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(For those not aware- a little over a year ago I undertook a project here on BadGroove that we lovingly called Project Smoke In My Eyes.  The concept started out as a way for fans to submit their own stories about Tony Stewart and ended up being put into a book that is currently on it’s way to Tony for delivery sometime in December.  The book is pages of fans stories about Tony Stewart. While I was compiling the submissions I worked on creating my own submission for the book.  I went through several versions and finally at the end of my own self-imposed deadline came up with the following. It appears as the last entry in the Smoke In My Eyes book- the only thing behind it being The End- But Really Just The Beginning.—- AMY)

This is what seems like my one millionth attempt at writing my own entry for “Smoke In My Eyes.” My most recent previous attempt was pages and pages of me waxing on poetically but as I edited it, I realized that while it said a lot- it wasn’t actually what I wanted to say.

Mostly what I want to say is thank you Tony.

Thank you for making motorsports interesting to me again. I spent several years after the split of the CART series only paying attention to the big races like the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and a couple of NHRA events.  While I had been a big fan of CART when the split happened, I was a teenager and I had let my interests wander instead of trying to keep track of different drivers in different series. What I saw in you as a driver drew me back to motorsports just after your rookie year in NASCAR. It was your fire and your passion, you honesty and your penchant for saying exactly how you felt that not just drew me in but made me the stalwart and loyal fan I am today.

(photo copyright to their respective photographers)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to watch you race thirty-three times (soon to be 34) in person. I was lucky enough to be there to watch you win in person four times- including your first wins at both Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway as well as your most recent win at Sonoma. I still remember after your first Auto Club win that the only picture I got of your burnout was a blurry picture containing only fence, part of your tire and smoke because I was so excited I forgot how to work my own camera. I remember after you crossed the finish line first in Vegas jumping out of my seats in the grandstands and rushing towards the Neon Garage. Transversing the pedestrian tunnel was like trying to swim upstream, and I could feel my cell phone in my hand blowing up with texts I wouldn’t get the chance to return until much later because the battery died.  I still have a piece of confetti from victory lane that day. And that win at Sonoma this year? I was so unbelievably proud and so excited I didn’t even think to take pictures. I’d never admit it to your face but I might have even cried a little.

Thank you for agreeing to let some blogger you had never met interview you not once, but three times.  That first time in 2010 was my first interview for BadGroove and to me the thought of interviewing you was like a football player playing his first game in the Super Bowl. Thank you for putting me immediately at ease during that interview because my nerves would have made it totally awkward otherwise. My favorite part of the whole interview was the very last question. It was a question about your Foundation and your face completely lit up as you talked about it- your passion for the children’s and animal charities you support was so evident and inspiring. Each of the interviews we did with you have a special place in my heart but that moment is my all time favorite. Also without those interviews I am positive other interviews and experiences we had as a result of the blog would never have happened. My little blog that started out as a way to share my adventures with friends has grown into something so much more.

Thank you for showing me that sometimes you have to have a little faith in yourself when the stars align and opportunity comes knocking like you did when you became an owner/driver in 2009. I probably would have never taken the leap into a management role in my own career in Information Technology when the opportunity arose to manage the very helpdesk that I started on as a student without that inspiration from YOU. Taking a chance and listening to my gut that this was the right move to make is what I did- just like you did. My new role is both rewarding and challenging in a good way (most days) and is one of my favorite parts of my job. Of course your tidbit during that first interview about having good people in place was good advice too- I have an amazing team right now who works quite well together and makes my job managing them easy.

Thank you for having some of the best fans out there. When you sit in line with people at events long enough you can’t help but fraternize and while in general NASCAR fans are great- Tony Stewart fans seem to go above and beyond for each other. This includes so many that I haven’t even met in person but have made over social media and through my blog because THEY ROCK! All of them.

Thank you for being the embodiment of resilience and determination all while being fallible.  In December of 2014 I got a tattoo and at the bottom of it- it stays “Smoke Always Rises.” It’s a reminder to me that when life throws crap my way to stand up, dust myself off, and most importantly to not let it define me but instead find a way to use it to make me stronger.

