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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!!

Picture if you will, an extremely busy Monday morning and I am sitting in my office doing my thing.  My coworker sticks his head in my office to say hello and discuss some work matters.  Then, just as he was about to go on his way he says it.  “So what’s this I hear about Tony Stewart?”

I knew it was just a matter of time that someone approached me at work.  Anyone who passes by my office can tell that I am a stalwart Tony Stewart fan.   It may as well be tattooed across my forehead, for I very proudly display my driver of preference in my office. There are hero cards, cars, burger king toys, calendar, oh and the cardboard standee in the corner that is taller than I am.  I wear my Tony Stewart fandom on my sleeve, the way most NASCAR fans wear theirs for their driver of preference. 

So I clenched my jaw, took a breath, and tried (successfully) not to roll my eyes.  This is not the first time I’ve caught hell for being a Stewart fan and I am sure it won’t be the last.  I was trying to decide on a way to reply when my coworker stopped me with “Yeah, I heard he went to Australia for a fight and a race broke out.”   Oh how I chuckled heartily.  Come on…it’s a little funny right? It couldn’t have just been my frenzied Monday playing tricks on me! 

So, I guess it’s time to talk about the purple elephant that’s been sitting on the corner of the blog.  The one I have avoided for over a week now.  As you have probably heard by now, Tony Stewart went on a month long vacation to Australia that included some racing at Australian dirt tracks.  While there he was involved in a physical altercation with one of the co-owners of a track.  Australian police were involved. 

On Thursday of last week, right out of the gate at the Daytona test session, Tony answered media questions about the altercation.  He was honest and upfront about the situation and you can read about it word for word straight from Stewart’s mouth.  I watched the press conference and the transcription is dead on.

I don’t have anything new or exciting to add to the mix.  There are a ton of articles and blog posts out there either touting Tony as a terrible, out-of-control rageaholic for his part in the altercation or lauding the return of “old fiery Tony” all hail.  I don’t think this issue is entirely black and white; it’s more of a muddled grey mess and Tony/NASCAR fans may never know the full details. I don’t have any answers and I sure as hell am not going to speculate.  Maybe it’s just better to let this fade away into the excitement of the new season that is nearly upon us, at least for now.

Regular readers know that I’ve had the chance to interview Tony twice last season for BadGroove.com and both were completely awesome experiences.  At no time during either of those interviews did I see power cords sticking out from the man- he’s human.  He stated in his media session that he wasn’t proud of what happened, I believe he even said he was embarrassed.  To paraphrase Tony himself; he went on a vacation to Australia for thirty days and had one bad night.

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…

You will love this.  If you have a particularly favorite month from the calendar this is right up your alley!  Each month you can go to the Office Depot Racing website and print out a coupon to take to your local Office Depot location’s Print & Copy center and you can get an 18 x 24 poster of that month’s photo from the Office Depot Calendar for only $9.99.   It’s easy…for example…this is what this month’s poster looks like:

Pick this up at your local Office Depot...(Photo Credit: Edelman)

I might stop by tomorrow and pick one up as a birthday present to me.  Personally I am really looking forward to April- it’s one of my favorites in the whole calendar!

As some of you may know, I have this other writing gig over at Racing In America where once every two week or so I have to come up with a new entry.  During the off season it’s been hard to come up with relevant stuff.  Here at BadGroove I don’t feel as badly if I post stuff that really isn’t motor sport relevant especially during the off season because well…it’s my blog and I’ll stray if I want to.  I don’t know why I let myself get stressed out about the RIA stuff…it’s not like they pay me and pretty much I can write about whatever I want in the motorsports world (although in my mind they like it when I write NASCAR and I might as well write about a world I know more about then say…NHRA- which I do write about sometimes). But lately, I feel like I let the looming deadlines over at RIA get to me and then I rush out a post that isn’t my best.

