Monday, June 30, 2008

Smoke... it's time to move on

The time has come, I believe, for Tony Stewart to move on.

After a decade at Joe Gibbs Racing with two championships and over 30 Sprint Cup victories, 2008 should be the final season for Stewart to climb behind the wheel of the #20 car. Much to the dismay of my friend Christian Scott whose apartment is filled with orange Home Depot stuff, long-time fans will have to pack the old behind and move on. Much like the last 10 months for me moving to a new ride at Hendrick Motorsports, a new number, and new sponsors for Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2009 will be the same for Tony Stewart fans.

I think Sunday's race at New Hampshire was the kicker for Stewart. After dominating much of the race, Stewart's bid for a win came short when rains approached the racetrack, and instead of a win or atleast a top 5 finish, Stewart was forced to settle for 14th.

The success and luck he has enjoyed since 1999 is obviously done. Smoke said in a very painful interview with TNT on Sunday that his luck has run out. Twice in the last year, rain has taken a win away from him (the other at Kansas last fall.)

I don't think it has anything to do with crew chief Greg Zipadelli. I don't think it has anything to do with Gibbs' move to Toyota this year. I think it has to do with the fact that things continue to change in NASCAR all the time, and this year is no exception. The new racecar has thrown even veteran drivers a loop, and it seems anymore that once a guy gets dominant in one point of the race, he stays that way throughout and only an accident, mechanical problems, or bad pit strategy keep them from victory.

All season long, with a few exceptions, we've seen a driver dominate the race and go to victory lane. At Las Vegas, Carl Edwards was the dominant car and overcame pit problems to win. Last week at Infineon, Kyle Busch led over 75 laps en route to victory. But some strong cars aren't as lucky.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was set to win the Coca-Cola 600 only before an accident took him out of contention. Before that, he was going to win at Richmond before Busch took him out with a handful of laps remaining.

But yesterday at New Hampshire, Smoke was the man, not surprising to anybody, and it looked like he would keep his tradition of burning up the track during the summer months. The stage was set for him to win until late pit stops where he took tires, others took fuel only, and some stayed on the racetrack hoping the rains would come.

The rains came and stopped the race with 17 laps to go. After a short window, NASCAR called the race and Kurt Busch was declared the victor, not Stewart or any of the other cars who ran up front most of the day.

Bad luck, bad cars, and other wildcards are causes for Smoke to jump ship. And with the announcement that Casey Mears will not return to Hendrick Motorsports in 2009, I think Stewart is set to take the empty room in the inn. I hope for Tony's sake he decides not to enter in to partial ownership and drive for Haas CNC Racing next year. I think that's career suicide. Why go to a team that struggles to make races?

As a Hendrick Motorsports fan, I welcome Tony Stewart into the organization if he so chooses. Even if that means that Joey Logano will drive the 20 car next year. I'll just have to deal with that.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pocono Trip (Sunday)

After three days in the Poconos taking in all of qualifying, practices, and the ARCA Crash Fest 200, it was finally time to get down to business in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 500.

Sunday morning meant leaving the hotel way early and getting to the track, well, way early. But, we beat traffic so everything worked out in the end. The bad part was since we got there at 8:00 and there was nothing to do until noon, there was a lot of time sitting around doing nothing. Oh well, atleast we were at a racetrack and not somewhere else. I must say, Sunday morning at a racetrack is very... relaxing. 

I had time to walk around the pitroad area and experience first hand what goes into preparing for a Sprint Cup Series race. The cool part was the fact that Junior's pit was right in front of the MRN truck. The bad news: I was going to be on the complete other end of the frontstretch for most of the day, so I didn't get to see anything there. 

After 12:00, it was time for the Sprint Vision pre-race show. I got to follow Paul and Thomas around while they shot some stuff and that was cool. I actually got to stir some of the conversation by noting that Travis Kvapil's crew was placing Dish Network logos on their pitbox. I asked something along the lines of, "hey, they're putting logos on the pitbox. Is that full time now," or something like that. And, right after that, Paul went over and asked the crew guys about it. No, it wasn't full time but I got to take part in the pre-race show. That was awesome. 

I really felt like during the course of the weekend and that story from the pre-race that I got to share my knowledge and passion for NASCAR with the folks I was working with and I hope they realize that I want to make a career out of this. 

About one hour before the start of the race, I got to go to victory lane for the pre-race activities. I mentioned earlier in this series about how Pocono does things very weird. Well, this was no exception. They seemed to do what they wanted when they wanted and didn't really care about timelines from the network television, radio, or NASCAR itself. I wish that Pocono was filled up with water and stocked with Bass. (Yeah, I stole it from Kyle Petty... get over it.)

Once the command was given, I walked back to the Sprint Vision truck to put up the tripod and get ready for the race. I finally made it back behind Jimmie Johnson's pit box right as the field was taking the green flag, so atleast I got to see the flag drop. 

