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One of my earliest memories revolves around cars and cameras. Both of them are still loves of mine today.  My dad has always loved photography and from the time I was very young would put a camera in my hand.  The first picture I ever took was at age three or four- it’s of my parents bending over waving because I wasn’t pointing it up at them- standing in front of our pontiac sunbird. Going to the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway really got the photographer juices flowing through me again.  Part of it has to do with it being spring-type weather and the light was great at the track most of the time.  On friday when I was walking around the Neon Garage I saw lots of “official” race photographers.  They were easy to spot- they wore roadwork type vests that said PHOTO on them.  And don’t think I didn’t have camera envy too.  I remember wandering around the garage area and my head whipping around- to check out a camera or seven.  Yeah a little embarassing I admit but it’s totally true.

During Friday I used my trusty Canon I5 IS that I LOVE- it’s not a dslr- but its more than just your average point and shoot).  I am completely self taught (as is my dad I must tell you and he takes great pictures) and mostly do that by trial and error and let me tell you it was definitely a trial and error type of day.  I got some great pictures and some horrendous pictures (blurry, out of focus, etc).

Let me give you some examples:

While visiting Tony’s garage stall I saw him get out of the car during practice, talk to crew chief Darian Grubb and then go check out something under the front splitter. These were my pictures (keep in mind that these are from the upstairs viewing galley through the glass windows):

Tony Peeks Under the Splitter- obvious autofocus problem- focused on the beam and the glare and not on Tony causing blur)

Tony Peeks Under the Splitter- obvious auto-focus problem- focused on the beam and the glare and not on Tony -causing blur)

Close-up of Tony peeking under the splitter (image degredation due to being taken through window coupled with digital zoom crispness loss)

Close-up of Tony peeking under the splitter (image degradation due to being taken through window coupled with digital zoom -crispness loss).

Now here is the same shot (kinda) being taken by a professional photographer (of course realize also that this picture is not taken through glass and is at the ground level obviously in Tony’s garage stall):

See the difference? Way better. Of course this photographer is more than likely standing right in his garage stall so access is different).

See the difference? Way better. Of course this photographer is more than likely standing right in his garage stall so access is different). THIS IS NOT MY PHOTO- it's from tonystewart.com

Now I know in my heart that the reason my pictures are crummy in comparison are:

1. I am not a professional nor do I have the kind of equipment those guys (and girls) carry around (how they do it I don’t know- it about killed my neck carrying around the Digital Rebel I used on Sunday).  My dad and I were looking at a professional lens the other day? 8 grand! Like I told my dad when he told me I could get it for him for his birthday: Yeah let me pull that kinda money outta my butt cuz I sure don’t have it in the bank.

2. I am not a professional and do not have the kind of access these guys (and girls) have to get the shot.

3. I am a self-taught, shoot-from-the-hip kinda person. I don’t take time to set up a shot. And while I have an awareness of concepts like the rules of three- I don’t often take the time to consider it and set up the shot accordingly. Usually I am more of a “Oh that’s a great picture opportunity” and start snapping.

I did get some good pictures that day.  This is my favorite:

Tony gets out of the car during a practice break. Why did this one come out so much better? I honestly have no clue. Angle maybe reduced glare through window?  This is one of my favorite shots from Fridays Practice (that I took).

Tony gets out of the car during a practice break. Why did this one come out so much better? I have no clue. Angle maybe reduced glare through window? There was slight blur of motion towards the bottom because he was swinging his leg out of the car.

Of course as I said that is one of my favorites that I took that day (and definitely my favorite Tony Stewart shot that day). However this is my favorite of other people’s shots from that day. It was another one I found on the Tony Stewart website:

Tony looks either perplexed or determined I cant decide which. (photo is NOT MINE. From: tonystewart.com)

Tony looks either perplexed or determined I can't decide which. (photo is NOT MINE. From: tonystewart.com)

What is it that I love about this shot? Well first of all the vivid red. The car in the forground yet slightly out of focus- but not out of focus so much as to not be able to recognize its parts. The hood up. The expression on Tony’s face. This is a picture I wish I had taken.

