Sunday morning I got up super early so that I could get to Starbucks (a ‘real’ one that I scouted the night before) and beat any race day traffic that might rear it’s ugly head. I was delighted to find that there was no such traffic to fight and I even had time to take a couple pictures of the road I was on so you guys could see what I saw every morning. I did see a dead dear on the side of the road but I didn’t take a picture of that because it was sad (and gross).
The first order of business for the day, as always, was to take a pace car ride with Brett Bodine, NASCAR’s Director of Competition, Research & Development. For the Sprint Cup race, the Hollywood Casino 400, the pace car was a Ford Mustang and I must admit that that was the first time I’d ever ridden in one. It was a nice ride overall, now that I think about it, but I wasn’t really thinking about it at the time. I was more focused on Brett Bodine’s hands on the steering wheel. Claire B. Lang was the other media member in the car with me and a rep from NASCAR PR. She sat in the front passenger seat and interviewed Brett live for SiriusXM Satellite Radio as we made laps around the track. That was cool and kinda interesting but while Brett talked sometimes he would take one of his hands off the wheel and I would say to him in my head, “USE BOTH HANDS!! WE’RE GOING OVER 120 MILES PER HOUR!!”
I’m proud of myself that I even go on these pace car rides at all considering the fact that I DESPISE roller coasters or anything remotely “scary” where I’m not in control. But I know that Mr. Bodine is a professional and knows what he’s doing and so I trust him. Even with the moments of small terror it’s really fun, and it’s cool to be on the same track that the Cup drivers will be on later that afternoon. We made more laps than I’d ever been in before, maybe 3 or 4, usually it’s just 2, so instead of just feeling like my insides had been rearranged I also had a small headache. G-force is no joke.
I wandered around the Cup garage for a little while, attempting to take pictures with ton of people milling around. I spied Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, chatting with a reporter.
Then I kept moving through the garage. I stopped at one point to send off a photo with a Tweet and was busily typing on my cell phone when a crew member for the No. 16 3M team walked by and said “Hey baby, I’m in the garage!” I didn’t look up at first, I thought he must have been on a cell phone talking to someone he knew, but then I looked up and at him and saw him looking back at me smiling and grinning. I smiled and just shook my head, like, “What was that??” All you could do was laugh.
It was time for the announcement of the 4 finalists for the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award in the media center, so I headed back there, through the middle of the fans lining the walkway leading to the front door.
The four finalists were Patty Aber, Jake Bernstein, Brenda Doner and Robert Weaver. You can read all about them, their charities and why they were nominated by clicking here. I don’t want to go into each of their stories here because it would take me forever to do so, but we watched a video about each of the finalists and I had to make myself not cry. It was so inspiring and also made me feel incredibly guilty for not doing more with my time. Each of the finalists have received $25,000 for their charities and the awesome weekend they had at Kansas, but now it’s up to you and I to choose the ultimate winner of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award (and $100,000) which will be announced at the Sprint Cup Series Championship Banquet in Las Vegas. You can vote by going to NASCAR.COM/unites.
The really, really cool moment was when Joey Logano, Brian Vickers, Rusty Wallace and Kasey Kahne, the favorite drivers of each of the finalists, came in to surprise them and give them NASCAR jackets. Again, I had to tell myself to not CRY!
Once the press conference was over after Brian France stuck around to answer questions from the media a for a little bit, I went over to the now empty Nationwide Series garage for the driver/crew chief meeting.
There was only one entrance and there was no way any fan that didn’t have the credentials to get into the meeting could be there, so I figured all of the drivers would enter there but I was wrong. They came in from every which way, sliding in under half closed garage doors, so it was semi-slim pickens in the photo department. I stood at the back of the room which is where Tony Gibson, crew chief for Ryan Newman, and Darian Grubb, Tony Stewart’s crew chief ended up. As time wore down and the meeting was about to begin Ryan showed up but Tony still hadn’t arrived. It was just as Robin Pemberton was stepping up to the microphone at the front of the room that Darian looked around for Tony that he appeared out the crowd at the back of the room and sat down just in time. (If you miss the driver’s meeting you’re getting kicked back to the end of the field for the start of the race.) There were a couple fun moments during the driver’s meeting. One was when billionaire businessman, investor, philanthropist Warren Buffett was announced as a VIP. Everyone was surprised and you could feel the tone of the room change. It was different, that’s a very BIG name in the room. I think I tweeted that I guessed that’s why there were a ton of Secret Service-looking dudes in the room but it turns out they weren’t with Mr. Buffett they were with one of the local Mayors on hand, which I thought was weird. Years ago I once met the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom (who married the wrong woman, I might add. ya know, not ME!) at the opening of the west coast flagship store for H&M, and I didn’t see any security dudes with him. Anyway, that was random. Moving on.
The second moment came from Carl Edwards when he asked a question about restarts and it was CLEAR AS DAY he was asking it because of what went on between him and Brad Keselowski the day before in the Nationwide Series race. His question wasn’t really answered, it was more like, “just do the right thing, I don’t think you guys would let someone run over you, (everyone laughs) blah, blah, blah.”
Then it was time for the pre-race festivities to begin. First up was a 45-minute concert from country music artist Brantley Gilbert in front of the driver introductions stage in the infield. The grass was FILLED with people, everyone that would be sitting in the grandstands later that day were in front of the stage watching the show.
I hung around back stage for driver introductions.
Then I walked down pit road heading to where the No. 14 Office Depot car was parked. I stood there because I know Lisa, PR for person for Office Depot, and I wanted to say “Hi” again and honestly it’s incredibly awkward to stand anywhere where you don’t know anyone near you.
On my way down to the car, though, I happened to come upon Dale Earnhardt Jr. just as he was making his way to his car. There were no fans there and it was such a rare occasion to catch him without a ton of people around that I kind of choked. I took one quick photo and kept walking. Silly me, I should of stood there and took, like, 50 pictures, but whatever.
Once Tony arrived at his car he played with Darian Grubb’s 2-year-old son, Gavin, who is super adorable. Let me tell you, your ovaries would have melted watching the two of them together, Gavin running over to Tony and hitting him and then running away. Tony holding him and tickling him. And if you don’t have your ovaries anymore they would have GROWN BACK. It was that CUTE! Tony so clearly adores that kid. When will there be little smokies? I think he needs to just get over the formalities it and knock someone up already. LOL, I kid, I kid. (sort of, I mean, really, why not?)
Tony’s car was next to the pits for the #48 team and they were busy spraying their pits with cola making it all sticky and the air smell like Pepsi.
Then it was the Invocation and National Anthem in quick succession. And then the race began.
As you know, Jimmie Johnson won the thing with Kasey Kahne finishing 2nd and Brad Keselowski in 3rd. Carl Edwards was included in the post-race press conference because he currently leads the points standings by one point over Kevin Harvick in The Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Championship. I don’t know about you but I am LOVING the points standings right now, it’s still so close that anything is possible. I love that. Yay for the new points system.
Once Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick made it into the press conference room it was at least an hour after (or at least it felt like that long) the race had ended. With that win Hendrick Motorsports secured their 199th win and I noticed that Mr. Hendrick was wearing his signature “H” hat that Jimmie signed and wrote #199 on the bill. Aww.
My flight home was that night so I left for the airport right after the Hendrick presser was over. Overall, it was a wonderful weekend and I must thank Hunt Brothers Pizza again for making it possible.