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There has been a lot of talk in the NASCAR community including by NASCAR (as in the sanctioning body) itself about how to make the sport better. How to increase race attendence (um lower ticket prices) and television viewer ratings and the like.   A lot of suggestions are being talked about and batted around by various media and fans and guess what? NASCAR is starting to listen.  First they recently created the NASCAR FAN COUNCIL a tool NASCAR will use to survey their fans about opinions on all sorts of topics and ideas regarding NASCAR and how to make it better.  I think this weekend we saw the first baby step towards that with the new double-file restart (shootout style- so drivers will NOT have to worry about battling lapped cars for position).

Even more recently, NASCAR has announced that it will start giving more access to citizen journalists (and by that I am going to interpret it as bloggers). I think this will be an awesome opportunity and all I can say is “How do I sign up?”  Seriously.  Sign me up.  I don’t know what would qualify one to be a “citizen journalist” but it sounds like a great idea to me.

There is some grumbling from traditional NASCAR media that this is NOT a good idea- that allowing us mere “bloggers” to have a little bit of the inside stuff will make their readership suffer and honestly I really don’t see how that could be the case. I think there is a different standard and a different expectation of information coming from a site say like mine that has a bent for a specific driver when compared to traditional media coverage. To me it’s like apples versus oranges. Obviously my posts focus on Tony Stewart. I mention other drivers and other happenings within NASCAR because I love the sport and it is all intermixed. However I am not going to write articles like the ones you are going to find at NASCAR.COM, FOXSPORTS.COM, YAHOOSPORTS.COM, ESPN.COM etc.  My articles would still have a bend towards Stewart. They would also be more personal experiences less reporting of news. They would be more the human story type of thing.

When I think of a NASCAR Citizen Journalist I think of people like Valli at TheFastandTheFabulous.com. I absolutely love it when Valli makes it out to a race because I know that she will write about it the following week.  But its more about her experiences and less about rules and standings and points and that kind of thing. Its more about what it was like to stand with the traditional media at Kasey Kahne’s hauler.  Or what it’s like as a fan to stand in the garage area and watch drives buzz in an out. What it’s like to to interview someone like Kyle Petty or David Gilliland.  Or about experiences at a track she hasn’t been to before. I think you get my drift.

I think that both traditional and “citizen” journalists have important things to say about the sport and I really think that NASCAR is doing an awesome thing thinking about this seriously.  I don’t know yet what kind of exeperience NASCAR is looking for in a citizen journalist or what kind of access they would give that blogger…but its an interesting idea…and I am still raising my hand to volunteer.

I have always referred to Pocono as “that evil little triangle track” Now I don’t know why I feel the need to say “little” because there is nothing little about Pocono- it’s a 2.5 mile track with one of THE widest pit roads on the circuit. But still I guess I feel the need to add the diminutive to the moniker because it’s not a favorite track of mine.  I have no real explanation as to WHY but it just is not a favorite.

Anyway this was a rollercoaster of a weekend for team OfficeDepot/OldSpice.  First both first practice and qualifying get rained out- thus giving Tony Stewart his first Pole of the season.  That is a definite up right? Well then- on Saturday during second practice Tony spun his car- ended up taking a ride through the grass and when he hit a grass burm he pretty much ripped the whole front of the car up- separating the splitter completely off the car and damaging the radiator.  So…off to a backup car…and thus starting at the back of the field on Sunday.  That was definitely a big downer.

So the race, the first of the TNT Summer series, started and I nearly forgot that Tony was a HotPass driver.  So I switched over to HotPass just in time to hear Darian Grubb tell the Tony and the #14 guys that he wanted them to bring home a “little triangle trophy” which humored me immensely. Once the green flag dropped, Tony immediately began working his way up the field of cars like a man on a mission.  He was very upbeat on the radio and seemed pretty pleased with the way the car was handling as well as with the tweaks that they made on the car during the pitstops to refine that handling.  Between Tony just slicing and dicing his way through the field and some awesome pitstops- Tony soon heard “Welcome to the top fifteen” from his spotter soon followed by “Top 10″ where Tony would stay for the remainder of the race.