If you were keeping track- last year when we decided to go to the Vegas race, BFM woke up Thursday morning really sick- as in throwing up sick.  We were going to go see Tony Stewart’s driver appearance at the local Home Depot and at her insistence I went anyway with her brother instead.  That was the only driver appearance we got to that race. This year- however was quite the different beast.  To begin with no one was too sick to go.  Also there were tons of driver appearances – unfortunately it seemed that 85 percent of them were all at the same time (what is it with the Thursday from 4-6 time slot that the drivers love to use for their appearances?).  I told BFM that since I got to see Tony at both races we went to last year that this year she could pick our driver appearances.  So she picked:

Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears.  The major problem there? Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch were doing their appearances at the same time at separate ends of the Vegas Strip (Kahne was in the Stratosphere and Kyle Busch was at M&M World which was just down from the MGM Grand).

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Walking in on Sunday Morning

Walking in on Sunday Morning

I honestly don’t remember what time we got to the track on Sunday- but I want to say probably around 9:00 again.  We perused the midway- partaking in free COKE ZERO samples as well as getting free Bobby Labonte flash drives preinstalled with the ask.com nascar tool bar wiget thingy mabob.  Mostly though we scoped out a place by the SPEED stage and waited.  We were there solely to see Jeff Gordon’s interview by the PRN guys- but be cause we also got to see Richard Childress and Kyle Busch during their interviews and we got to watch Hermie Sadler film one of the cut-away car segments-which was fun too.  I got a few mediocre pictures of Richard Childress and one of Jeff Gordon:

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Surprise! I decided to get these out starting today so you wouldn’t be left wondering.  Anyway last year the Vegas race (the UAW 400) was our first NASCAR race live and in person and this year BFM decided to take the reins in planning everything.  I just wrote her a check when she told me how much our tickets would be. She picked the seats and the activities and everything…and let me tell you I had a total blast. She picked us some awesome seats in the Petty Terrace (right across from Pit Exit).  I am going to have to break up my experience into three posts: Qualifying Day, Race Day and Driver Appearances otherwise you all would probably kill me for the length/picture ratio.

QUALIFYING DAY (Friday)

After our great time last year in the Neon Garage BFM and I decided that Qualifying day is the best day to have the garage passes (in Vegas the Garage passes are expensive…friday alone is $99.00 but both of us thing they are WELL worth it).  We got to the track probably around 9:00 ish and spent a good portion of an hour and a half or so just messing around the midway checking out the merch haulers and stuff.  The busiest haulers seemed to be Junior (no suprise), Tony (probably his fans stocking up on new merch) and Digger (yeah Digger has his own little merch booth).  Then it was off to the neon garage:

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Saturday started with final Daytona 500 practice for Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas racing- and ended badly for the pair. Ryan Newman blew a tire- sending him up the banking and into the wall where he collected his teammate/owner Tony Stewart.  That was not the way one wanted to start their day.  However only hours later Tony Stewart stood in victory lane at the Nationwide race where he drove the Number 80 Hendrick car to victory.  Not a bad turn around in one day. However, Sunday would be the day where all eyes were on Stewart-Haas racing’s number 14 and 39 Chevrolet Impalas.

Watching this Daytona 500 was much like driving while blind deaf.  I did not have the advantage of having HOTPASS this year since DirecTV decided to drop the only sports package I cared about.  I really missed being able to tune into Tony’s in-car radio because it’s how I judge how he feels about the car and his progress during the race.  That way I am not relying on the race announcer’s view of what is going on- I can pretty much tell for myself.

Anyway- during this first race weekend for the newly Stewart-Haas racing, emotions had to run the complete gamet during the week.  The team went through three race cars before the race on Sunday- a feat I am pretty darn sure they were not pleased with.  Ryan Newman’s primary car was wrecked during the Gatorade Duel number 2 on Thursday when he was wrecked by David Reutimann- forcing Newman into his backup car.  Then during the final practice on Saturday, a tire blew and Newman collected teammate/owner Stewart.  Because of the late practice tangle, Stewart had to go to his backup car and Ryan Newman was forced to use Tony’s backup Shootout car, thus sending both cars to start at the back of the field for Sunday’s Great American race.

