Friday, September 18, 2009

My Favorite "Twits" and a Beer Challenge

Yes, I am aware no less than three weeks ago I said I would be blogging more often - well, we can all see how successful I have been at that!   I have another That's Debatable blog in the works but I got a few interesting tidbits from Miller Lite Racing that I thought I would pass along...

Let's start with my favorite Twits...
The Brew Crew has entered the wide world of Twitter and are "tweeting the Chase" from the track and the Penske garages for the next ten weeks.    Luke (shocks), Darin (engines), Stretch (mechanic), Bill (interior/gas), Mule (tires) as well as Pat Tryson and the rest of the pit crew will be answering questions and giving us exclusive updates and insights in real time.   You can follow them on twitter as "@BlueDeuce2Win."   Be sure to ask them who their favorite tool cart girl is...

Penske Racing is also hosting a Chase contest through its Twitter page. Followers of "@penskeracing" can participate by tweeting their guess as to where Kurt will finish in that week's race. Those that correctly guess Kurt's finishing position will be identified and up to 10 winners will be randomly selected to receive a free Penske Racing t-shirt.  One weekly grand prize winner will also be selected to receive an autographed No. 2 car diecast signed by Kurt.

On Another Note...
The Battle of the Beer Cars might actually happen this year.   Miller Lite once again threw down the gauntlet challenging Budweiser to a weekly duel for charity.   If Budweiser accepts, which ever beer car finishes ahead of the other will win $2,500 each race for their charity of choice and whomever finishes higher in the Chase standings will win $25,000 for their charity.

Kurt Busch is racing for Operation Homefront - an organization that provides emergency and morale assistance for our troops, the families they leave behind and for wounded warriors when they return home.   I had the honor of meeting some of the staff for this amazing organization at the Texas race in 2007 as well as several members of the military who were attending their first ever NASCAR race - and who of course went home with some lugnuts!

Let's hope Bud finally antes up and gets in the game for the sake of charity...Go Kurt!

And Finally...
As you can imagine, I was heartbroken to hear the news that Pat Tryson is indeed leaving Penske for MWR and the No. 56 with Martin Truex, Jr. in 2010.    Many have attributed this move to a rift between Pat and Kurt and use the evidence of Kurt's, ahem, "passionate" expressions over the radio.    This could not be further from the truth - Pat was woo'ed with a hefty raise and job security and in this economy and current state of affairs for teams/crews, no one can blame him for looking out for number one.    Word is Penske is looking to go in a different direction and utilize their strength in engineering as they seek new crew chiefs for both the Cup and Nationwide series.


I would like to personally thank Pat for always saying hello (and heck, he even knows my name!) and for being so available for autograph requests and to answer your questions.  He will be missed!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

That's Debatable - Chasing Kyle Busch

I realize I have not been able to write much on my own blog lately and am vowing for that to change.  I am working on a few blogging ideas that lend themselves to more consistent posting and that are not solely focused on the Brew Crew (although I will continue to bring you the inside scoop when I can).

As we all know, the world of NASCAR is ripe with controversies, opinions, and heated discussions and I hope to highlight some of them here and get your take on it.

So without further ado, onto this week's THAT'S DEBATABLE! 


WHO: Kyle Busch, aka "The Show", "Thorn", "Rowdy" or "Shrub" and public enemy numero uno to Junior Nation, Brian Vickers Nation (albeit a small, peaceful nation) or pretty much anyone Kyle is racing around.

When the checkered flag flies, you will find Kyle either taking a bow (4 times this year) or confronting a fellow driver and stomping off avoiding the media.   Love him or hate him, with the #18 team there is no in between.

WHAT:  The Chase for the Championship is only two races away and Kyle sits 34 points out of the 12th and final spot in the Chase. 

SO WHAT?  It is possible that Kyle could enter The Chase seeded first (or nearly so) based on his number of wins this season or he could be the first driver with four wins to not make The Chase.

Many fans believe Brian France took away all incentive  for the top teams to race for wins by creating The Chase resulting in a less-than-entertaining sport of points racing.  Clearly, as Kyle's situation demonstrates, it pays to be a top 15 finisher every race rather than going "wreckers or checkers."

