Greetings from the NASCAR Cup garages in 2012...lots of changes, new faces and quite a few missing from last year as the economy takes its toll on the race teams. Of course, the big changes on the 22 Shell/Pennzoil team is the addition of AJ "The Dinger" Allmendinger and our new Crew Chief Todd "I don't have a nickname (yet)" Gordon. Look for an updated Meet the Crew blog coming...probably after Sonoma...because someone didn't do their job interviewing everyone in Phoenix! doh!
I was only at the track on Friday for practices and race day this time but did manage to get there when the garage opened and stayed until it closed both days. As always it is fun to see the guys in street clothes with fans walking right on by...here we have Lugnut fav's -- Birthday Boy Rootie and Maaacus and your Daytona 500 winner.
Turning around we find the masterminds of HMS and possibly a sight not to be seen for another six weeks...yes, we are all "deeply saddened" Chad. I, of course, headed straight to my favorite crew and got caught up on all the news, gossip and story lines so far. They put me to work pulling the tool cart through inspection...gotta say not a fan of the new toolcart - its bigger and louder. Billy is going to work on making it better by Sonoma.
They filled me in on the #48 car penalty from last week and how Chad designed the car on the bottom of the C-post to have a crease that fit the template and then bubble up around it which technically fit the template but was outside the bounds of the rules as NASCAR saw it. Interesting way to push the envelope and now made sense why NASCAR didn't need a template to know there was something "amiss."
This next picture was by direct request of our beloved Lugnut GUNNY, who asked if Carl could shake up our favorite SpeedBeagle with a call and ask her why oh why does she insist on chewing on that poor duck during the races and eliciting her doggie voodoo on him!?! What has he ever done to her?? Apparently, she was out chasing cars when he called...
He soon thereafter he hopped in the pace car and took some VIP for a spin around the track. He requested no pictures in the car since it wasn't a Ford, alas, I couldn't resist and this shot has no identifying features...suffice to say he might be the only driving it next year.
It was quickly time for first practice which is my absolute favorite moment in the Cup garage when the cars roll off in points order and file out to the track. I've gone enough times now to know where to stake out the best spot which my buddy Dobbin's caught me waiting patiently for them to file out...
And here is the link to the you tube video I got from the spot...I just love almost getting run over! LOL http://youtu.be/y75OGsSKj34
Midway through practice Junior was out of his car and not only checking underneath but actually HELPING his crew - bringing tires over, handing them tools. It was odd. Letarte has that boy more a team player than ever. I had lots of pictures of this but choose his "Captain Morgan" pose because I think its kinda funny and the girls requested a butt shot...
I also found this fairly amusing...not sure this is really necessary!
|"For racing purposes only not for highway use"|
In between practices most of the top 10 drivers held their media time. Kyle was next to us and was looking spiffy in his new Monster gear...
The #22 crew worked their asses off in practice, changing everything on the car at least twice as they struggled to get the car to bite into the track and adjust to AJ's style. Despite all the hard work, they still manage to have fun, which is why I love them. Stevo is doing his best equestrian impression as Billy mocks him. Not two seconds later does Roger Penske walk up...it was pretty funny!
I stayed until they shut down the garages and enjoyed a dinner out with my buddy Dave and we got caught up. Saturday was another long day of wrenching on the cars for 2 laps on the track....I spent it celebrating my nephew's 8th birthday.
Sunday I was at the track by 7:00a and I headed straight out to our pit box - WAAAY out in turn 1 -- to see my favorite over the wall guys. Got all caught up on who is pitting the car this year and some changes to the crew. JB is gone and we got Travis back as the right rear tire changer! yay Travis! He was happy to continue his blog feature of "what is Travis eating during the race..." But we also lost my buddy Larry - who is now carrying the rear tires on the #2 car...so he is back in familiar colors but the #22 team definitely misses him. Replacing Larry is the current pit crew coach, Trent Cherry.
I headed back to the garage to go through inspections with the guys for the final time and followed them out to pit road as Stretch did a bang up job of parallel parking the double deuce. We were ready to race!
I decided to be brave and head over to the driver's meeting - the first time I'd ever gone in as I try to "stay out of trouble" (and we know how well that goes) but there are so many guests in there it was pretty easy to just blend in. Here are a bunch of shots from the "tent" and many of the drivers taking time to meet a young, handicapped boy which had to be a thrill for him.
|the view from the back..|
|Kyle & Sam|
|Your race winnner|
The meeting itself was pretty straightforward - they introduce the celebrity guests, then they watch a video on the basic rules for the race which I must admit was very much like an after school special and sounded like Mike Joy doing the voice over. They established the "Juan rule" with slowing down around the safety vehicles and having those workers wearing fire suits and helmets (which I cannot believe they weren't already doing...) and then the drivers stood for a rousing round of applause for the military families present who had lost children in the war. Kurt sat right in front of us about two rows up so we said hello and wished him luck this year...he definitely seemed in good spirits.
Immediately afterwards I went to the NASCAR hauler to snag a pic of the sign in sheet since I knew none of the "brass" would be around...Since I can't ask for autographs with my credentials, this is the best way to get them! lol
Back at the hauler, AJ was finishing lunch and getting ready to race. He signed my 22 visor --wait what? there are no AJ visors you say? Bah! Its my patented look! So I ordered mine off ebay for $2 - an old Dave Blaney CAT car one - the right colors and number and just picked the signature off with a seam ripper. Of course, I don't have a picture of it...doh! It will have to do until we get the new merch!
The guys suited up and we all headed out to pit road...on the way I ran into one of the newest members of the Getty images team....any guesses who this famous photog is? Nope not Photo!
|Randy Johnson ex-Diamondbacks pitcher...weirdness|
It was tough to see the track from our pit stall as we were mid turns 1 & 2 but it was cool to see the cars sail off to the back stretch. I sauntered over in front of the pit road exit and got some shots of the track before someone noticed me over there...no pit boxes!
While over there I also snagged this video of the cars coming off pit road mid race...kinda a unique perspective! http://youtu.be/_6yise8Mj_A
Unfortunately, we spent lots of time in the pits this race but the crew did a fantastic job of getting the deck lid reattached. Lots of tape, beating and banging in a very short amount of time.
We caught lots of long green flag (single file, no passing) racing about 3/4's through the race and it was the perfect time for Travis to grab his snack and continue his blog feature...
Today was "Fruit Snack" day in the pits along with chips and beef jerky...amazing what fuels the crews...Thanks Travis! =)
Also snuck in a shot of the best PR guy in the business -TR with our buddy Dobbins...
This picture of "TaTa" or Dave Littau, our front tire carrier kinda sums up our race day...
I know AJ and the team was disappointed to not come out of Phoenix with a top 10 finish but considering they have a new driver, Crew Chief and cars I thought they did a pretty impressive job of sticking with it and making a bad day at least okay. Onto Vegas!
Speaking of, lots of people asking how the hauler drivers were going to swing this. Penske had the 2nd haulers come out to Phoenix to meet them them and switch out the cars for Vegas and then the hauler drivers are heading straight to Vegas, while the 2nd hauler will take the Phoenix cars back home. Everyone else on the crew flew back to NC to work in the garages on the Bristol cars.
On my way out of the garages...I ran into the NASCAR "brain trust" heading off into the sunset...you can almost hear the gun fighter tune in the background.Hope you enjoyed the read...next up for me, Sonoma!