By lap 25 Stewart had driven his car from 37th to 14th.  After taking on gas and tires during the competition yellow, Stewart was in obvious high spirits as the broadcast switched over to his radio to catch him singing “Ole Ole Ole Ole” and then telling his crew chief Darian Grubb that he didn’t have anything else to do. Announcers later state that Tony believes he has the best handling car out there.  And during short runs on fresh tires Tony seems to be able to draft well and pass cars- charging towards the front. However it seemed to me that the longer the green flag run, Stewart’s car just didn’t seem to have the ability to cut through the field with the ease it did early in the runs.  Also a big kudos to the Team Office Depot pit crew who seemed to get Tony in and out of the pits quickly…Tony rarely, if ever, dropped position after a pitstop…he always seemed to gain a position or two.  I hate to say it but it seemed last year Tony would lose three -five positions during pitstops alone.

Meanwhile teammate Ryan Newman never seemed to really get a feel for the car under him. He was at a serious disadvantage- in a car that was not set up for him or for this race.  The US AMY team did a great job getting the car rewrapped and decal’ed up so that at least it looked like Ryan’s car and not Tony’s. However they did have a slight problem in the pits when Ryan came in for what he thought was a problem with the tire, the crew somehow dropped the car off the jack after the tire had been removed and then had to pick it back up to put the tire up – costing Newman valuable spots in the pits and on the track- a mistake that he was never able to overcome on the track.

At the end of the evening, however, Matt Kenseth ended up winning the rained-shortened Daytona 500 after having led just one green flag lap.  Tony Stewart finished 8th while teammate Ryan Newman finished 36th.

As for Stewart-Haas racing- I think they accomplished one of the bigger tasks on their to-do list for the start of the 2009 (their inaugural) season.  They came to Daytona extremely competitive.  I think good things are going to come out of this team in the very near future.

Other Notes on Daytona:

  • I heard from the national broadcast that Ryan Newman’s crew chief Tony Gibson even used Sharpie markers to cover over some of the last bits of red on the backup car. This I think deserves the race award for most innovative use of a sponsor product.
  • Best quote from the entire speedweeks session at Daytona? Comes from none other than Mr. Tony Stewart who was quoted as responding to the question if going to a backup car after the happy hour crash was a disadvantage to his ability to win the 500 with “I don’t know, Rocket Scientist-I’m sitting here with a backup car. What do you think?”
  • I am probably going to feel the wrath of Jr. Nation for saying this but I really think that frustration was a definite mitigating factor that lead to Junior’s on track skirmish with Brian Vicker’s that ended up taking out a lot of the key players in the race.  I think Junior might not have been thinking clearly because he was pissed about the penalty that he incurred at the previous pit stop.  Junior was held one lap for having the right front tire on the pitbox line which apparently is considered out of bounds.
  • I am also still questioning Joe Gibbs Racings decision to rush Logano into a full-time cup ride. I seriously don’t think he was ready. He seemed to be smacking that car against the wall everytime he went out there and that last incident with Scott Speed  Logano nosed the car into the wall pretty damn hard.  I said this last year and I will say it again…Logano might be too green to be out there with the cup guys on a weekly basis. I still say that Logano should have run a full season or two in the Nationwide series first to break in slowly to the Sprint cup series.

Next weekend NASCAR takes us to the Autoclub Speedway in Fontana California.