I have seen many articles, blogs and tweets already bemoaning the fact we are heading into a part of the season where only a few drivers will actually be racing and the rest will be "playing it safe."   The Chase has become a game of who can avoid problems not who wins the most races.

Now many of you will say, wait Kristen - the Cup Championship used to highly reward consistency not wins, so what's the diff? 

You tell me.

Seems unlikely The Chase is going away and I for one am a fan of going for broke and getting the win.   So how I see it, the only way to get any excitement into The Chase this year is to root against Kyle.  Even better, what if he misses The Chase by a mere point or two, triggering monumental frustration which results in him driving like a drunk hummingbird, taking it four-wide every opportunity and spanking the field as he runs away with win after win.   What if he ends up with more wins than the Champ and racks up more points than anyone else in the last 10 races?  Then what Brian?

So, The Chase for the Championship is neither a chase nor a championship....Discuss

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Shocking, Isn't It?

In my never-ending quest to try to report about what actually goes on in the NASCAR garages, I bring you the shocking story of the procedure the rear-end shocks move through on race weekend. My partner in crime is none other than Luke Cunnington, our very own Miller Lite Dodge Shock Specialist. Luke was kind enough to let me follow him from the moment he removed the shocks from the car to when he turned them into NASCAR to finally getting them back on the Blue Deuce on Sunday.

To make this all the more shocking you get to watch it, not just read about it! But you'll still have to deal with me and my cheesy questions...

To start, here is Luke previewing the procedure with the rear-end shocks.



In this next video clip, we have moved into the Miller Lite hauler where Luke explains the difference between shocks on a road course vs. an oval and then shows us the shock dyno. (sorry for the rough edits!)



This video clip shows just a bit of the shock dyno working and then Luke explains the output on the computer. It is difficult to see the computer screen but essentially there is a graph with two curving lines that curve away from one another. So not only do these guys wrench on the cars, they do need a lot of computer knowledge as well to keep themselves on the cutting edge of the technology of speed.



Here Luke shows off the uber-organized shock cabinet in the Miller Lite hauler. I have found all the Penske haulers would put my closet to shame. Luke said it is imperative to have the shocks easy to find especially when they need to change them out quickly during practice.



And here you get a better flavor of how packed in the haulers are with crew members and equipment. Luke completes the process with the shocks in the hauler by removing all the air pressure from them and discusses how some teams abused shocks to get an advantage.



Finally, in this video clip we head over to the NASCAR Shock inspection station. Every team must have their shocks inspected, tagged and stored here before the garage closes.



On race day, the Brew Crew gets the car tuned as they want it and then pushes the car through inspection. The first inspection station they arrive at is always the shock station. Here they find the same inspectors from the night before with their tagged shocks. They cut the yellow tie off them and Luke usually has Stretch (aka Eric Bailey, the general mechanic on the No. 2 car) put them back in the car. Sadly, I don't have the picture of Stretch under the car so this will have to do.



Hope you enjoyed following the Miller Lite shocks around the garage -- Thanks to Luke and the officials for letting me document this on video and film!




And as always...thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Indy Week -- Tirelessly Talkin' Tires

As we know from last year at Indy, four infamous Goodyear Eagle racing tires can make you or break you on race day. We may think we know tires, but there is a lot “More-2-It” than we realize. How many of us have actually tried to change all four of our tires in under 15 seconds with six other friends? Not many I reckon! Let me tell you what I have learned from the Miller Lite racing team about their tires.

First off, one tire costs about $450 and most teams buy between 10-15 sets of tires for each race weekend. That’s a lot of dough! The teams give Goodyear their wheels and Goodyear mounts the racing tire chosen for that particular race for the teams at the track. The Miller Lite tires are always easy to find because they are the only ones with blue wheels. The tires each weigh about 60 pounds when they have the inner safety liner (used at high speed tracks like Daytona) and about 45 pounds without the safety liner (used at road courses and lower speed tracks). Each set of tires has an average life of about 150 miles.

One last thing, these tires are “smooth”, they have no tread on them. When teams use new tires out on the track they are called “stickers” because they still have the sticker on them from Goodyear indicating the batch and once the tires have one “hot lap” on them they are called “scuffs.” Sometimes teams “scuff” tires in practice just in case their car setup works better on older tires.