Anyway- for my last post over at RIA- I totally copped out and came up with my own top ten  list of races I am looking forward to watching in the 2011 racing season (as a reaction to this article over at scenedaily.com).  I thought it would be easy but it actually took my two days (which is a long time for me) to come up with a list I was happy with and then promptly typed* it up and sent it over to my editor/publisher over at RIA for posting.  Then I breathed a sigh of relief that it was done and went about my business. Until I decided to actually read the entry over at RIA.  Um…I forgot a very import race that I look forward to every season. And it was on my original list. I somehow had two number three’s and ended up dropping this race from the version  I sent over to RIA.  So I will share it here as originally written for the article and then expound upon it after:

Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas- I always LOVE watching the Vegas race because it hold a special place in my oval-loving heart.  It’s the first NASCAR race I had ever gone to AND the first oval track I had ever attended.  I actually attend this race every year since the first time in person.  I love the facilities and really think that the track is underrepresented .  I love the Vegas race and think this track above many others deserves a second race and a night race would be awesome there.   This is another track that Tony has never won at so I always watch it with great hope.

While technically it was suppose to be number three in my original article that is only because I ranked those races by the schedule not by their importance to me.  This one would be number one if only for the sentimental reasons that this was my first NASCAR race attended in the flesh.  I have written about it several times here and over at RIA. I still remember the awe when we started pulling up to the speedway- seeing the grandstands get bigger and bigger and the excitement in my heart as we got closer and closer that first time and do not feel that I have ever adequately described it yet.  This track may be one of those cookie cutter 1.5 ovals that everyone talks about but it’s MY cookie cutter 1.5 mile oval that holds fond memories that make me nearly giddy just thinking about them. The Vegas race holds a lot of firsts for me and I LOVE it for that.  I am sure every NASCAR fan who has ever been to a race has a track that they love and hold dear to them. This one is mine (although Phoenix holds a very very close second place in my heart).

I will be attending this year although I have not even purchased tickets yet (which is so out of character for me since I tend to be an excessive planner- usually purchasing my race tickets several months in advance) and right now-at the peak of what one of my facebook friends called “off season depression” looking forward to going to the Vegas race is a huge bright spot in the near future to look forward to.

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*Yes…I do sometimes write my entries long hand.  I actually find that my entries come out better written long hand and then typed up.

Did I ever SLACK in writing here over the holiday or what? Sorry- but my “real” job gives me the week after Christmas off. Don’t be jealous- it’s really just the holidays we don’t get off during the year that everyone else does.  So I got home and comfy and LAZY and totally did not feel like writing more than I had to. I did write this over at Racing In America- but it was like pulling teeth…I really didn’t want to do it. See how I get all lazy when given the chance. Anyway I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas filled will family and love and a prosperous New Year.  Hopefully you didn’t spend your New Year’s Eve the way I spent mine- trying to calm a very freaked out Roxy while our neighbors set of fireworks and bottle rockets….at least that is what I hoped it was…either that or they declared war- because it was LOUD and Roxy hates loud.

So Tony is racing sprint cars in Australia and is doing pretty good so far- placing second in one race, and third in another.  He races more down under on Jan. 14th and 15th! I hope he wins on the 14th. It’s his number and my birthday so it would be a doubly good time to win.  While Tony is on his Australian racecation I have found some fun NASCAR related things to tell you about.

2011 Hottest Driver Tournament

First off is the 2011 Hottest Driver Tournament over at The Fast and The Fabulous.  It’s a random seeding of 38 drivers where YOUR voting will determine the “Hottest” driver.  Of course you will want to go over there and vote (FOR TONY) for your favorite driver…it’s something fun and Valli is really excited to bring it to you! Do it now!

Also- you might want to check out Jeff Burton in his cameo on television this Saturday night.  He will be playing himself in a cameo in the fourth installment of Fox’s Family Movie Night offering “Change of Plans.”  It has a star-studded cast including American Idol’s Brooke White, Phylicia Rashad, and Joe Flannigan.  It sounds like one of those good solid heart warming stories…with a small cameo by Idol Judge Randy Jackson and NASCAR’s Jeff Burton, playing…Jeff Burton!  Check it out on your local Fox affiliate January 8th at 8 pm.

I have to say I really can understand WHY Tony would go to Australia for a month in the winter…it seems like here anyway it has been raining for weeks on end.  Technically it hasn’t been, but it has been raining more than it hasn’t been.  I haven’t floated away yet though and today there is actually more blue in the sky then clouds so YEY there. See right now it might be winter here but it is summer down under in Australia so he will hopefully have some great weather for his races down there (as well as get some fun relaxing time in).  I have been keeping my eyes open for media about Tony coming from Australia…and here is a video he did with the Australian media to share with you: (more…)

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