When I got to the Cup garage at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday the inspections process was in full-swing for qualifying.
Kristen attempted to explain to me how NASCAR started using lasers this year at one of the inspection stations to measure the car. It’s kinda neat how it’s able to find the center of the car. It’s all completely computerized.
We wandered backwards through the line of cars waiting to go through the next inspection stop and we made our way to the back of the garage behind the haulers where the drivers park their cars. Then it dawned on us that all the drivers were walking over to the drivers qualifying meeting; since this was a whole new qualifying process for Sonoma they needed a meeting. I didn’t go inside, I just stayed outside and took photos.
After the driver’s meeting I went to David Stremme’s hauler to interview him. Be on the lookout for that post soon. It’s a goodie.
So I don’t remember the timing of this totally clearly but at some point I went off and bought licorice and I think I had lunch or something, and Kristen texted me and told me I should come into the Cup garage because Kasey Kahne was at his hauler not doing anything.
I had emailed Kasey’s PR team about presenting the 2013 Hottest NASCAR Driver Tournament award to him — the honor he’d won for the second straight year — at Sonoma but they said he wasn’t available. So I figured I’d just mail it to him, but part of me really wanted him to know that he’d won it. I mean, they might have told him but I just wanted to be sure.
So I went over to the hauler with Kristen. She spent a good amount of time telling me I HAD to go over there and talk to him. See here’s the thing. His PR person was there too, and so was ESPN’s Marty Smith. They were all just standing there at the door to his hauler, chatting. Actually, Kasey was just texting or something. So I’m shy, and sometimes I need a kick in the pants to do something and Kristen was my kick in the pants that day. Plus I don’t like to break the “rules” and do something that someone said I wasn’t able to do, but he was just standing there, so why not? And I felt better because Marty was there and I sort-of know him. So I went over and Marty immediately said “Hi”, gave me a hug and asked how I was doing, because Marty Smith is the NICEST media person in the garage! Seriously you guys, he’s always been nothing but nice to me and you would think that wouldn’t be a big deal but it is. There are a lot of other media people that are total tools, so when someone is nice it’s the greatest thing in the world, to me at least.
So then I tell Kasey that I have this blog and I run this tournament and he’d won this year for the 2nd time and the trophy is hot sauce and I’ll be sending it to his race shop. He laughed when I explained how the tournament worked and seemed generally amused by the whole thing. He was nice and I was talking so much that I didn’t allow him time to really say anything back, but I did what I wanted to which was to let him know that he’d won.
And then because there was a lot of time between the driver’s meeting and the start of qualifying there were drivers kind of milling around, so Kristen was like, let’s see who else we can get. So I remembered that I hadn’t asked David Ragan the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” questions and we saw him walking around so I stopped him and asked if he had 5 minutes and said sure, so I interviewed him. Be on the look for that post!
And since we’re talking about the garage and drivers walking around, let me give some advice on the best times to be in the garage. Don’t ever buy a garage pass or tour that only gets you in AFTER practice or qualifying is over. Everybody gets the heck out of dodge once that stuff is over. The best days to get a hot pass are on practice and qualifying days and make sure you’re in the garage when practice and qualifying are actually happening. You have a much better chance of seeing the drivers and being there when they’re walking around. It’s also good to be there basically when the garage opens, so you can get them as they walk to their hauler.
At some point we sat on the floor of the Cup garage with a couple of the crew guys from the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil team. It felt weird to be sitting there, I half expected someone to tell us we’d have to leave but all the cars were out on the track waiting to go out for qualifying, so it’s not like we were in the way or anything. That being said I don’t recommend trying that unless you know the crew dudes. The garage was quiet and it was MUCH cooler since it was in the high 80s out in the sun.
Once qualifying started I went to the media bullpen area where they keep the top-3 cars and got some very good shots of Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and a grumpy Kyle Busch.
When it was determined that Jamie McMurray was the pole sitter for the race I went inside for his press conference. I have to say that Jamie has a very calming presence. He’s always calm, cool and collected. I really wanted him to have a great race because he seemed so hopeful and sure that his team was on it’s way to winning races. They ended up finishing 25th though.
So we were waiting for the media shuttle to take us up the hill to our parking lot and we spotted the photographer that looks like Dale Earnhardt Jr. And when I say that he looks like Dale Jr. HE REALLY LOOKS LIKE HIM. Like, really. Every time I would see him walking around in the garage I had to do a double-take. When we got into the van Kristen asked him if he got that a lot and he said sarcastically “Never.” Once we got to the parking lot I got a photo with him because you guys need to see this man, it’s uncanny. The funny thing is that I forgot to ask his name.