The Miller Lite Dodge arrives at the track with a set of “Set Up Tires” that are clearly marked on the outside in blue writing. These tires come from the shop and are not counted towards the team’s tire limit for the weekend. They cannot be used outside of the garage area. Each team’s tires are labeled with the team numbers and are bar coded so Goodyear can track them if the teams have any problems with them. Dave “Mule” Nichols is the Miller Lite team’s “tire guy” and he is responsible for getting the tires from Goodyear for practice, qualifying and for the race and making sure they are all at the desired air pressure amounts as decided by the crew chief, Pat Tryson.
Here is a video of Mule telling me about his tire routine and his reactions to the Indy race last year.

Mule starts his weekend by trotting over to the Goodyear garage and picking up tires for practice and qualifying. On race day, he gets help from the pit crew as they lug their tires to the pit box. One of Mule’s main jobs is removing the air from the tires and replacing it with nitrogen. By using nitrogen instead of air, they have more control over how much the pressure will increase when the tires heat up. He also measures the circumference of each tire and takes other measurements to try to match them into sets.

Each tire has five to six “wear holes” about the size of the tip of a sharpie marker in a diagonal across the tire. Mule uses a gauge that measures the depth of these holes and notes them before they put them on the Miller Lite Dodge. After the team makes a practice run and Mule again checks the depth of the wear holes to see how the different set ups are wearing the tires.
Often when the car comes into the pits, there is a bunch of rubber and debris built up on the tire from the track. You’ll see Mule using a small torch to heat up that rubber and then he scrapes it off to clean off the tire so he can get back to those wear holes. Right after a pit stop, you’ll see Mule radioing the information he learns about the tire wear, tire temperature, and air pressure build-up to Pat Tryson (crew chief) and Dave Winston, the team engineer who has to make sense of that data.

But I am getting ahead of myself. There is a whole lot of work that goes into the tires on race day before they are used in the race. Usually the pit crew is responsible for getting and preparing the sets of tires to be used during the race. Teams have anywhere between 5 and 10 sets of tires in their pits depending on the type of race. The tires are labeled by Mule with chalk “LF, LR, RF, RR” to indicate where on the car they go and he numbers them to indicate which set they belong to.

The pit crew then uses a strip of hot pink tape to indicate the left side tires and a strip of bright blue tape to indicate right side tires. They place this tape in the same place on each tire because it also indicates where the tire carriers should hold the tires as they carry them during the pit stops. This ensures they get the tire consistently and easily lined up with the studs for quick stops.

Each rim has to be “cleaned” and the team uses three different types of steel brushes on each tire to clean the holes for the studs and the center hole that slides over the wheel cap. After the grime and paint is removed by the brushes, the wheels are ready for the lugs. About four hours before the start of the race, the pit crew starts gluing on the bright yellow lug nuts onto the wheels with a weather stripping adhesive. Finally, they use a heavy, flat piece of metal that presses the lugs into the adhesive and makes for a good seal.

When the Miller Lite Dodge rolls out onto pit road on race day, the pit crew also lubes the studs on the car so the tires slide on and off easier. The studs are long and have no threads for the first three-quarters of an inch so the lug nuts glued to the rim don’t get cross-threaded when the tire changers are putting the tires on the car. When the wheel is placed on the car during the pit stop, the air gun torque breaks the adhesive and the lug nut is tightened normally. Sometimes the adhesive is too gooey and sometimes to brittle and it will interfere with the “feel” and rhythm of the tire changers. There is always a danger that the lug nuts might fall off while changing the tire, so the over-the-wall guys wear special gloves that have a couple lug nuts attached to them on top by their wrists so they can grab them quickly if needed.

Tired of reading about tires yet? I have a feeling this isn't the last time you'll be hearing about tires this week but all indications seems to point to the fact that Goodyear has finally figured something out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Most Exciting Racing You'll See This Weekend!

video
and Sloppy Joe takes the win!

RANDOM TIDBITS FROM THE WORLD OF NASCAR

**Rumors are flying that Happy Harvick has asked to be released from his RCR ride at the end of the year so he can take Shell with him to SHR. BAH! It makes sense with Harvick having both Newman and Smoke in his NW rides this year. I still don't like it...precisely because I do like Harvick (and Newman...sigh).