  • Ok- as a race fan I am going to make a confession to you. My friend and I discussed this during our respective lunch breaks on Thursday and we are both equally confused.  I do not understand HOW the field is set at Daytona.  I mean I understand that the first row is set on qualifying day. And some but not all Go-or-Go homers are locked in the field on time.  Then there are the Gatorade Duels.  Where the field is split in two 60 lap heat races. But from there I do not understand how the field is then set.  At least I am not the only one… Tony Stewart doesn’t understand either!
  • Speaking of Tony,  let’s talk about Stewart-Haas Racing for a minute.  I am just wondering if the people who thought they wouldn’t be competitive out of the box are eating crow right now? I could be biased since Tony is my driver but Stewart-Haas Racing seem pretty damn strong to me. Stewart did well in the Shootout.  Both Tony AND Ryan did well in on Pole day. Tony did awesome in the Duels. Ryan seemed pretty solid in his duel as well until take out by Ruet.
  • Email exchange with my friend regarding Ryan Newman’s crash during the second Duel:
    • Me: Do you think “Tony the Owner” will have a talk with Ryan Newman about getting pissed at Reutimann or will “Tony the Owner” understand because of his experience as “Tony the Driver”.  AND will “Tony the Owner” be pissed at Reutimann for wrecking “his” race car? All things to think about.
    • Her: Tony the Owner”  will prob manslap* Newman and buy him a beer- lol!
  • I may be a Tony fan but I was glad to see Jeff Gordon have a good finish.  And for the record? I like his new paint scheme this year.
  • Speaking of paint schemes. I have decided officially I like the Office Depot paint scheme better than the Old Spice paint scheme.
  • Raygan Swan’s Splash N Go article this week on NASCAR.COM earlier this week was a silly guide to fans.  I think she was trying to be tongue in cheek- however she tells fansLast, get your supplies. Umbrellas for the Fontana, Calif.” However I do not recommend this….if you are heading towards Fontana FYI- Umbrellas are not allowed at the track in Fontana (or in Vegas) unless they have changed the track rules from last season!

Dear DirecTV- AHHHH now you have really made me mad. After having hotpass for two years now- you decide to drop it? THAT REALLY SUCKS!  I greatly miss being able to hear what is going on in Tony’s car during the race. DAMN YOU!  I bet you still have the other sport packages! Why did NASCAR have to be cut? —Disgruntled, AMY  PS. Don’t try to tell me to get that NASCAR.COM thing where I can hear the audio…doesn’t work for me because I have dial up…AND my computer is not in the same room as my TV.

Dear QVC- You have angered me too!  How? Well first there is a big deal made about the FOR RACE FANS ONLY show that is starting off this season with Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart as guests. So I dvr it- and hear wonderful things about it.  I was really looking forward to getting some glimpses of the Stewart Haas Racing shop. I go to watch said DVR and end up with two hours of an electronics showcase. MAJOR FAIL, QVC! MAJOR!  Your in disgruntlement- AMY PS. Don’t try to make up for it by showing me all the cool diecasts of Tony’s that I can’t afford.

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*-manslap is defined by my friend and I by that strong shoulder (or sometimes back) pat/slap that men give each other. Usually in a WAY TO GO kind of way. Not to be confused with the “good game” butt slap.

We talked advertising yesterday, so let’s talk merchandise today.  One of the big issues a fan like me will have when a driver switches teams (or becomes an owner/driver) is the need to suddenly replace all of your existing merchandise.  The Stewart-Haas racing switch is hard for me because merchandise is slow to come out which means my car is fairly naked (my 20 sticker in the window disappeared sometime last November and I am still using my 20 license plate frame because I haven’t gotten my 14 one yet).  I am however happily mousing on my new Tony Stewart mouse pad. (Yes I use a mouse pad because my desk at work is too shiny for the optical mouse and if I don’t use one my pointer dances all over my desktop).
Anyway…I have never been a collector of diecasts.  I have a couple of the (cheap) Winner’s Circle brand cars…because they are cheap and available at my favorite store (Target) right of the shelf.  However- I decided that since Tony was changing numbers/sponsors I would look into a diecast or two. Knowing that Tony has two primary sponsors, I figured I would find two different cars. The Office Depot Paint Scheme:
Office Depot Paint Scheme

And the Old Spice Paint Scheme:

Old Spice Paint Scheme

However- there already is a 14 with a Smoke paint scheme:

Smoke Paint Scheme

And a 14 with the Burger King paint scheme (Tony will be sponsored by Burger King for two races):

Burger King 14 paint scheme

Yeah…and Daytona hasn’t even happened yet. This is the exact reason WHY I do not collect diecasts. Already there are 4 different paint schemes and countless others in the work. These high quality ones can run anywhere from 69.99 to 89.99 a piece and that my friends is an obsession I just can NOT afford- bad economy or good.

