Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Smoke a Little Smoke ... All Year Long

If you're a fan of Tony Stewart, then a little Smoke is never enough.

And while you may be upset that you can't see your favorite driver on TV in the off-season, the folks at Office Depot have something that will make the time between now and Daytona go by a little quicker.

Introducing the 2011 Tony Stewart wall calendar, which is on sale now online and at select Office Depot stores. This pictoral offering features unique photos of Tony that can't be found anywhere else. He’s wearing everything from casual street clothes to business attire to his racing firesuit, like this shot for April:

And then there's this photo featured in March - which looks like something from the cover of a romance novel:

So take heart Smoke fans - there's enough Tony Stewart to last all year long. The 2011 calendar costs just $13.99 and can be ordered at www.officedepotracing.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

Papis Makes a Pit Stop at Daytona

Daytona International Speedway is kinda like your Grandma's house on Thanksgiving - you just never know who's going to drop in with a homemade casserole.

And although NASCAR driver Max Papis didn't have a casserole in tow, he did make a surprise visit to Daytona today to check in on the historic repaving project.

Papis, was traveling with his family back to North Carolina after spending the Thanksgiving holidays in South Florida, and made a little pit stop at the “World Center of Racing.”

“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of stopping by Daytona and seeing the progress of what I consider my home track,” Papis said. “I love this place and this is my home turf.”

Papis, a native of Italy and part of the overall winning team in the 2002 Rolex 24 At Daytona, took a tour of the track with North American Testing Company’s Senior Director of Construction Bill Braniff.

“I have goose bumps every time I come to Daytona,” said Papis, who will race in both the NextEra Energy Resources 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and most likely the Rolex 24 At Daytona during Speedweeks 2011.

“I didn’t think it was possible to actually improve this place but you guys did it. The asphalt looks amazing. It looks like it’s a lot more work than what you see from the outside (looking in).

“Daytona is history and this is a new part of the history of this race track. It’s pretty amazing.”

While the legendary 2.5-mile tri-oval isn’t ready for a race car yet, Papis christened the new racing surface by performing push-ups at the start/finish line.

“I wanted to do it my own way and welcome the new surface,” Papis said. “I’m kind of a strange guy. I’m strong, Daytona strong.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Johnson Has Nothing Left to Prove ... Almost

 Jimmie Johnson hoists the Sprint Cup Championship trophy
after claiming his fifth consecutive title at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Love him or hate him, Jimmie Johnson is the man.

He can win the Cup title when he dominates the Chase.  He can win the Cup title when he's trailing.

And what he doesn't do in the clutch may be even more important than what he does do.

Namely, he doesn't beat himself.

Johnson needed to qualify well to gain maximum points.  He did - in sixth.

Johnson needed to lead a lap to get five bonus points. Yup, he did that too.

Johnson needed to run toward the front and stay out of trouble.  Did it.  All race long.

In contrast, pre-race points leader Denny Hamlin took a spin early on from which his team never fully recovered.  Kevin Harvick was caught speeding on pit road, which forced him to forfeit track position and drive through race traffic.  And neither Hamlin nor Harvick laid down a solid qualifying run which put them at a disadvantage in the first place.

But Johnson made it all look easy  - again.

And now "Easy Rider" has a fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship to his credit and nothing left to prove - unless he wants to be considered the greatest NASCAR driver ever.

After the Ford 400, Johnson hinted that he now has his eye on besting the record seven championships won by Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.

"I spent the majority of my career as a "C" class driver, I never experienced stuff like this," Johnson said.

"Why would I even think of those kind of goals? I don't know if it's in reach, but we are a hell of a lot closer now than when the day started. Now I'm looking at the marks that the greats have put out there and am hopeful to get up there to them.''

Five down ... and just two to go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Homestead ...

'Twas the night before Homestead and all 'round the track,
Palm trees were swaying in the tropical black.