**More on beloved Smoke -- as reported by Jay Hart over at Yahoo! Sports apparently after his (in)famous Sonoma media appearance, Smoke called the assembled media "douchebags" under his breathe as he left. And yet, I thought there was at least ONE novel question that day. More evidence as to why I just don't like him...

**Yesterday on Twitter Kenny Wallace let it fly that NASCAR was making the media call the double-file restarts "Shootout Style". Since, there has been some "clarification" on twitter by others tied into the powers that be saying NASCAR has preferences..."free pass" instead of "lucky dog" but no mandate. I just don't get this. I can understand NASCAR mandating what not to say but having such influence over the broadcasts might explain a lot. More WWF tactics controlling the product when it just should sell itself!

KURT IN CHI-TOWN


**In case you missed TNT's prerace show, Kurt was featured in his favorite Windy City spots. You've GOT to tune in to see him and Marty Snider dancing at the hot dawg restaurant...Oh my!
http://www.nascar.com/video/cup/2009/07/11/cup.chi.snider.busch.nascar/index.html

**Kurt hasn't yet made it to Frothy's but when he comes, he'll bring free beer!
http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/heraldnews/video/index.html?pid=ceddyUfGd8EIEyAZZAnEk9__sMaMGNQt

**Kurt also raced in the Mobil One Smart Car Challenge along with teammates Sam Hornish, Jr. and David Stremme. Of course the drivers beat the pants off their respective challengers from the media on the miniature road course that involved zippy parallel parking at the end. Who won? Sam Hornish of course!

AND FINALLY


Now that the bulk of NASCAR bloggers from Foxsports.com have migrated to Blogspot, is there any interest in creating a "master blog" with all of us as authors as a central place to chat and promote our individual blogs? If so, we need a gmail account to register it under and a blog title...

Let me know if you are interested AND your suggestions for name.

Example of this type of blog can be found on HotfootLori's blog -http://hotfootlori.blogspot.com/- she belongs to the "Alabama Bloggers"

Monday, July 6, 2009

Body and Soul

As race fans, we all love the roar of the engines and the beauty of the slick bodies on a NASCAR Sprint Cup racing machine especially at the super speedway races like we just had at Daytona. I was able to pick the brains of the engine tuner for the Miller Lite Dodge and a couple of the fabricators who specialize on the super speedway cars in the Penske stable. Here is what I found out.

The Penske Powerhouse

Darin Russell, the primary engine tuner for the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, attended an auto technical school to obtain his college degree and was originally hired by Robert Yates Racing where he cut his teeth for four years before being hired by Penske Racing. (Darin in the center of the picture "working it" in the garages at Sonoma...)

Darin is in his fourth year tuning the engines at the track which he loves because he says, “the engines are the heart of the race car and what racing is all about.” Darin can choose to tune the Miller Lite engine for more horsepower or for better fuel mileage depending on the track and the race. While at the track, Darin becomes an amateur weatherman as he monitors things like temperature, barometer and vapor pressure, all which affect how these finely tuned engines will run under racing conditions.

At the track, Darin is responsible for anything engine related and has to complete this checklist each day the Miller Lite Dodge goes out on the track.

The Penske Dodges have a 15/16th plate engine that produces “approximately” 400 HP and has special “Spintron” technology that runs the valve train system. Dodge supplies all the Dodge teams with the basic racing engine block and then each Dodge team tweaks the engines to their needs. The Dodge racing teams do not share that information with each other but they do share information with Dodge.

There are 60 employees at the Penske Racing Engine shop, which is actually located about 45 minutes from the main Penske Racing garage. Not only does this shop house about 100 engine blocks, with 30-40 engines fully built at anytime, it also is the main source for Penske engine parts. Penske used to outsource their parts but since competition has become so fierce in the NASCAR garages, this is yet another way they can assure other teams do not find out what parts they are using or how they are modifying them.

It takes about three days for the Penske team to build an engine from start to finish. Each engine has about 50 cycles put on it on the Penske shop dyno machine before its put in a Miller Lite race car. Once it is in the car the engine will go through about another 25 cycles on the chassis dyno before it hits the track. The engine parts all go through tremendous amounts of testing before they are assembled into the engine. (This is Dale Jr's engine from Talladega last year...Penske does a better job of covering their engines!)