After that, it was pretty much just waiting in the media center for stuff to happen. I got to watch all the way up until Kyle Busch hit the wall. After that, I spent about 100 laps in the garage area waiting for him to come out and talk to the media. That sucked. I missed alot of the race because of Gomer Kyle. I didn't appreciate that. But I guess that's the nature of the job. At Chicago I hope I can atleast take a radio with me so I can listen to the MRN broadcast and atleast know what's going on. 

The coolest part of the trip was going to victory lane after the race was over. Yeah it was Kasey Kahne and all that won the race, but it was still victory freaking lane for a Sprint Cup race. And I got to talk to Miss Sprint Cup for a few minutes. 

I got to see myself on NASCAR Victory Lane on Speed which was very cool. My folks DVR'd pretty much everything that was on tv this weekend so I could see myself.


My overall thoughts on this weekend: Overwhelming, tiring, exciting. I experienced things that I never thought I would be able to, and I got to see things that you don't normally see watching a race from the grandstands or on television. I hope that I was a help and not just a fat guy in the way this weekend. I really hope this internship can lead to bigger and better things in the future. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pocono Trip (Saturday)

We got to the track real early this morning. I spent a lot of the day walking through the garage area and on pit road and didn't really do anything important until noon. Made my way through the Sprint Cup garage during practice. It was amazing. Like ants scattering around if you step on an ant pile or something. That's the best way I can describe it. 

The ARCA 200 pre-race ceremonies began immediately following Sprint Cup practice. So after practice was over, we went to victory lane for driver intros and such. BTW- I'm sure the people at Pocono are nice, but driver intros were very disorganized I should say. 

After driver intros and the command, I put my stuff back in the infield Vision truck, and headed out of the track via in the pedestrian tunnel to the television compound. Got to watch the ARCA race from the Vision control truck and they actually let me press buttons. That was freaking awesome! The folks in there told me it was boring and next time you'll get to do more, but I really had a great time with it. 

Basically, what I did was flash graphics on the Sprint Vision screens, such as the driver and their hometown and all. I also got to flash the please drive safely sign. That was awesome. 

The two kicks for today: 1) I got to meet Wendy Venturini from NASCAR Raceday on Speed, and 2) after the ARCA race was over and we were leaving the racetrack, we headed for one exit, but it was jammed with traffic. So, we turned around and headed back towards the track. Next thing I know (instead of heading towards the infield and out through the tunnel) we turn right and head straight towards turn 1 at Pocono! Went all the way through turns one and two and into the short chute and then headed out a gate. SWEET!!

The fan in me definitely had a great day. Got to see the garage in action, got to go to victory lane for driver intros, got to push buttons in the production truck, and I got to ride on the track.

I had so much fun today. We'll see what happens tomorrow for the Pocono 500. 

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pocono Trip (Friday)

Friday at Pocono=long and tedious. 

After eating the best meal I've ever had at a racetrack, I made my way into the track via the infield tunnel (The infamous Pocono Tunnel turn tunnel.) While it may have been a bore for the guy I was riding with, there was really nothing better for me. After getting to the MRN truck in the infield, I got an overview of how things worked.

Finally made my way into the Sprint Cup garage! The smell was again, as always, overwhelming. I love the smell that comes off the engines. It never gets old. 

After heading to the garage, infield care center, and media center, we went to victory lane. 

Victory. Freaking. Lane. 

Qualifying started at 3:40. Pocono is so big that after a car passed on the frontstetch, you didn't know they were on the racetrack until the got back to the line 55 seconds later. And qualifying took a long time because it's such a big track. 

I pretty much felt useless today. Just alot of standing around... you know, hurry up and wait. I know that today was pretty much an orientation, but I still felt useless. They told me that's how it is sometimes, but I still wish I could've done more to help than just stand around behind the pit wall holding batteries and a camera cover. 


I do a really good job of getting to know people I work with when I start something like this. I got to know the people today. I'm hoping they don't frown upon the interns getting to know the staff, but that's one way that I work better with people: getting to know them. 

Oh yeah, I saw Steve Letarte (crew chief for the #24 Dupont Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon.) Didn't talk to him, just saw him. 

Back to the other thing... went to dinner with alot of the Sprint Vision crew tonight. I'm really hoping I didn't over do it hanging out those folks tonight. 

Tomorrow it's Sprint Cup practice and lead up to the Pocono ARCA 200. Hoping I get to meet more people tomorrow. Today was really an orientation and training day. 

I just wish I could do more. 

Oh yeah, Postman hit a bear going to the hotel last night!

Pocono Trip (Thursday)

After sitting in the Columbia airport for nearly an hour and a half before my plane was scheduled to leave, I realized that flying was something that I had to deal with. The best way to do that: get on a plane. Got to Charlotte with no problem. Then when we were getting ready to leave Charlotte for Philadelphia, the captain said that we would be delayed leaving. Two hours later, we finally got off the ground. 