The drivers were tucked in their RVs with care,
in the hopes that a trophy would tomorrow be theirs.

Mike Ford in his kerchief, lay nervous in bed,
Where visions of fuel mileage danced through his head.

Denny Hamlin paced wildly 'cross his motorhome floor,
saying "I have to catch Jimmie tomorrow for sure."

Chad Knaus knelt praying that his crew swap would win it.
Gaining spots on pit road could keep his driver in it.

And meanwhile ol' Johnson was cool and collected
saying "I'll win number five if I wheel and don't wreck it."

And then there was Harvick who refused to be idle.
He was scheming and plotting to win his first title.

With a light in his eye and a mischeivous grin,
He stroked the short hairs on his quite stubbly chin.

"I may be starting in p28,
but Denny is further behind, which is great."

"I've brought the best motor, the best pit crew," he said.
"The best chassis, best power - that'll get in their heads."

"I'll zoom through the field like a bat outta hell
in my last race for Pennzoil and the team they call Shell.

"I'll drive 29 to the front of the pack
and if I have to spin Johnson, I'll never look back."

Then he smiled to himself as he thought of the fans
who would holler and cheer from the Homestead grandstands.

And he vowed he would do just whatever it took
to cement his first place in the championship book.

So on Harvick, on Johnson, on Hamlin and Gordon
On Edwards, on Bowyer on Busches and Burton.

And if you boys have at it, well you've got good reason.
Happy Homestead to all - thank you for a great season!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Score One for Johnson

Don't look now, but Jimmie Johnson has brought his "A" game to Homestead.

In one of the most important qualifying runs of the year, the defending champ threw down a dynamite lap time to cement a top 10 start - sixth to be exact.

The best part for Johnson? His fellow championship contenders didn't fare nearly as well.

He'll begin the race 22 spots ahead of his nearest title rival - Kevin Harvick.  Meanwhile, Chase leader Denny Hamlin will have to make an unenviable run from the rear if he wants to keep his points lead. He qualified 38th.

Sure, a good qualifying run doesn't necessarily mean a winning race. And starting in the back of the pack doesn't mean you'll stay there. Just last year at Homestead, Hamlin rocketed from the same starting spot to bring home the checkers.

However, when the points spread is slim, an up-front starting spot should be cause for at least a little relief. It'll take a while for Harvick and Hamlin to catch Johnson on Sunday.  And, if he can gain just a few spots, the No. 48 will be able to lead a lap early and snag those five coveted bonus points.

So the qualifying battle goes to Johnson.

A few hours will tell if he can also win the war.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Congrats to Our No. 29 Prize Pack Winners!

The driver of the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet could well pull off an upset at Homestead Miami Speedway this weekend.

A mere 46 points behind Chase leader Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick seems to relish his underdog status. And fans are loving it as well.  Judging from online chatter, many a race fan is rooting for the Richard Childress Racing team to dethrone Jimmie Johnson and outrun Hamlin.

To celebrate their driver being in championship contention, the folks at Shell-Pennzoil were kind enough to give us some cool No. 29 swag to give away. 

Congrats to Lori N., Laurie, Bryant W., Susie H. and Tom D.  Each of these folks will receive a special prize pack, which includes a No. 29 Shell diecast car, No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Christmas ornaments, No. 29 decals, Harley Davidson koozies and microfiber clean cloths.

Remember, Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines act as a barrier to shield and protect critical engine parts against performance-robbing gunk.

Congrats again to our contest winners - enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Few "Poison-ous" Thoughts About Homestead

Poison frontman Bret Michaels will perform
the National Anthem and give the start command
before the Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Now that Phoenix is in the rear view, Homestead looms large. And boy does it hold promise.

The last race of the season is bound to be a hard rockin', fender-knockin' finale that's will go down in the record books - or at the very least, the collective memory of NASCAR fans.

In fact, there's so much to say about the upcoming Ford 400 that it's hard to put it into words.