The Miller Lite team tears down the engine after every race and surprisingly, this process only takes about a half an hour. In fact, the Brew Crew can change out an entire engine at the track in about the same amount of time if a Penske powerhouse unfortunately “blows.” These days if you lose an engine at the track, you usually don’t bother fixing it, instead you just swap it out to be safe and tear it down afterwards to analyze the malfunction. That also means they only use an engine once. However, the team might re-use certain engine parts like the heads, blocks, and cranks but they keep a close eye on the mileage to determine when to stop using them. Usually races will put about 800 miles on an engine per race weekend and the Miller Lite team has tested durability for some of its parts for up to 1100 miles.

The biggest difference with the “new” Penske engine being used full time by the three Penske teams is that is it lighter and now looks more like the Ford racing engines because the distributors are now up front. It also (of course) produces more horsepower and torque.

Fab-ulous

There are 28 fabricators at the Penske shop and instead of working on each Penske racing team, they are divided by type of race car. There are eight senior fabricators that focus on the super speedway cars and the rest work on the down force cars.

There are six surface plates the cars are built on and they estimate it takes about 10 days to build a car, up to 16 days to build a super speedway car. For most races, they have seven cars built total, two for each racing team and one is kept at the shop in case of dire emergency. For the Daytona 500, they build 10 cars total just because it is such an important race and there is so much time on the track. At any one time, the Penske fabricators have about 15 cars built per race team and they are always try to be at least one week ahead of the race schedule.

The Miller Lite Dodge and the rest of the Penske cars are fabricated out of 24 gauge sheet metal. Penske gets the main body parts like the nose and the rear deck lid from Dodge and those parts are stock “stamped” so NASCAR can see they came from the manufacturer. This season, all of the Dodge teams got a new nose and it seems to have helped them turn better through the corners.

It takes the fabricators two days alone to get the roof, deck lid and hood shaped just right especially on a super speedway car. However, the nose and front fenders are the most important part on the super speedway car. Another difference on the super speedway cars is that they use thicker windows and use lots of extra braces and brackets to hold the sheet metal in place because the draft is so violent it can literally skin the sheet metal right off the car.

The fabricators work 7:00AM to 4:00PM daily and in November and December they tend to work seven days a week preparing for Daytona. They said the worst part of their job is trying to get the cars to fit NASCAR’s templates as they have very little wiggle room to make adjustments on the COT but they keep trying to get an edge. Penske uses the wind tunnel at Dodge headquarters in Detroit but more recently has begun using a local wind tunnel in North Carolina because it saves them time and money to not have to travel for three days.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about the engine and body shops at Penske Racing. The next time you see that Blue Deuce, I hope you’ll appreciate more the time and effort it takes to make it rumble around the track.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Inspection Please!

The Miller Lite Dodge must pass NASCAR inspection several times each race weekend, primarily on Fridays and Sundays. The inspection sites are run by the same NASCAR officials each race weekend and believe me, they know these guys well! That also means they know their jobs extremely well. As many of you know, the NASCAR garages are “open”, meaning teams work on their cars in full view of each other, and the inspections sites are no different. Anyone can watch the cars move through inspection making cheating or giving advantages to a team nearly impossible. The teams push their cars through inspection whenever they are ready, there is no set time or order. Interestingly, I learned this past weekend at Sonoma that if you are “late” and need to get ahead in line, your car chief or crew chief runs up and asks permission from the other teams to cut in – the officials do not get involved in making sure the teams are on time.

Friday Inspection
Inspection starts on Friday morning before the cars hit the track for practice. During this first inspection, each car gets an official NASCAR seal on the fuel cell and the rear wing. This seal indicates these two parts of the car have been approved and the seal serves a second function of eliminating any chance of the teams altering them in anyway which could gain them an advantage. Also on Friday morning, the transmission, carburetor, radiator are cleared and the gear ratio set by NASCAR is confirmed. The final step in getting the Miller Lite Dodge ready for practice is clearing the body template. NASCAR lowers a full body template from the top of the inspection tent over each car. If it passes, the car gets that familiar round orange sticker on the windshield to indicate it is track worthy.

