Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Infineon Garage Report- Race Day

Ok, I am finally recovered from my 5am to 9pm day at the track on Sunday enough to re-live it! Honestly, I do not know how the teams keep these schedules but they claim it becomes routine. So here is the report from the garage on Sunday!

When I arrived, I first checked in at the Miller Lite garage. The crew was going over the car with a fine tooth comb and doing their individual checklists before final inspection. It took them about 2.5 hours to work over the entire car. While they were doing that I sauntered out to our excellent pit stall (the Miller Lite pit was the last pit by the main grandstands, right in front of Victory Lane with a huge opening next to it so I could get up nice and close as you will see...)

I don't get to spend as much time with the over-the-wall guys as I do with the mechanics, because they usually fly in only on race day. I reintroduced msyelf to the ones I knew and got to know the few I had not yet met. They are also a great bunch of guys and were very entertaining in their answers to my questions for the website. They are pretty stoked we are focusing on them for the new Miller Lite Racing website. We also got a great video with Larry, the rear tire carrier, who walks us through everything they do to get the tires set up on race day. He sounded like he had done it on tape a million times...the guys put a sign "Pit Tours By Larry" up during our filming so unfortunately you can hear me laughing on tape but Larry was most impressed by the fact he didn't cuss once!

We had to book it back to the garage to meet up with the crew so we could finish the rest of the video about the shocks. The inspectors remembered us from yesterday (in fact the inspector giving Luke bunny ears in the picture from the blog from yesterday worked the Miller Lite pit during the race). The guys continued on through inspection and I went off in search of a few more interviews. I was lucky to catch Pat Tryson, Kurt's crew chief, hanging outside the hauler (he is rarely outside of the hauler unless he is working) and he was kind enough to spend 15 minutes talking with me. Look for a blog about that conversation where he was very candid about the car at a later date. I also did an interview with the only female engineer at Penske, Andrea Mueller. She told me how she got started in motorsports and some of her reactions to women in the sport.

The race started off very promising with Kurt running up front for the first third of the race. He was locking up the right front every time he had to stand on the brakes and was sliding around the turns with no grip but he thought if they took the bump stops out they might have a good setup. Unfortunately, after the first caution, he got shuffled back to mid-pack and ended up getting hit by Scott Pruett and it created a bad tire rub. They had to bring the car in to fix it and Kurt went a lap down and never recovered. It was very disappointing for the entire team. Knowing how hard they work on the car each and every weekend and the tough luck this team has had this year, it was just a heart breaker. I did however, get some great shots of the pit crew in action thanks to our stellar pit road location.

I hung out and watched the top five finishers be interviewed on TNT and then popped by Victory Lane to see Kyle Busch's celebration and FINALLY eat something. I was completely sunburnt, exhausted, and at least 5 pounds heavier from all the used lugnuts I grabbed from pit road in my pockets, so I headed home.

Words can barely describe what it is like to be in the garages with hot pass access and I cannot thank Miller Lite and the #2 enough for being so good to me. The next race I will be "working" is the August race at Michigan so I hope to keep us entertained with some more detailed blogs from my adventures in the garage.

As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Infineon Garage Report - Happy Hour

We had a bit of a cooling trend today out at Infineon, it was only 98 degrees this afternoon! Luckily both Cup practices were run before noon today so the drivers and crews missed the worst of it but it made for an early start today.

I made it to the track at 7a but then walked the 30 min to the garages and arrived just about the same time the drivers were pulling into the garage in their rental cars. I headed over to the Miller Lite garage stall to find the crew already at work. They finished the tear down and rebuild of the car last night and were pretty much set to go for practice.
During the first practice, the Miller Lite team worked to fine tune the shock package that they hit upon yesterday for qualifying. We watched with the crew near turn 12 (the 180 degree turn) and held our breath as several cars got squirrelly and almost hit the outside wall, while many others were locking ‘em up and sliding through the entire turn.

Unfortunately, Kurt’s teammate, Sam Hornish, Jr. also took a wild ride and ripped his splitter off.
Most of the mechanics on Kurt’s team and Ryan Newman’s team headed over to the 77 garage stall and the entire Penske team worked to get that splitter back on so he didn’t have to go to a back up car.

Time was flying by and Happy Hour came only a half hour after the first practice. The Miller Lite crew was working on fuel mileage as were most of the teams. Lots of crews pushing their cars through the garages and a few didn’t make it all the way around the track.

Early in the first run, Pat Tryson (Kurt’s crew chief) radio’ed him to come on in for some changes and Kurt radio’ed back saying he was feeling “pretty sporty” out there and stayed out longer. It is a further reminder that we can’t always make conclusions about practice times, especially when we don’t know what the crews are working on each run. Here is Kurt getting some information on his runs during Happy Hour.

Immediately after Happy Hour ended the engines cut and the BBQ’s fired up.

The entire garage basically took a lunch break and boy did it smell good in there. The Miller Lite crew grabbed some chicken wings,burgers and sausages off the grill and headed in for a team debriefing inside the air conditioned hauler. The three Penske drivers, crew chiefs and team engineers all meet in one of the team haulers and went over what they learned and help each other out with setups.

I was on “special assignment” immediately after Happy Hour. I followed Luke, the shock specialist, from the moment he removed the shocks from the car until he turned them into NASCAR. We got the whole process on video so you can see the process for yourselves.