But when I heard today's news that Poison glam-man Bret Michaels will sing the National Anthem and give the start command Sunday, I experienced a jolt of rock-inspired creativity.

So here are a few of my thoughts about the upcoming season finale - all inspired by the song titles of Poison.

Rock out and read on!

Talk Dirty to Me - there's nothing like a little pre-race smack to get the fans riled up. And, if Twitter is any indication, the trash talk is only going to escalate between now and Sunday. Just look up @kevinharvick and @dennyhamlin if you don't believe me ...

Nothin' But a Good Time - a fan-tastic celebration is what folks could experience if Carl Edwards wins Homestead and climbs into the grandstand like he did at Phoenix. My opinion? This new post-race tradition may be Edwards' best PR move yet.

Look What the Cat Dragged In - This could be the reaction Kevin Harvick gets if he steals the title from the No. 48 and the No. 11 teams. Think it's impossible? Then you haven't seen the recent F1 championship ...

Every Rose Has Its Thorn - I feel bad in advance for anyone but the top three Chasers who wins Sunday's race. Such a victory will be HUGELY overshadowed by the three-team championship drama.

Life Goes On - After his disappointing finish at Phoenix, the dejected Denny Hamlin needs to clear his head and adopt this song title as his mantra - lest he arrive in South Florida off his game.

I Want Action - what race fan isn't thinking this as the countdown to Homestead begins? The race will be "have-at-it" drama at its finest. So bring it on!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fuel Mileage at Phoenix Means Drama at Homestead

Jimmie Johnson (above) hacked into Denny Hamlin's
points lead in a fuel-mileage showdown at
Phoenix International Raceway
Folks who don't like fuel mileage races might want to reconsider their disdain.

Thanks to today's gas-saving drama at Phoenix International Raceway, the season finale at Homestead is going to be one heckuva show.

With one race to go, reigning champ Jimmie Johnson trails Denny Hamlin by a mere 15 points.  And third place driver Kevin Harvick? He's still in striking distance at only 46 points back.

It's the closest margin in Chase history.  And it's bound to make Sunday's championship race the most exciting in recent memory.

Hamlin dominated Phoenix, leading the most laps (190 of 312) by far.  But his 12th place result is proof that "points as they run" graphics are about as worthless as the plastic wrap on your peanuts. 

The outcome boiled down to the have and have nots: namely, two teams that actually had a Sunoco-saving strategy - and one team that didn't have seem to have a gas mileage plan at all.

After the race, Hamlin admitted that fuel savings didn't even enter into his team's calculations - at least as far as he was aware. "I was never alerted to save fuel, so I assumed that everyone was going to have to pit. I didn't think it was a question," Hamlin said. "Like I said, I did my job."

This failure to plan is somewhat ironic. Just one week ago, No. 11 crew chief Mike Ford called out Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team for coming up with a new game-changing strategy - the infamous "Pit Crew Swap". Ford said Knaus' move just proved that the No. 11 is the better team.

"They removed their team,” Ford said following Hamlin's win at Texas. “Their team got them to this point and they pulled them out. So this is more about trying to win a championship for the company and not the team."

Ford's comments were likely nothing more than a volley of psychological warfare. But he clearly missed his mark.

Said Johnson today after climbing out of his car, ""I hope the pressure of us being on their heels works on him mentally this week. Those guys better be on their toes."


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fishing for Backpacks

Earlier this week, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman did what boys do when they have a few hours of down time.

They went fishin'.

On Tuesday, the Stewart-Haas Racing teammates took part in the second-annual Office Depot Foundation Charity Fishing Tournament.

But this wasn't just off track unwind time for the drivers. It was all to raise money for the Office Depot Foundation. In fact, this year Stewart has partnered with the Foundation to help donate more than 300,000 book bags to non-profit organizations and schools that work with children in need nationwide.