His last pit stop was completely awesome. That pitcrew got him out just in time for him to roll across the line just in front of Carl Edwards…however Jeff Gordon had opted to stay out to lead a lap. Then is started to sprinkle on the track.  This meant Tony was in second because Gordon stayed out. I know all the Gordon fans were probably doing rain dances- (I know my friend was) but the sprinkle was short lived and Jeff Gordon soon ended up having to pit. Once Tony was in the lead he never really looked back.

From here it would be a fuel milage race. Darian Grubb told Tony to save fuel.  This is never a good thing. Could you imagine the hunger you have wanting that first points win. You are within reach. You are in the lead.  You have 800 horses under your foot and you have to conserve fuel? It has to go against everything that makes sense to a racer. Instead of “GO FAST. TURN LEFT.” you now have to “Go Fast enough to stay in the lead but not so fast that you run yourself out of gas- but not so slow that the guy behind you catches you and passes you. oh and TURN LEFT.” Tony was pretty quiet on the radio during those last 40 laps.  He came on once and said “I Hate This.” I took it to mean he hated having to hold back and the whole not knowing if he had enough gas. The sportscasters didn’t think Tony would be able to do it.  That last 40 laps to me seemed to take about three hours to complete.  At one point Jimmie Johnson started coming up towards the field and was battling second place Carl Edwards pretty hard.  I suddenly had visions of Dover last weekend and Jimmie passing Tony to take the lead.  Luckily this did not happen as Jimmie ended up running out of gas. Like Tony, I was fairly quiet (Odd I know- considering I thought that I would get the cops would get called on me last weekend I was cheering so loud).  But finally Tony Stewart took the white flag and then the checkered.  His first Points Race win as an Owner/Driver. Stewart maintains his lead in the points standings. Teammate Ryan Newman also had a stellar top-five finish.

Pocono Notes:

  • I was surprised at the small number of cautions at Pocono. They were few and far between. It made for some great green flag pit stop action.
  • How frustrating was it to be Denny Hamlin?  He struggled all day…right from teh gitgo.  I felt kind of bad for him.
  • My friend pointed this little gem out to me: Tony Stewart…the number #14 wins the 14th points race of the season. Hee I think 14 should be Tony’s new favorite number…if it isn’t already.
  • I was glad to see that Jeff Gordon was able to work his way up to a fourth place finish after pitting late. It was a great finish.
  • Was I the only one who was worried Tony didn’t have enough gas for that little burn out he did?
  • I was pretty pleased with the TNT broadcast.  Granted I was watching HotPass so ask me for sure next weekend…but they seem to have improved from last season. And I love Larry Mac as an announcer. I think he is my favorite.
  • I was glad that Tony’s father Nelson was there at Long Pond to watch the first win in person.  It was great to see him congratulate Tony before he got out of the car.  The crew even made sure to douse him during the celebration in Victory Lane.
  • I was glad to see that Patrick Carpentier was back behind the wheel. I hope they are able to come up with a more permanent ride for him.
  • Congratulations to Robby Gordon who won the Baja race, and then flew directly to Long Pond to race in Sunday’s Pocono 500…his car was practiced for him by Travis Kvapil.
  • Did you happen to notice the hats that Tony’s pit crew were wearing? I want one. They say Office Depot on one side and Old Spice on the other. They had a similar hat at the merchandise Hauler at Phoenix…but it was beige.  I want the red one.
  • Also incase you missed it: Valli is giving away one of Jeff Gordon’s Lugnuts from the race at Talladega as part of an awesome Jeff Gordon/Pepsi throwback prize package.  Be sure to enter now.
  • You might also still have time to submit your questions to From The Marbles for a chance to have RACE WINNER Tony Stewart answer an interview question of yours.  Like I said on Saturday this is a cool contest…I would love to be able to run one like this.