Saturday Confiscation

Saturday just before the garage closes Luke Cunningham, the Miller Lite Dodge Shock Specialist must take the rear shocks to the NASCAR shock inspection site where NASCAR holds them until Sunday morning. At the inspection site, Luke must empty the shocks in front of the inspectors and then fill them back up to the desired psi within the NASCAR specifications for each race. NASCAR confiscates the rear shocks so the teams cannot tamper with them in any way.


Sunday Inspection

There are four main inspection sites the teams must pass through each race day. The entire Miller Lite mechanical crew is present including the Crew Chief, Pat Tryson, as they push the No. 2 car through these four sites. Bill, the interior mechanic is usually pulling a large toolbox just in case adjustments need to be made.

The first station is the Shock Installation Station where officials give the rear shocks back to Luke and usually he has “Stretch” (one of the general mechanics) re-install them on the Miller Lite Dodge. This is my favorite inspection site because I have befriended the officials that work here and they always give me some good inside scoop!

The team then pushes the car to the second inspection station which is the Template Line. Here a swarm of officials descend on the No. 2 car and use templates to measure nearly every body part including the angles on the quarter panels, front and rear windows, the nose and rear end, the bumpers and the chassis at the “A”, “B” and “C” posts. These are points along the top of the roof near the front window, just behind the driver and near the rear window.

At this inspection site, NASCAR also measures the tire to the ground where they are looking for 1” of “droop” or travel between the tire and the wheel well. Finally, they check the splitter making sure it is adjusted so it is level with the car using the nose grid.

The third inspection site is Height Sticks and Scales. NASCAR only allows four crew members at a time inside this inspection area and they are watched closely as they push the Miller Lite Dodge onto the scales to make sure they do not cheat in anyway by affecting the weight of the car. NASCAR measures the entire weight of the car as well as the right side weight. NASCAR dictates the weight of the right side of the car based on the weight of the driver.


The officials also measure the height of the car and it has to be within the minimum and maximum heights required by NASCAR. Finally, Mule, the Miller Lite Dodge Tire Specialist observes as they check the tire pressure. NASCAR dictates they must start at the “recommended tire pressure” for each race.

The final inspection site measures the wheel base of the car to measure how offset the chassis and suspension are. This is the station where several teams have failed in the past because their cars were too “yawed out” to fit on the template. They also measure the length of the cars here.

Once the Miller Lite Dodge has cleared all of the inspection sites the crew pushes the No. 2 car out onto pit road to their spot on the starting grid. The crew covers the car and an official stands and watches over all the cars until the start of the race. About an hour before the start of the race, one of the mechanics to start up the generator to heat the oil up. When Kurt arrives at the No. 2 car after driver introductions, the crew tightens the lug nuts one more time and Mule checks the air pressures again to make sure they are what Pat Tryson called for.

At this point, the Miller Lite Dodge is handed off to Kurt to work his magic out on the track. I hope you enjoyed this trip through the NASCAR inspection stations, now it is up to you to figure out where the grey areas are!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sonoma Garage Report - Race Day

Sunday was another early start with all bloggers finally in attendance at the track. We made plans to meet up on pit road at the Brew Crew pit box but first I went in to the garages to say hi to the guys and get some scoop.

The crew was busy getting the car ready for inspection so I sought out some of my contacts in the garages and asked their opinion of the NASCAR drug policy. First, anyone who works on the cars can be selected for the random drug testing each week. People are randomly selected based on a number on their hard card and it can be officials, crew or team members or drivers.

When asked about the fairness of not knowing the specific substances on the banned list -- most felt it was completely fair and they know if they are concerned about some drug they are taking they can talk to NASCAR's MD to get that medication noted and "cleared." No one seemed reluctant to go to the MD to discuss their medications and many felt it was the best drug program in sports.

A random tidbit -- some were not in the least surprised by Mayfield getting caught. Hmmmmmmm.....

It was time to meet up with the bloggers at the Miller Lite pit box. RA6AN was writing good luck messages to her beloved Roush teams and IowaGirl, YeeMum and Jon464 were getting the royal tour of the pit box courtesy of Larry, the rear tire carrier. Larry is "almost famous" for his pit box tours as you will see in a video I hope to have up soon. He also admits to reading the blogs and recognized some of the bloggers in attendance! So if you write on Wednesdays and Thursdays don't be surprised if the Brew Crew knows what you said about them! Here is RA6AN trying to counteract the #2 team mojo by holding up a #6 for her favorite driver.