“I had a great time fishing and all for a great cause,” Stewart said of his time on the water. “I’ve had a chance to work with the Office Depot Foundation on its National Backpack Program for the past two years, and it’s one of the most rewarding things I do."

I can't vouch for the fact that Stewart reeled in the fish in the above photo himself.  But sources inform me that his team reeled in a total catch of 14.4 pounds, while Newman’s team wasn’t far behind with 9.4 pounds.
Photo courtesy of Gort Productions

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why Should NASCAR Hire Me? Here Are 10 Good Reasons ...

When NASCAR announced that it was creating a new integrated marketing communications department, my heart gave a little leap.

And when I heard there would be openings in the realm of social media, my heart beat even faster.

So without letting any grass grow, I added social media experience to my resume, uploaded my info. on the NASCAR employment site and settled in to wait.

I've heard it will take a while for NASCAR to fill these new positions, but I admit I'm getting antsy.  You see, when it's a dream you're chasing, waiting just isn't good enough.

Can you blame me for not giving up without a fight?  Did Dale Earnhardt give up on winning the Daytona 500?  Did Alan Kulwicki give up on his 1992 championship?  Did Chad Knaus give up on the No. 48 pit crew? (Okay, so maybe the latter isn't the best analogy).

So in lieu of reciting a laundry list of career history and accomplishments, I give you a few more reasons why the folks at NASCAR should offer me a job. If you agree - please comment, tweet or like on Facebook to your heart's content. 

After all, sometimes dreams need a little help to come true.

The Top 10 Reasons Why NASCAR Should Hire Me

10.  I love the smell of exhaust in the morning.

9.  Even Monte Dutton likes me.

8. I can tweet, blog and Photoshop with the best of 'em.  Plus, I'm crazy good at NASCAR math.

7. The closest I've come to a criminal offense? Crashing driver intros at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

6. Every office needs another redhead.

5. I once shared the stage with "The Godfather of Soul" James Brown.  (This doesn't have anything to do with NASCAR - it just makes me sound cooler).

4. My favorite colors are Lowe's Blue, Amp Green and Office Depot Red.

3. I hail from a long line of rum runners - which is practically the same as moonshine.

2. You'll never catch me giving the "one-finger salute" on national television

1.  I've written nearly 500 blog posts and articles promoting the sport I love, and I haven't made a dime.  Imagine what I could do if I were actually on the payroll?

Monday, November 8, 2010

For Knaus - Heavy Lies the Head That Wears the Crown

Denny Hamlin smells blood in the water.  Your pit crew's performance is costing you positions. Your driver is panicked.  And there are only two races left.

What would you do?

Would you chuck your team on the chins and tell them "we'll get 'em next time"?  Would you tell your driver to shut up and wheel the car?  Or would you take a game-changing risk that could make you a hero if your instincts are right - or a zero if you're wrong.

Leaders opt for the latter.

Sure, Chad Knaus' mid-race move at Texas won't make him the new fan favorite, but that's nothing new.  Leaders aren't always popular, even among those they lead.  But leaders do make the tough call when it counts - which is what Knaus did at Texas.

When your guy is on the ropes and your opponent is using him for a punching bag, you've got to regroup, re-strategize and come out swinging. If not, you'll be down for the count and the victory will go to your opponent.

And what does popularity count for then?

So during the next few weeks, Knaus will take a lot of heat for the pit crew swap - especially if his plan fails.

But if his instincts are true (and they have been for the past four years) he'll have steered Hendrick Motorsports to their fifth consecutive championship.

And himself into the history books.  Again.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hot Damn! Texas Turns Into NASCAR Fight Club

After today's race at Texas Motor Speedway, NASCAR shouldn't have any trouble selling tickets.

The Lone Star State had it all - an upset in the points, an irate driver giving NASCAR the "one-finger salute" (on camera, mind you) and a pit crew swap mid-race.

But the moment that lit up Twitter like the big bright stars at night and caused many a race fan to yelp out a "Yee Haw", was "The Fight" between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton.