And finally- THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for giving us fans one more year with you as our driver.  While yes we know you’ll still be racing and still be around tracks- we still needed the closure of this season much like I think you did.  If you would have just stepped away quietly at the end of last season like you originally wanted- I think it would have been soul crushing for your many fans (including myself). And you likely wouldn’t have this spiffy little book.

Thank you for sharing parts of yourself and your life with us crazy fans and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for you next.

(photo source: Zimbio.com/Sarah Crabill/Getty Images North America)

Start: 25th

Finish: 15th

Points: 2192 (15th in points)

(photo source: zimbio.com/Sean Gardner/Getty Images North America)

Dear Phoenix- it had been too long. I hadn’t been at your track since November of 2014 and I forgot why I love you so much. Last year I forsake you to attend my first race in Homestead-Miami because Jeff Gordon was retiring and since it’s so close to the Phoenix race there was no way I could attend both.  This year- I thought I would miss you. I had decided in the shadow of my driver Tony Stewart retiring to attend my first and his last Brickyard 400 at IMS. I assumed that I would again forgo Phoenix. For no other reason than for me to drive the crazy trek to Phoenix is a taxing one- first to Vegas to pick up my friend which is about 500 miles door -to-door from where I live and usually takes me between 7 and 8 hours. The drive from Vegas to Phoenix is another nearly 5 hours. That’s a lot of time in a car- to then have to turn around and do the same thing in reverse order the Monday and Tuesday after the race.  Especially when you consider I would likely be doing the same thing just a few weeks later for Champions Week in Vegas (minus the trip to Phoenix). But then I got a text from Misty asking if I wanted to do something a little bit crazy. See when we went to Indiana for the Brickyard we were caught up in the major meltdown Southwest suffered when it had issues with it’s reservation software in late July. Our outgoing flight to Indianapolis was cancelled with 3 hours notice (not delayed but CANCELLED completely).  Despite the stress of us having to figure our own way out to Indiana (because if we stayed with Southwest they MIGHT be able to get us to Indiana on Saturday when we were suppose to be there on Thursday) on another carrier who was more than willing to get us there on Friday- Southwest gave us vouchers for flights to prove they can indeed provide us with the service we expected.  Misty’s crazy idea was for me to drive to Vegas and then together we would hop a flight from Vegas to Phoenix stay just long enough to see the race and then fly back to Vegas and I could drive back to my central coast home.  That flight ended up being approximately 45 minutes.  And let me tell you it was worth every penny. Flying was so so much easier than the long, desolate desert drive between Vegas and Phoenix that I since have a hard time seeing myself doing that drive again.  Ever. (more…)

(photo source: zimbio.com/Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America)

Start: 6th

Finish: 26th, 4 laps down

Points: 2156 (14th in points)

Tony’s weekend started out with awesome practices and a solid qualifying effort but unfortunately it didn’t end up so swell. After the first caution when a majority of the field pitted and Tony’s team did not he ended up falling back in the field to fresher tires.  The car sustained damage when Ryan Blaney came across the nose of Tony’s car as well. Between battling a car that wouldn’t turn and the loss of track position he was unable to make up any ground and eventually ended up loosing laps to the leader and finishing 26th. Tony was discouraged. The team was discouraged. The fans were discouraged. It wasn’t the best of weekends so why dwell on it I say. (more…)

(photo source: zimbio.com/Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)

Start: 21st

Finish: 32nd

Points: 2141 (14th in points)

For Talladega- the race on Sunday was fairly uneventful and that was a good thing.  The big one never came- just a few medium to small sized incidents that did little damage- unlike the big melee during the truck race the day before with 34 laps to go.

(Source: Tony Stewart Official Store Facebook)

Tony dropped to the back of the pack after the drop of the green flag and stayed there for the entire race. When – by chance of caution he was in packs of cars he again would drop back until he was in a smaller group of people whom he trusted.  The plan was to move forward if they thought there would be a chance at gaining position with relatively little danger of being ensnared in “the big one” however even towards the very end of the race Tony radioed in and said that he felt there was something still brewing and he wasn’t going to push it to move forward.  While a couple of smallish accidents happened towards the end of the race- Tony was never really able to climb forward because of the restarts and finished his day 32nd. It was a craps shoot to stay in the back just as much as it was a craps shoot to get up in the main fruckus and possibly get wiped out by someone else’s problem.

