was incredibly unprofessional and immature for Kyle to do.  While I do see that point- he was already punished for it by being held two laps in race so do we really need to trample on it further? Because if we do the consequences may backfire as drivers refuse to express themselves at all.  And no one wants to see that. It is the drivers and their personalities that MAKE this sport!

Ok…now onto drama number two: The Jeff vs Jeff battle on the backstretch.  For those that missed that little gem you can check out this video recap of the incident (you will also see dramas one and three mentioned as well).  Unfortunately ESPN didn’t catch the whole on-track altercation as they were distracted by Martin Truex Jr, who was gracefully spinning through the grass causing his third caution of the day.  From what I saw, it looked like Jeff Burton intentionally spun Jeff Gordon under the yellow. Gordon’s car hit the outside wall hard, pretty much destroying the car.  It was a hard impact- you could see pieces of car and what looked like SAFER barrier flying after the impact.  Burton’s car came to rest further down the track at the inside retaining wall.  Gordon was pissed. You could tell by the video of him in his car that he was pissed.  He then walked down the banking and towards Burton’s car which was parked against the inside wall.  Next thing you know Gordon is shoving Burton and the two go fist-a-cuffs for a bit, with some NASCAR officials jumping in between the two of them.  That was some EXCITEMENT right there!  Now from what I have heard and seen of it I think that there was some sort of incident on track, possibly even before the yellow flew between Gordon and Burton and Burton took out Gordon in a fit of frustration. I hate to say this but I LIKE it when the drivers go toe-to-toe out of the car when they are pissed off.  As I have mentioned before I do not advocate using (stock cars or otherwise) cars to retaliate- but get into a good, old-fashion shoving match there against the infield wall and I am all about that! It shows that this sport is intense when you have two respected drivers getting in each other’s face after an on-track incident.  Good for Jeff Gordon for sticking up for what he believes was right, that Jeff Burton wrecked him and under caution no less.  Bravo.

And for the final drama of the race- After the above mentioned wreck, it was decided to have Jeff Gordon’s pit crew pit Jimmie Johnson’s 48 car while the 48 pit crew packed up the 24 group’s pit box. Ouch.  However, whomever made that call- made a wise one.  Jimmie’s crew seemed to be falling apart at the seams all day, after repeated poor pit stops- including one four tire stop in the 16+ second mark.  Yeah I am sure there are some majorly bruised egos on the 48 pit crew…but one bad pit stop I can see…but FOUR bad ones? Really? You are a four-time champion’s pit crew…your driver is contending for his record breaking fifth consecutive cup title. Yes I am sure you are all under immense pressure…but FOUR? Really??  Jeff’s over-the-wall crew stepped in under what I am assume was Chad’s call and they did not just step in…but they stepped UP and were able to pit Jimmie with decent times.  That is what I call GOOD teamwork.   Just this afternoon Hendrick Motorsports announced that the 24 pit crew will be going over-the-wall for Jimmie Johnson for the last two races of the season.  This is good for Jimmie who I understand is in title contention- but wow- why punish Jeff because his pit crew is ON IT!  I mean his pit crew has been in the running for the fastest pit crew for most of the year! It seems like they are punishing Jeff Gordon for having a good pit crew.  Hopefully the 48 crew can figure out where the disconnect was and get it ironed out for the next two races for Jeff.

One final note about Texas- two fans were hurt during the race when a brake pad flew through the eighth story window of the Speedway club in the first turn. From what I was able to find out, it doesn’t seem like the injuries were life-threatening, thank goodness. I wish them a speedy recovery- no one wants to see anyone get hurt at a race!

Next race: Phoenix

I have said it before and I will say it again…I do NOT like watching races at Talladega, at least not on TV.  Well there was that one time that Tony Stewart won (you remember I am sure..it was when Regan Smith passed him below the yellow line to try to pass Tony for the win – boy howdy did I jump off that couch screaming HE PASSED HIM BELOW THE LINE HE PASSED HIM BELOW THE LINE...I am sure the entire state of California and possibly parts of Nevada, Arizona and Oregon could hear me…poor Roxy ran off and hid) but other than that I do not like it.  I do not like spending 188 long tedious laps waiting for “the big one” and I definitely do not like it when Tony Stewart spends most of the day (I would say 90 percent) a lap or two or three down. That is for damn sure.  But that is what happened on Hallowdega or Tallaween..depending on who you are…I personally like Tallaween better than Hallowdega…but whatever- I am off point here.

The point is I don’t like Talladega and I don’t like when Tony is down lap(s).  Needless to say this race was NOT a good one for myself or other Tony fans!!!  Tony went down laps early in the race (two laps down to be exact). However, in typical ESPN fashion, it happened during a commercial break so all us Stewart fans got was a brief mention of it when they came back to the race and then nothing more was said about Tony.  It was like a giant sink hole swallowed him…or maybe a giant pumpkin since it was Halloween after all.  The racing at ‘Dega was your typical restrictor plate race where the two car breakaway draft would pull away for awhile…only to be rundown by a different two car breakaway draft.  There were something like 80 lead changes in the 188 laps.  Not a record apparently, but close. Did you know that after Tony went in for that fateful pitstop that he thought there was something wrong with the car? I didn’t either because I wasn’t listening to his scanner.

Anyway- Tony ran around the track two to three laps down for a majority of the race. Then he got a couple wave arounds and the next thing you know…Tony is in lucky dog position at the right time and poof…Tony Stewart is on the lead lap…now if only he can hook up with someone and do a two-car breakaway draft to the front he will be right in the freaking mix. Tony works his way up…16th the last time I saw him…but apparently he got as high as 11th. Oh so close. Then there is the white flag? Maybe he can salvage the race and get a top 10 at least??  But no…there is a wreck. AJ Allmendinger goes flying through the air…Tony ends up in it some how…and the whole side of his car is demolished. He limped around the last lap to finish 31st.  And the balloon that was a championship dream? Popped right there, raining down all over the infield.  Tony is now 7th in the points standings and 317 points behind the leader Jimmie Johnson. It’s pretty much near impossible for Tony to make up that deficit in the remaining three races of the season.  Of course this doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t try like all gang busters to do it. Race winner was actually Clint Bowyer.

Notes About Dega:

  • The most exciting part of the race was the whole who won? Was it Clint or Kevin? I loved that Clint decided it was him and started to do burn outs while Kevin sat there waiting to find out who indeed was the winner.
  • What on earth happened to Jeff Gordon after that breakaway push to the front with teammate Jimmie Johnson? He said he was blowing up, fell back, and never did blow up. He came in like 9th or something.  Wow.

Next Race: Texas