CONGRATULATIONS AGAIN TO TONY STEWART, TEAM OFFICE DEPOT/OLD SPICE, and STEWART-HAAS RACING.

Next Weekend will find us at Michigan Internationl Raceway.

Not only am I posting on Saturday but TWICE. Are you lucky or what? Just some quick NASCAR notes that can’t wait until Monday’s recap:

  • Tony Stewart HOTPASS Alert!!! Tony is going to be a DirecTV HotPass driver again this weekend. He will be on channel 796 so tune in to hear Tony and crew work their way around the Evil Little Triangle (Pocono)…or at least the parts that DirecTV wants us to hear anyway.
  • Speaking of Tony Stewart- you can ask Tony your very own interview question. Check out From The Marbles for your chance to submit a question for Tony to answer. What a cool contest. I would LOVE to offer my readers the chance to submit questions to Tony Stewart…(and maybe a question or two of my own..since you know…this is my blog).  It would be cool just to be able to interview the man actually.
  • Valli over at TheFastandTheFabulous has an awesome contest running right now where you could win Jeff Gordon’s Talladega lugnut as part of an awesome Jeff Gordon Prize Package.  Valli always has the coolest contests!

Remember when I was recapping the DOVER race early this week and I mentioned off-handedly that I had read Tony’s transcript from the Friday media session and I deemed him “grumpy”? Well my turn to be “grumpy” was this last Thursday.  It was a day long event and I will spare you most of the details but here are some highlights just to give you an idea as to some of the grump-making:

  • Woke up after a full night’s sleep even more tired then when I went to bed. Why did I feel so unrested? I had a night FULL of vivid yet fairly stupid dreams.
  • Someone ate one of my lunches and my yogurts out of the work fridge.
  • I locked myself out of my office. Again.
  • I spilled a nearly full bottle of water all over my desk- including on some paperwork.
  • My keyless entry clicker thing that unlocks and locks my car? Decided not to work temporarily. It’s only a year and a half old or so- seriously no reason to not work.

Anyway I could lengthen the list but that gives you a small snippet into why I happened to be on the grumpy side on Thursday. I am pretty sure if you had run across me out and about on Thursday you would have been able to take just one look at me and know that you should probably just steer clear.  I envision myself looking like a cartoon character with a distinct and pronounced frown and a dark cloud following me and maybe even a little steam coming off my head. But I digress.

Needless to say- someone would probably say I could have used a serious attitude adjustment. And they wouldn’t have been too far from the truth.  And that evening I got that attitude adjustment I needed.  It was two part. Part one was chatting with BFF-M at the end of the day. That is always a nice little pick me up.

The other was from a song. A Shooter Jennings song to be exact.  Now I have to tell you that I really have no experience listening to Shooter Jennings but I recently aquired one of his CDs to review for Amazon.  And it happened to be in the care on the way home and it just happened on Manifesto No. 1. And it was like an instant attitude adjustment. I have never heard the song before but I LOVED it. So here is a live version on Youtube. I hope you like it too.

I have mentioned this a lot but I wanted to revisit it again. A lot of drivers have charitable foundations that do great things that are not only fun for fans but help capitalize on the love of their fans for the greater good.

Here are three great examples of things coming up (of course these are all Tony Stewart Related):

The Prelude To The Dream.  I talked about the Prelude A WHOLE LOT last season. I haven’t been doing it quite as much this season. Do I think anything has changed? NO! I am still GREATLY looking forward to the race on Wednesday. One day I will go in person.  What is so great about this race? Let me tell you: Lots of Big Name Drivers (Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, Ron Capps (NHRA), Cruz Pedregon (NHRA), Ray Evernham, Bill Elliot, are just a few.  ON DIRT. For no money, no points…just a trophy and bragging rights. I have ordered it on PPV for the last three years and have NEVER been disappointed. The cause this year are four charities that support injured and fallen military heroes- all proceeds go to these four charities. The goal this year? A million dollars.  If you can afford it- check out the PPV race (Channel 125 for DirecTV customers, for others check your listings. THIS IS THIS WEDNESDAY.