After getting taken out by Burton under caution, Gordon got out of his No. 24 Chevrolet and stomped down the track to meet Burton head on.  

Cue the Old West shootout music.

Channeling his inner cowboy, Gordon didn't bother to stand upon ceremony or march off 10 paces. Instead, he made a little leap in the air and shoved Burton with both hands. He then tried to grab Burton by the head and throw a few punches before NASCAR officials separated the two.

The moment was spontaneous, authentic and dramatic - just what fans have been craving and NASCAR has been needing.

All I can say is, the NFL has got nothin' on this.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Keselowski and Edwards Share the Spotlight Once Again

Carl Edwards celebrates his win at Texas Motor Speedway while Brad Keselowski
and team owner Roger Penske celebrate their first NASCAR championship.

Today wasn't the first time that Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards put on a show.

It's just that this time, the show ended with two shiny trophies instead of two mangled race cars.

After a season that largely consisted of bad blood between the two drivers, it's ironically apropos that Keselowski and Edwards shared the spotlight at the end of the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge.

Finishing the race in third, Keselowski claimed his first NASCAR championship - the 2010 Nationwide Series title - which also marks the first championship for team owner Roger Penske.

"It’s pretty awesome,” Keselowski said. “He (Penske) is the captain. I’m not sure how many wins that he has, I can’t think of anybody that has more.  This one was awesome and it’s incredible that we were able to get him a championship.”

Meanwhile, a few meters away, Edwards celebrated his race win in Victory Lane - after climbing into the grandstand to whoop it up with race fans.

"I really enjoyed it," Edwards said. "I almost didn't get back to the race car but that would have been okay too. That was a good group of people up there."

While walking back to his car, Edwards stopped to congratulate Keselowski.  But  I'm not so sure that this shared positive experience means the two drivers will forgive past wrongs.

In fact, part of me hopes not ...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Edwards Auctions Bike to Build Orphanage

Sometimes a driver does something that makes you uncommonly proud to be a NASCAR fan.

And what Carl Edwards is doing right now, is one of those things.

Edwards is hosting a charity auction and sweepstakes with Copart (his Nationwide Series sponsor).

And all the proceeds will go toward building an orphanage in Monterrey, Mexico.

In June, Edwards won the Nationwide Series race at Road America.  And that day, he won an XR 1200 Harley Davidson Sportster.  And now Edwards is auctioning off that Harley, along with other race memorabilia, to raise money for Back2Back Ministries, the mission group that is building the orphanage.

The auction will be held on Monday, Nov. 15 and the sweepstakes will run from now until Nov. 15. In addition to Edwards' winning Harley Davidson Sportster, he'll be auctioning off  a crew shirt, car hood and a race-worn firesuit. Fans will be able to register to bid for free and read about all the details on Copart’s Facebook fan page .

Once fans register, they are automatically entered into the sweepstakes - 500 No.60 Copart.com diecast cars will be randomly awarded to registered fans.

Check out the auction items below and also Edwards' video about the project above.

Bid on www.Copart.com to win Edwards' Harley Davidson Sportster.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Points Racing Is for the Birds

Thank goodness for Kevin Harvick - one of the few Chasers
who didn't points race at Talladega.

I don't claim to have all the answers.  Heck, I don't even understand all the rules.

But as I sat in the grandstand at Talladega Sunday, I had an epiphany.

Points racing is for the birds.

Don't get me wrong.  Talladega was truly fantastic.  On the whole, it was exciting, dramatic and, in the end, somewhat confusing. 

However, if you're a fan of Jimmie Johnson or say Jeff Gordon, the last thing you want to do is spend money on a race ticket simply to watch your driver hang in the back. 

I know, I know, Talladega is a monster. A driver can go from worst to first in just a few laps.  Or first to wrecked in a split second.  So it makes rational sense that championship contenders would try avoid the fray.