I decided against one of the big dough diecasts only because I couldn’t decide. Part of me wants one of the traditional paint schemes while another part of me screams very loudly that the Smoke Paint Sheme is REALLY COOL while a third part of me thinks that since the Burger King paint scheme is only going to be used for two races that would be the one to get. Too many choices makes my head spin around and start to smoke (no pun intended) so to simplify it for myself I said “Self you really can’t justify that much on a toy car that will just sit on a shelf.”  My “self” is no fun and won’t let me collect diecasts.

Knowing my love of all things office supply, my father asked if I wanted to ride to Office Max with him on the day of the Bud Shootout.  I looked at him and said “Sorry, I can not shop there. I have to shop at Office Depot now.”  My dad just gave me a funny look and continued on with his trip to the store without me…not realizing completely what I was talking about.  Of course it probably confused him a little more when I yelled out after him as he got in his pickup “Remember…Office Depot is the official office supply store of NASCAR!”  Before, as a fan, it was extremely easy for me to be loyal to Tony’s sponsor Home Depot- because it was the only home improvement warehouse in town. We do not have a Lowe’s.  The closest Lowe’s is over 30 miles away in a different county.  We have local chain hardware stores but nothing else that can be in the same league with Home Depot. Our town is riddled with office supply stores however. Besides Office Depot we have an Office Max and the town I work in has a Staples. You all know I love the office supply stores…throw me in a room with pens and post-its on sale and I am a happy girl. So it will be hard to limit myself to Office Depot.

With Tony’s new major sponsorships will come new advertisements.  Now my friend mentioned seeing one already but somehow I missed it.  Anyway…in my head I have a couple of really good commercials…one for office depot and one for old spice (the sponsors that are basically splitting major sponsorship on the #14 Stewart-Haas Impala).  Now I am no advertising executive but I know what I would like to see…what would make me chuckle.  Which is what I love in a commercial;  a good chuckle. The Toyota Fan Controller commercial with Tony and Zippy, for instance, made me laugh every single time I saw it.  I dunno something about ZIPPY RUN FOR YOUR LIFE made me laugh out loud.  It could be that I have an odd sense of humor but it literally made me laugh each time.  Another good Tony commercial was the one with the little remote control cars- where all the coke drivers are racing them around a garage and Tony wins and then Kevin Harvicks crew member runs over Tony’s little rc car.  Aww…Sorry About Your Little Car Tony. Again…good stuff.  Anyway I am digressing immensely.

What you might not realize is that Tony has also made a deal with Burger King for a two race sponsorship, and part of that deal includes that Burger King will be a food service provider at his race track (Eldora Speedway). Another part of this deal also includes commercials.  The thought of this frightens me only because I have an innate fear of THE KING. There is something about his plastic frozen expressioned face and the creepy things that he does…like stare into peoples windows, frollick with animals, sleep in fields with cows? THE KING almost starts being stalkerish.  THE KING creeps me out and I really don’t think I would like it too much to see Tony frollicking with the THE KING.  Or I am evisioning a race with Tony and The King…where there THE KING is in a firesuit.  Or even worse…a plastic faced, frozen-expressioned Tony Stewart. Now I am starting to give myself the willies.  The only commercial with THE KING and Tony that might possibly be acceptable would be if Tony runs him over or something. It would be good if the commericial could omit THE KING completely.  How about a commerical with Tony and Whopper Jr.  I love the commerical when Whopper Jr. tells his Dad (The Whopper) that he has his head in his bun.  That one totally passes the chuckle test.