When I got to Philadelphia, it was time to make the trek to our hotel: some two hours away. Got to ride with two really cool guys, Paul Bartholomew and Kurt Becker. It's weird talking to them and knowing that I hear these guys on the radio all the time. It's the same deal that people have talking to me who've heard me on air before. 

I finally got to the hotel and got some shorts on around 11:15 or so. Man what a long day. Setting alarms and wake up calls is a difficult task in this hotel. The hotel is huge, as is my suite. It's got a three-story lobby and a waterpark that is incredible. I don't know if I'll make it back there or not, but just from looking at it through the windows, it's big. 

I get to get a good night of sleep tonight because I don't leave for the track until 11:00 tomorrow. Once I get there, it's a trip to the credential truck and then into the track for Sprint Cup practice, ARCA qualifying, and Sprint Cup Series Coors Pole Qualifying. 

I'll have more tomorrow. 


Thursday, June 5, 2008

And so it begins...

Since the date is now officially June 5th, I can say that my internship with the Motor Racing Network and Sprint Vision has officially begun. In 14 hours and 32 minutes (that's from the time in which I started writing this) I'll be wheels up from Columbia Metro Airport and on my way to Pennsylvania for the Pocono 500 weekend. 

Nerves are definitely getting the best of me right now, although not for what I'll be doing when I get to the racetrack on Friday. My nerves revolve around the fact that tomorrow I'll be flying for the first time since I was in the 4th grade. That's been about 14 years since I was at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. 

It scares me to death. For some reason, I cannot seem to overcome this fear of flying. I don't know what it is. The aspect of being in a confined space doesn't bother me (I'm use to riding in buses for long periods of time.) I guess it's the 35,000 foot difference between me and the ground. I realize that flying is safer than driving a car... but I know I'm in control when I drive my Charger. 

I sit here and think this is absurd to think about being afraid of flying. If I want to work in NASCAR longer than two seconds, I have to be able to fly. If being afraid of flying is all that stands in my way from living my dream, well then I'll just have to get over it. 

I'll be taking notes and I'll update my trip to Pocono on here sometime next week. 

14 hours and 22 minutes.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

You know what... ESPN is alright.

Let me preface this before I continue: the ESPN NASCAR team is alright. Pretty much everything else at ESPN from Sportscenter to College Football to "Oh God I can't go more than five seconds without talking about the Lakers or Red Sox" pretty much sucks.

Now, if you missed the rain-delayed NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Dover yesterday, then you missed a treat. From sign on to sign off, the ESPN crew did a tremendous job with the cards they were dealt. When the bottom fell out and heavy rains pelted the Dover International Speedway about one hour prior to the scheduled start of the race, the tv crew knew they would be in for a long day. And they were: the race ended at about 7:45 last night.

I've really been impressed by ESPN's NASCAR coverage this year. Last year, you couldn't have paid me to say something nice about their coverage. But this year, the on-air and behind the scenes folks have made such an improvement that I would venture to say they have the best product out there.

I think moving Rusty Wallace to the pit studio was a smart idea. He knows his stuff, but he presents it in a way that is often confusing and makes him sound dumb. He also has a tremendous conflict of interest being that he is a 2-team car owner. Last year, "My son Stephen" was almost more popular than draft-tracker. Note: Please don't bring that back.

Alan Bestwick was obviously the best choice for the host of the infield pit studio. He has about as much knowledge as any member of the broadcast media and has that presence about him that ups the level of the program.

I was very critical a year ago about the trio of Jerry Punch, Andy Petree, and Rusty Wallace. While Dr. Punch may be better suited for a pit road reporter, he has gotten better. I would like to see a little more emotion from him when it becomes necessary to do so. Remember back to Dale Sr's final win at Talladega in 2000? Jerry Punch was on the play-by-play for ESPN that day. His words sent chills down my back that day, and after watching that video a couple weeks ago, it still does. If he can bring that level of enthusiasm and excitement to the broadcast, then ESPN is really in business.

Andy Petree is the most pleasant surprise of the season. He did well in the booth last year, but I think with all the extra on-air time on NASCAR Now, he has really turned into an excellent broadcaster.

Finally, I think with the addition of Dale Jarrett later this year, the ESPN crew will gel into the successful product they produced in the 80's and 90's. I am actually looking forward to ESPN's first Cup Series race, and would gladly do without tv coverage for the six weeks that TNT has coming up.

ESPN gets what the NASCAR fan wants to see. They show the leaders; they show the back of the field. They show the winner crossing the finish line and then the rest of the cars cross the line as well: a concept that FOX still doesn't get.

FOX built their brand into the benchmark for NASCAR coverage when they took over in 2001. But in the 7 years since, their coverage has gotten a little worse each year. With Digger becoming more important that showing a pass for the lead, then the folks at FOX need to get to work during the off-season.