As many of you know, NASCAR confiscates the rear shocks from all the teams after Happy Hour and returns them before the teams go through inspection on Sunday before the race. NASCAR does this because they found teams pushing the limits with the pounds per square inch. Before NASCAR takes the shocks, Luke has to put them on the shock dyno to test to make sure the shocks are working properly. Then he takes out all of the pressure from the shock and then walks them over to the inspectors. Luke has to fill the shocks to whatever the team decided between 25 psi to 75 psi as NASCAR rules dictate (today Luke filled them to 75 psi) in front of the inspectors. The inspectors then test the pressures, if they pass, they put a yellow tag on them and put them on a cart that they keep locked up. I will be back first thing in the morning when Luke gets the Miller Lite shocks back from the inspectors and gets them back in the car to complete the process. I must say, these inspectors were very cool to let us film this and Luke knows his stuff!

The Cup garage closed at 2p today and the crew was excited to get an entire afternoon free to go have some fun. The pit crew was flying in this afternoon, which they do for races on the West Coast, otherwise they just fly in the morning of the race. Several of the crew were going golfing and one was going sailing on the Bay. Still others were looking forward to a nice dinner and getting some rest for a busy day tomorrow. The hauler drivers, Stump and Cindy for example will be in the garages when it opens at 7am, will work all day (Cindy is also the team’s official scorer), pack the hauler after the race and are planning on driving all night with the hopes of getting to New Mexico for breakfast on Monday. I am exhausted from being in the garages for 2 days, I can’t imagine doing their job every weekend!

Tomorrow will be another hot, busy day at the track. If Kurt wins, I have been told by the crew I will be in there so keep your fingers crossed!!

Infineon Garage Report- Qualifying

Greetings from the garage at Infineon Raceway! Today was a long hot day for everyone in the garages as the temperature hit 99 degrees and who knows how hot it was inside those cars during practice and qualifying.

My day started off with the traditional long dusty walk through the cow pastures to get to the track. I made it inside the garage just as the Miller Lite team was pushing their car through inspection.
Thankfully, the Brew Crew were all happy to see me and I met the new spotter for the team, Chris Osborne. I told them we were hoping to get some good video and interviews with them for the new and improved Miller Lite Racing website and warned them I would be bugging them all weekend for the inside scoop.

Security was pretty aggressive in the garage and they were keeping everyone, even photographers (!) behind a line about 10 feet back from the garages. Eric, one of the mechanics, saw that they weren’t letting me up to the garage went over and told the guard to let me go by the car and magic sesame I was in. It was pretty cool I must say…

As the crew was prepping the car for practice I asked them details about several incidents that plagued the Miller Lite team in recent weeks. If you recall at Pocono two weeks ago, the Miller Lite crew expertly fixed the splitter after Kurt spun and took a wild ride through the grass. I asked Bill, one of the mechanics, to show me how they re-attached the splitter arms to the front bumper so quickly. At Dover, both the #2 and #12 teams had problems with their fueling system. Steve, the “Underneath Mechanic” opened up the deck lid and showed me exactly what went wrong. He also gave me his first hand account of what was going through his mind when the pit caught on fire at Lowes after a lugnut got run over as Kurt was leaving the pit and ignited some spilt fuel. Steve is the catch can man on Sundays (his son, Chris is the gas man) so he was extra concerned as he was stuck holding a can full of fuel. He also said he got hit in the leg by the red hot lug nut so he was 2 for 2 that day…I will post a blog with pictures and more details about these mishaps.

I watched the team setup the Miller Lite Dodge for practice. I was a little concerned that there was something wrong with the car because they were shaking it violently on the jack stands but Darin, the engine tuner said “not to worry” that whenever they lowered the track bar they had to “shake” the car until it “settles in to place”. Did you know that there are 3 antennae on the roof of the cars? One of them is for the team radio and the other two are for NASCAR timing and scoring. Every car also has a round hockey puck looking camera in the front on the roof. Only a few of them are actually cameras, the others are “false cameras” so every car has the same aerodynamic disadvantage. Back to practice…Kurt ran most of it in race trim and made only two qualifying runs. After practice the crew set the car up for qualifying and grabbed some grub.

In the long inspection line before qualifying, I had a chance to ask the crew some questions for the new website. They are going to be featured so I got some info on their favorite food to wash down with a Miller Lite, their favorite track and their best memory with the Miller Lite team and more. The new website should be up soon so you can read all their answers…like who eats “sweaty and sweet” chicken wings!

For qualifying, I just acted like I belonged with the crew and joined them right out by the car on pit road. I have some great shots of Kurt and the crew.

Kurt missed his mark in Turn 2 but still laid down a great lap and qualified 3rd for the race on Sunday. The crew was stoked and I am hopeful for a trip to Victory Lane!

After qualifying, I stopped and snapped a picture of the fuel prices at the Sunoco pump. For the 116 octane leaded fuel that the Cup teams use, the going rate was $9.99 per gallon! Yikes! When you figure a team uses about 115 gallons of fuel for the race here and another 50 or so gallons for practice and qualifying it adds up to a pretty penny. Ouch!

I walked around and finally found the Miller Lite crew near the inspection area all laid out (literally!) waiting for qualifying to be over.
As most of you know, the first three qualifiers and all of the Go or Go Homers must go through inspection again after qualifying. They were exhausted after the long hot day but still had to clear inspection and then tear the car down like normal afterwards. They were hoping to leave the track by 7pm and will have to be back at 7 am. I left the crew to finish their work and headed back to the Miller Lite hauler. I had just walked up when out of the mirrored doors walks Jamie McMurray and Kurt both in street clothes snacking on Twizzlers…for some reason that just cracked me up.

I headed out and made the long (30 min) walk back through the cow pastures to the car and made it to my hotel by about 7:30p. Off to bed for me, its an early day tomorrow with practice and Happy Hour all before noon. Look for another report from the garage on Saturday!