I have seen a lot of people online complaining that what the Gibbs cars (minus Denny who took his chances at the front of the pack)  did and what Tony did wasn’t racing.  But wasn’t it? It was a strategic move to keep themselves and their cars safe and it worked well for Gibbs. Why? Because half of the Round of 8 are the four Gibbs cars. So it didn’t work out too well for Tony- but at least he was running at the end of  the race on the lead lap and wasn’t on his way home with nothing but a crumpled mess of car sitting in the Hauler waiting to go back to North Carolina. I have long been of the stance that racing at Talladega and Daytona is dangerous. I don’t know if it’s because of the speeds they run on the high banks, or if it’s due to the restrictor plates putting the cars so close together on the track- but one person messes up and you are in someone else’s mess. Because of the speeds at the superspeedways I am ALWAYS concerned about injury during accidents. Yes I know that those cars are safe- but after seeing two freak accidents injure Tony Stewart (none of which were in Sprint Cup Stock cars) how can I not worry that the intense speeds and “big one” type collisions during these super speedway races will cause a freak accident type injury that severely injures a driver.  Besides- wasn’t it a wreck at Talladega that landed Ryan Newman on his lid on the backstretch several years ago- and he ended up with several cracked teeth because of it?  Minor injury yes but still an injury.  For the possible injury reason alone I can not blame a driver from shying away from running mid-pack when all they have is a mid-pack car. Then you have the cost of the wreck because a lot of times when you wreck at Talladega you wreck big. That’s money out of the owners pockets both in destroyed equipment in addition to any possible purse money depending on where the driver might have finished had the car just suffered a minor ding and gone to the garage to fix it. Therefore it does not surprise me nor do I think it’s cheating or not racing when a team wants to move all or some of it’s cars to be the back to be “safe” when they are in contention for a championship, during an elimination race.  That is just strategy and it will work some times and bite you other times (just ask Tony). (more…)

(photo source: Tony Stewart Facebook)

Start: 14th

Finish: 16th

Points: 2131 (13th in points)

The race in Kansas started out with a good omen for driver Tony Stewart: he was driving the number 14 car, was housed in garage number 14 in the garage area at Kansas and ended up qualifying 14th.  That’s a whole lot of 14 right?

(photo source: Tony Stewart Facebook)

At the drop of the green flag Tony started flying up the field and cracked the top ten within 10 laps.  He reported that the balance was pretty much the same as it had been in practice and it was pretty good. The team did a great first pit stop and no penalties left him in the top ten. By lap 59 he had moved up into 6th place by passing Joey Logano when Tony exclaimed that it was “fun out here.”

Not that I could hear him well. I couldn’t. The static on Tony’s radio from the NASCAR Mobile ap was so terrible it actually hurt my ears to listen and there were times that I would take it out. It would have periods of being better, less staticy but then it would get bad again.  So I missed about half of what went on on the radio. About the time he passed Joey Logano he wanted his spotter to let whom I assume is Joey’s spotter that “he’ll play nice if he does.” Like I said that is what it sounded like anyway because I had a heck of time hearing.

Unfortunately after the laps started to tick away the handling on the Code 3 Associates Chevy went away too and Tony slowly started dropping back as the handing went away.  The team would work on the car during the pitstops but it just didn’t seem to make too big of a difference and I was beginning to think he was going to be lucky to get a top 20 finish but after the last major pit stop of the day- it seemed to turn a corner and Tony was able to gain a few positions and finished the race 16th.   His teammate Kevin Harvick had a great day however and was able to bring home the checkers for his friend/owner Tony Stewart.  This locked Kevin Harvick into advancing into the round of 8 with Jimmie Johnson.

Oh and Tony had another awesome helmet on for the Kansas Weekend:

 

(photo source: Tony Stewart facebook)

While in Kansas Code 3 Associates founder Nan Stuart presented Tony with a plaque commemorating their partnership and sponsorship:

(photo credit: Code 3 Associates facebook)

Here is a great article about Tony Stewart that came out of the Kansas Race weekend by Darron Cummings for the Kansas City Star: Tony Stewart bidding farewell to NASCAR, but he’s not finished racing.