The bloggers headed off to collect signatures and lugnuts from the other crews and I headed back into the garage. The Brew Crew was pushing the Miller Lite Dodge past me towards the first inspection station -- putting the rear shocks back in the car -- so I caught up with them and resumed my duties as the unofficial tool car girl. While we were in line for inspection our teammate, Sam Hornish, Jr. pulled in in his rental car -- a Dodge of course!


Infineon is one of the few tracks where the driver's do not bring their motor coaches and instead stay in local resorts in wine country. As a result they are often stuck in the same traffic we are and its a hoot to see fans recognize drivers in the cars next to them.

We were making it through inspection without a hitch -- well until the final inspection stop. The Blue Deuce was rolled up onto a ramp where the templates sit to check for the yaw and length of the cars. We passed inspection and "Stretch", the general mechanic on the crew, was sitting in the window ready to steer off the ramp and down the hill to pit road. Well, it was a very tight squeeze and he couldn't react fast enough and ended up ripping the lower skirt off the car on the right hand side. OOPS!


Above is Stretch holding the piece that broke off. Not to worry, the Stretch, the car chief Jeffrey, and Steve the rear-end mechanic took the skirt off, cut a new piece of plastic to go in its place and had the car all ready to go about 15 min later. Of course the NASCAR officials were watching "closely" as Jeffrey joked about what a great diversion tactic so they could fiddle with the left side of the car. Given how well the Miller Lite Dodge handled in the race compared to practice, I would say Stretch might be onto something!

Once the car was safely out on pit road it was time to head back to the hauler for some of Cindy's tasty grub. Beef tips, rice and corn were on the menu today. While the guys dug in I admired their most recent trophy -- The Kings Cup.


The Brew Crew had won the annual go-kart race for charity beating out Denny Hamlin's team for the Cup which they proudly displayed all weekend outside the hauler. WOOT!
The guys are also in another competition...weight loss! Inspired by crew chief Pat Tryson's dramatic weight loss over the course of the 2008 season, several of the crew are battling to be the biggest loser this year. Based on their progress chart, I would say they are practicing "Yo-Yo" diets -- baby steps right?! LOL

The drivers started heading out of their haulers to driver introductions and of course one of the most popular dad's on this Father's Day race was "Big Daddy" Jeff Gordon. Here he is with Ella as everyone yelled Happy Father's Day to him.


In a rare event, the Miller Lite Dodge was lined up exactly with our pit box so Kurt had a nice shady place to hang out before having to get in the car.


Kurt filled us in on the hunting trip he was heading to in Montana on his way home from California this week...including the 3 hour donkey ride he had to take to get to the hunting spot -- Man, I wish I could get some pictures of that!!! He's plan is to hunt bear with his compound bow and arrow...let's hope he shows up for Louden!

Here is nearly the entire team lined up for the prayer and anthem...


And another moving moment -- especially for me as a "retired" National Park Police Mounted Patrol groom -- was when the Oakland Police Department motorcycles lead the field on the pace laps in honor of the four officers killed on duty earlier this year.


To our right in the pits was Elliot Sadler's team where The King had chosen to watch the race. It sure was fun watching them cheer on their teammate to the victory.


To our left in the pits was pole-sitter Brian Vickers. One very interested party in the Red Bull teams this weekend was Front Row Joe who sold his ride to Scott Speed and instead was hanging around the pits.


Some of you may remember we have a father-son team on the Miller Lite crew. Steve, the rear-end mechanic and catch can man (seen previously in my blogs eating chicken wings with me) is the father of Chris, our gas man. Chris was a good son and didn't forget to wish his dad a Happy Father's Day -- in the form of a neon sticker on his helmet that his dad could read as they were gassing the car!


Of course, you all know that Kurt was kicking booty and taking names as he drove the Blue Deuce through the field from 27th up to the lead and was in contention for certainly a top 5 finish. Finally this generated some media attention and we had the lovely Lindsey in our pits interviewing crew chief Pat Tryson.