Invest N Vests. A collaborative effort between the Tony Stewart Foundation and The Greg Biffle Foundation to raise funds for to outfit 192 K-9 officers with bullet and knife resistant vests.  For each $10.00 donation fans are entered for a chance to win 25 percent of the pot (the rest going to www.vest4k9.com).  At this writing the pot is currently at $14,680.00.  The drawing is on Wednesday June 16th. Both the Tony Stewart Foundation and The Greg Biffle Foundation are committed to animal causes.

Smoke’s Camaro. Capitalizing on the love of cars many NASCAR fans have The Tony Stewart Foundation is having a raffle of a 2010 Camaro. Raffle tickets are limited (currently there are only 5,926 left out of 6014 available raffle tickets).   The winner not only wins Tony’s 2010 Chevrolet Camaro (in Victory Red), but they win a trip for two to Charlotte, NC and a personal tour of the Stewart-Haas Racing Shop as well as a lunch where Tony will present you with the keys himself (you also get money to help offset the cost of fees, licensing and taxes). Buy your raffle ticket early to also be included in the running for early bird prizes as well.  Camaro drawing is on October 5th, 2009. Proceeds raised by raffle will go directly to the Tony Stewart Foundation to provide funding for children, animals and injured drivers in need.

I am surprised I didn’t get the cops called on me this Sunday during the last 20 laps or so of the Autism Speaks 400 race at Dover.  I was watching alone for a change and when Tony was chasing Biffle down, passing Biffle, and then working that track to make his car seem as wide as possible when Jimmie was doing the same to him, I was screaming. And standing about two feet infront of the television- as if my mere proximity to the tube and yelling my cheers that loudly would somehow propell that 14 car on my voice alone.  Because I was alone I wasn’t shy about being LOUD and PROUD in my rooting for Tony and Team. And because I was alone I admit that I may have had a few choice words for Jimmie Johnson when he passed Tony (even though I actually kinda like Jimmie) that didn’t get filtered out by my internal sesor when I watch with other people.

Team Office Depot/Old Spice didn’t have the most stellar first practice or qualifying run on Friday so honestly I wasn’t sure it was going to be the best weekend for us.  Then I made the mistake of reading the transcript from Tony’s Friday media session- which is something I almost never do- and he just seemed rather grumpy and overly concerned about his car.  Yet another reason to think that Dover would not be a great weekend for Team Office Depot/Old Spice. I was reassured a bit on Saturday morning when I caught glimpses of the last two practices- to see that Tony’s car seemed to be picking it up.

Qualifying 31st, Tony spent most of the race mired in heavy traffic but working his way up the field slowly but surely.  Not having the best of pit stalls I think kind of messed him up in the pits and he often lost one or two spots during a stop.  Tony eventually worked his way into the top ten- running consistently at about 8th or so.  Then there was a lucky debris caution. Darian called Tony in at the last minute for two tires. And because Team Office Depot/Old Spice only took two tires, they found themselves slowly hunting down race leader (at the time) Greg Biffle- and eventually catching him. They raced hard for awhile and Stewart eventually become the race leader.  Unfortunately Jimmie Johnson was also moving up the field- and Jimmie was on four fresh tires.  Tony held Jimmie off as long as he could- but Jimmie eventually got around Tony with two laps to go and never looked back.  Tony came in second at Dover. Partly because of his second place finish and also because of Jeff Gordon’s inability to get either of his laps back, Stewart and Team Office Depot/Old Spice left Dover first in the points, with Jeff Gordon a mere 46 points behind him. Stewart-Haas teamate Ryan Newman also had yet another top ten finish (way to go RYAN!!) and moved up two spots in the points and is now up to fifth.