Also- I hope Alex Bowman (who was driving the 88 for Dale Earnhardt Jr) is feeling better. After the race Dale tweeted out a picture of poor Alex in the infield care center hooked up to an IV- apparently he was suffering from a bug all day yet still drove his heart out:

@DaleJr: The Showman @AlexBRacing did good today. Top 10 with a stomach bug. @nationwide88 guys gave him a great car. (Image Source: Dale Earnhardt Jr Twitter)

Next week…I will be watching through my fingers because it’s Talladega!

Gratuitous Tony Stewart Pictures:

There is just something about this picture that I love:

(Photo Source: Zimbio.com/Jason Hanna/Getty Images North America)

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#SmokeAlwaysRises #AlwaysRac14g

(photo source: Tony Stewart Official Store Facebook)

Started: 15

Finished: 13th

Points: 13th (2074 points)

When Sunday came I found myself in a quandary. I wanted  to watch the race as I usually do on race day but a big part of me didn’t want to watch the race at Dover. Why? It was the stress of it being the last race before the cut to the round of 12.  I understand that NASCAR things that these elimination rounds are exciting to watch but I find this chase format to be exponentially more nerve racking than any other chase format. Especially when at the start of the race your driver is ranked 15th out of the 16 chasers and only the top 12 advance to the next round of the NASCAR playoffs known only as The Chase.  Oh and did I mention it’s Dover? The high banked concrete track can be unforgiving and Miles the Monster (the track mascot that adorns the trophy) looked hungry. (more…)

(photo source: Tony Stewart Official facebook)

It’s just been that kind of week for this little blogger. The kind of week where life gets in the way of the blogging part of things. And it doesn’t help that the Chase is here. So I decided instead of stressing about doing my post race report- now four days late I will skip it and point you in the direction of the official team release about the race if you are here looking for my usual post race rap ups and get right to a “Loose Lugnuts” type post.

1. Most of us Smoke fans are thinking about the chase- and how Dover is critical for Tony Stewart if he’s to continue on in this year’s chase for the Sprint Cup his last as a Sprint Cup driver. Of course we want him to transfer into the next round (which I think should be called the survival round since it includes Talladega) but as most of us know he’s below the points cut off right now- so he will have to have a most excellent weekend at Dover to put him above the cut off. It could happen. But it might not.  It’s important, I think,  to consider that it’s not over even if he doesn’t make that cut.  He made the chase this year- which he hasn’t done since 2012. Which happy day for us going to Vegas means he will be there taking part in all the activities.   He has three championships in this series alone.  He will still have 7 races after Dover to race and to attempt to get wins at regardless if he is in the next round of the Chase or not.  It’s nothing he shouldn’t be proud of as a driver and it’s nothing we shouldn’t be proud of as his fans.

2. Speaking of Dover- Tony will be running a very special Nature’s Bakery Brownie paint scheme. I have heard people who love the paint scheme and people who not pleased with the asthetics of the car. Personally? I like it and think it looks like a Brownie (which considering it’s the Nature’s Bakery Brownie car is a good thing). Here’s the paint scheme (via Stewart-Haas Racing Facebook):

 By the way- has anyone tasted the Nature’s Bakery Brownie? I can’t find them here…and I am curious. I like the Raspberry Fig Bar the best of what I have tried but I admit I am curious about the brownie.

3. I think it’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s fault Tony did’t do so hot in the Bad Boy Buggies 300 this last weekend. Why? Because they presented this monument(al) rock dedicated to Tony on their property prior to his last race there. If he had one they would have had to have it redone: (more…)

(photo credit: Tony Stewart Official Facebook Page)

Started: 14th

Finished: 33rd

Seeded: NASCAR seeded him 11th, but his team release has him seeded 12th.

Weird Observation: Am I the only one who noticed that Tony wore a Code 3 Associates firesuit during practice but a Mobil 1 Firesuit during the actual race?

Richmond International Raceway has the distinction of being Tony Stewart’s favorite track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. Afterall he did win his first ever Sprint Cup race there, so what’s not to love.  Since he qualified his #14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy 14th at his favorite track- I was hoping it would be a good omen for Tony and his team.  Plus I figured since he also won in the Code 3 Associates paint scheme in June at Sonoma that it couldn’t hurt that omen right? Well I was obviously wrong. (more…)