And even with a non-aggressive points racing strategy, drivers run the risk of getting caught up in someone else's mistake or perhaps losing the draft completely (ahem ... Denny Hamlin).

But just think how much more exciting the last 12 races would be if every Chase driver had to run for the win to move up in the points?

Imagine what would happen if (as Hamlin suggested a couple weeks ago) drivers were awarded a point per each lap led.  Such a change would kick points racing to the curb and add a heap more drama.

And that would sure make the fans happier.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Truex Jr. to Be Powered by Pink at Texas

The names of more than 2,400 breast cancer victims, survivors and supporters will ride along with Martin Truex, Jr. during the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The driver's No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota will feature a special paint scheme which coincides with a big donation by NAPA - $250,000 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure.

Fans helped raise $51,000 of the $250,000 donation by making a minimum contribution of $5.60 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for their loved ones' names to appear on the car. The names are featured in pink on the paint scheme, while names submitted with a donation of $560 or more are in white.

NAPA also raised funds via the sale of NAPA All Out for the Cure™ limited edition hats during the month of October.

The AAA 500 takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday and will be televised by ESPN.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Non-Chaser of Note: Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya high fives fans after being introduced
at Talladega Superspeedway
In the days leading up to race weekend, if you asked folks which non-Chaser had the best shot to win Talladega, they'd likely say Jamie McMurray.

McMurray was the obvious choice.  The Earnhardt-Ganassi driver is having the season of his life, winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, the Bank of America 500 and also the fall Dega race last year.

His teammate Juan Pablo Montoya wasn't even on the radar.

But Montoya surprised the crowd Saturday by clocking the fastest qualifying time, putting him on the Talladega pole. And, during the race, he avoided the on-track drama to end the day in third spot.

McMurray, on the other hand, finished thirty-sixth.

Although Montoya hasn't won as many races as his EGR teammate, he is having a pretty good year.

So far, JPM can boast a win at Watkins Glen, three poles, six top fives and 14 top 10 finishes.

And if team owner Chip Ganassi stays with Chevy and those Childress-built engines, Montoya will be a huge threat in 2011.

You can bank on it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Cure for the After-Dega Blues

The day after Talladega is kinda like the day after Christmas. There's so much buildup to the big event - it's a slow letdown when the party is finally over.

On the day after Dega, you wake up still on an adrenaline high from the sights, the sounds and the excitement. You  keep turning on your camera just to scroll through your race photos again and again.  You relive and retell the weekend's highlights with your buddies or any poor soul who will listen.

Then you gradually come back to reality as you pack for the journey home, return to work, or stand in an interminable airport security line.

Alas, it's too bad every day can't be Dega.

Personally, I can't quite come to terms with the real world just yet.  So I'm sharing some of my favorite photos from this weekend in the hopes they'll help alleviate those after-Dega blues ...

Jeff Burton and the No. 31 crew
await their turn to qualify.

Kevin Harvick laughing it up on pit road.

Jimmie Johnson chats with the boys from ESPN.
I'm still not used to seeing Kasey Kahne in
a Red Bull Racing uniform.
The "Lucky Dog" gets a place of honor
on David Reutimann's No. 00
Best off-track activity at Dega?
Playing "Costume or Not a Costume" -
sometimes it's hard to tell ...
American Idol alumnus Josh Gracin sang a
fantastic National Anthem.
There's always a camera crew following
Kyle Busch and fiancee Samantha Sarcinella
The fans are loving Tony Stewart - this was taken right after
he gave his Coca-Cola to a little girl who was decked out in No. 14 gear.
If fan adoration equaled good luck at Dega, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would
have led every lap and won by a mile.

Scott Speed and company head down pit
road before qualifying.

The answer is "subtle".  The question is
"What is one thing Talladega fans are not?"

SB Nation reporter Jeff Gluck interviews
Clint Bowyer before qualifying.