Notes on Dover:

  • This race had too many debris cautions for my taste. People- if your race car has parts falling off of it- pull into the pits! That is my PSA for Dover.
  • I am kind of glad its the end of the Fox coverage because DW kind of pissed me off with an offhanded comment he made regarding drivers not having original thoughts during the preshow (in reference to Kyle Busch’s comment about Dale Jr.)
  • Well judging by the results this weekend- the crew chief switch on the #88 seems to at least done SOME good. Jr finished 12th. Not bad.  Still- Junior seemed down in his afterrace interview. As a side note, my friend says Dale Jr. reminds her of Jeff Boomhauer when he talks.
  • As mentioned by Kyle Busch during the preshow- don’t forget to go to RealChocolate.com to try for your chance at a free Mars product this friday. (Thanks Kyle!)
  • *Technically most NASCAR fans would call Dover race 13 on the schedule because for some unknown reason they don’t count the All-Star race (yeah I know you don’t get points…but you get a million bucks and a cool ring? What more do you want?).

Next weekend the race is at Pocono (aka the Evil Little Triangle). Also don’t forget race fans that NASCAR coverage switches to TNT this weekend.

This last long drawn out race weekend was the first weekend I have personally used DirecTV’s HOT PASS (It’s free this season- check channel 795, 796, 797 and 798 to find out the drivers for the week). Why did it take me 13 races into the season to check it out (well really only 12 because they didn’t bother to even carry the All-Star Race)? Well because it was the first race TONY was one of the drivers.  I was excited to use the new HOT PASS mostly because I haven’t really had a chance to actually hear with my own little ears what the group sounded like on the radio. Similarities and differences between this spotter/crew chief/driver combo and what Tony had before with Zippy and Mark was what I was really most curious about.

Well I can only say that I was disappointed in this new incarnation of HotPass.  Unfortunately I was disappointed in what I saw. The first thing that disappointed me was my inability to control the audio.  I could hear the team radio but it was laid over the audio of the national broadcast. So most of the time when Team Office Depot was conferring on the radio it was extremely hard to hear because of the national broadcast announcers.  Previous incarnations of HotPass gave users the ability to cycle through three different audio packages…those being: National Broadcast, Team Radio, and HOT PASS broadcast (which were broadcasters assigned to each Hot Pass Driver).

Another thing I was disappointed with was the camera views seemed to be having some major issues and would often actually go completely black sometimes.  I have a feeling that this might have been due to weather and moisture in the car’s on board equipment than anything else though. So I probably can’t fault DirecTV with that one.

I can fault them with one of my biggest complaints all along and that has been the censorship of the team radio feed. If I was offended by the possibility of cursing on the radio it is something I wouldn’t listen to.  My issue is that they are a bit…bleep happy at DirecTV.  So instead of cutting out just the “bad” word…they cut out the whole freaking conversation.

For instance.  This was a bit of Tony’s radio transmission on Monday (taken from an article on NASCAR.COM because I couldn’t hear it) in regards to some on-track issues with David Reutimann:

“Go tell that ignorant [expletive] that this isn’t the Nationwide Series and if he holds me up like that again, he’ll beat the traffic on the way home,” Stewart told his spotter over the radio. “I love him to death, but I’m not going to [expletive] with him like that again.”

This is what I heard on the Hot Pass Audio:

“Go tell that….(dead air)”

Yeah that is ALL I heard. I don’t know if the spotter replied or not because I didn’t hear that either.  I honestly couldn’t tell much from what I actually heard- except I could tell by the tone of his voice that Tony was …agitated. Now I can’t say that I am paying for the HOT PASS so I want to hear all the audio- not what DirecTV wants me to hear…because HOT PASS is free. But I will say this I WOULD NOT PAY for this current incarnation of HOTPASS.  There are only 4 drivers (the first year I used HOT PASS there were five). The selection this season almost never has Tony as a featured driver. There is no way to control which audio feed I am hearing. AND THEY ARE STILL CENSORING THE RADIO feed.