We were all pretty excited to hear the No. 2 car was getting awesome gas mileage and we were good to go on two stops, well until Jimmie Johnson decided to try passing Kurt through the "esses" and blatantly took Kurt out as he slammed hard into the tire barrier. Apparently JJ apologized but his crew chief did not pass that message along to Kurt who headed to the pits with a badly wounded ride.


The only good news was this fired Kurt up and he drove like mad in the final 30 laps to end up with a 15th-place finish. That and I managed to snag a small part of sheet metal as a souvenir! Several of you saw me on TV as Kurt was being interviewed after the race. He was clearly disappointed in Jimmie's judgment and thought he could trust Jimmie as the two former champs usually raced clean. As soon as Kurt finished his TV interview, Johnson headed over to apologize. I didn't get too close but it was clear Jimmie was saying he lost control of his car going over the rumble strips. Not sure if Kurt *really* forgave him but he was gracious nonetheless. We might see this one come back around...


The Miller Lite racing team had the car loaded and they were all heading out to the plane for the long flight home soon after. I said my goodbyes and good lucks and hope to see them again during the Chase.

Stay tuned for some more blogs from The Bloggers Weekend at Sonoma!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sonoma Garage Report -- Qualifying

Greetings from Infineon Raceway in beautiful Sonoma, CA where it is "Bloggers weekend" - with six bloggers from FOXSports.com along with Valli, author of The Fast and The Fabulous all meeting up for a raucous good time!

Friday -- Qualifying Day
I made it into the garages around 10am after picking up my credentials and saying hello to the bloggers in attendance. One of the first images I came upon was Patrick Carpentier having some fun with the NASCAR officials "weighing" himself at the second to last inspection site. I have a feeling he was not heavy enough to even register!

I popped over to say hi to the Miller Lite Brew Crew in garage stall #5 and stopped by the hauler before heading out and taking in the sights. Marcos Ambrose was a very popular interview this weekend, here he is taping with TNT. Per the request of a fellow Aussie fan, I did chant "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi!" as he walked back to his hauler. Marcos laughed and said, "good show!"

Of course, another popular driver this weekend is the defending champion of this race, Kyle "Thorn" Busch who was driving a super slick 18 car with an M&M's Transformers paint scheme.

I watched most of practice from the main grandstand with fellow blogger, RA6AN and then headed down to listen in to some of the drivers in the top 12 did their media interviews. Much of the questions centered around the economic situation and the recent cutback by Chevy as well as the new double-file restart rule. It was funny to hear the varied opinions on how the restarts would go here at the road course, from "we are all professionals, it will be fine" to "it is going to be a disaster."

I then got back to the Brew Crew who were just heading out to inspection. Above you see our engine tuner, Darin, posing for a laugh after working like dogs making numerous repairs to the Blue Deuce after practice searching for the right setup and fixing the splitter after breaking some of the brackets on the rumble strips. They were the last car out of the garage and had to cut in line in order to get through inspection in time to get the car out on pit road for their third-place qualifying spot. Interestingly, I learned in order to cut ahead of other teams you had to ask each team for permission. I thought the NASCAR officials waved you up. So our car chief, Jeffery, was running all over the place getting permission to jump in line.

I resumed my un-official job as the "tool cart girl" because the entire team was needed to steer and stop the car as it rolled off the final inspection site and down the hill to pit road.


I *love* being on pit road before qualifying - all the drivers are out socializing and not nearly as tense as before the race. Cousin Carl was getting a lot of attention next to us because his car failed the height sticks and weight inspection site a few times and he was without his Aflac ride right up until the start of qualifying. He joked that he might have to run around the track to qualify! Here are some driver shots.



And of course, our usual game of "Where's Junior" as he tries his best to be stealthy to get to his No. 88 ride.

Kurt went out third and had a great lap going until he went in too hard into a turn and went just into the grass resulting in ultimately a 27th place qualifying run. I found it interesting the lack of respect the No. 2 team gets from the media. They are in 4th place in the points, the only Dodge in the top 12 and yet Kurt didn't even get interviewed after his qualifying effort, instead the media flocked to Carl Edwards who eventually ended up qualifying way worse in 34th. Not sure what this team has to do to impress and get some respect!!

Up next...Sonoma Race Day!