By censoring the driver radio feeds I think that it is censoring what is going on in the car.  When Tony gets “wound up” about something, if I can hear the feed- I know what’s going on. In this case, he obviously felt like the driver in question above was holding him up- racing him too hard too early. He was frustrated. I can get that from the full feed. From the HOT PASS feed all I get is that he is upset about something but what I don’t know. Is he upset with a driver? Did something go wrong on a pit stop? Did his wheel just fly off? Is he having visibility problems? What is going on??

I am a big girl. Let me decide what I want to hear. If it offends me, I will turn it off.  If they are worried about children happening into the feed- maybe make the team feed lockable or something so that a parent has to unlock the feature for it to work. Whatever- just give me my driver’s radio feeds warts and all.

***Updated***

I will say, however, one of the best things with being able to hear Tony and his crew on DirecTV is when he went four wide at one point in an effort to pass I could hear his spotter go “Um- 4 wide, 4 wide you have the bottom” then after that resolved itself I got to hear Tony giggle and say “That’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

Have you seen the movie Almost Famous? There is a scene in that movie where Frances McDormand who plays lead character William’s mother and a college professor stands in front of one of the classes she is teaching and states: “Rockstars have kidnapped my son.” Well I stand before you today and state: The Coca-Cola 600 kidnapped my long weekend. I have also heard it called the 24 Hours At Lowes Motorspeedway (Thanks Trixie…that’s a good one).

So- The Coca-Cola 600 was scheduled to start on Sunday but never really got the chance because of rain delay after rain delay.  I continued to watch Rain Delay coverage…until suddenly my Fox affiliate went out and decided to play Fosters & Smith infomercials disguised as television shows.  No warning or anything…one minute I was watching the DW and Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond and the next minute I was learning about how to care for my turtle, frog, or bearded lizard using Fosters & Smith products of course.  It annoyed me.  I waited and waited and finally decided to check online and apparently it had been postponed until Monday.

Since I live on the west coast the race started at 9:00 am for me…on the last day of my long weekend so there would be no sleeping in for me.  Yey finally the race started. Tony did not have the best of qualifying efforts (he started 28th) so he was mired way down in the pack. The track was green because of the rain- but Tony seemed happy and comfortable with his car and able to move up the field- breaking into the Top Ten inbetween more rain delays.

Unfortunately that last rain delay at lap 227 (mile 340.5) would kind of screw Tony’s Office Depot team.  Having just cycled though some green flag pitstops- he was 19th and trying to work his way back through the field when that last red flag for rain came out.  about three and a half hours later David Reutimann would be declared the winner of the SHORTEST ever Coca-Cola 600- winning on pitting strategy- the same strategy that gave Tony Stewart’s teammate a second place finish.  Tony Stewart remains second in points and is now 44 points out of the lead.  Teammate Ryan Newman moved up to 7th in points after his second place finish.

Notes about the 600:

  • Seriously David Reutimann- Why did you insist on standing around your car for nearly three and a half hours in the rain without an umbrella? It was a little silly.  Did you really think it would make a difference?
  • Ok- I admit I chuckled at the “Billy Bad-Butt” incident.  When Tony called the crew guy Billy Bad-Butt” I laughed.  And we may have even taken turns calling each other Billy Bad-Butt for the rest of the day.  Mostly I thought it was funny because I was pretty sure Tony would have rather said bad ass but didn’t want to get docked 10K for it.  However- Fox displaying it while focused on the crew guy was a little tacky (ok I still laughed…I admit it). And NASCAR.COM leading off this morning’s headline with MEET BILLY BAD BUTT was even worse.
  • I was hoping they would be able to go green as much as the next guy- really I was (especially since Tony was stuck in 19th at the time of that last red flag) but three and a half hours? Is too freaking long to wait!
  • It’s one of my biggest fears? Being at a race that is postponed to the next day. Usually I would end up not being able to go because I tend to use the day after the race as my day to get myself back home and then I am off to work the next day….have you ever experienced the postponement of a race? What happened?

Next Sunday is our first visit of the season to the Monster Mile at Dover.