Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Martinsville Race Recap

No. 43 Charter Ford Fusion

• Friday’s qualifying session was canceled due to rain so the No. 43 Ford lined up for the event in 21st.
• Allmendinger was involved in an accident on lap 171 and was forced behind to the garage for repairs
• After returning to the track, the engine on the No. 43 expired

Race Summary: AJ Allmendinger took off from the 21st position in the rain postponed Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Monday. The No. 43 Charter Ford Fusion was tight from the start. Crew chief Mike Shiplett took advantage of the first caution of the day at Lap 40 to make adjustments to the Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.

The adjustments helped Allmendinger climb into the top-20. Two additional cautions came out within 30 laps of the first caution on Lap 40. The No. 43 stayed out on track during both cautions to maintain its 18th position in the field. As the race approached the 100-lap mark, Allmendinger reported the car was back to being really tight and felt they had lost both front and rear grip.

The No. 43 Charter Ford came down pit road during the caution period at Lap 162 for more adjustments. As the field went back to green, Allmendinger felt the changes made would enable him to climb back through the field. But at Lap 171, the No. 43 was involved in a multi-car accident forcing the driver to the garage for repairs.

The Richard Petty Motorsports crew worked quickly to make necessary repairs and was able to send Allmendinger back on track at Lap 234. Two laps later though, the engine expired due to some of the damage from the accident ending the day early for Allmendinger and the No. 43 Charter Ford team.

Credit: Richard Petty Motorsports PR

Monday, March 29, 2010

Martinsville Post-Race Quotes

PAUL MENARD - No. 98 NIBCO/Menards Ford Fusion
Finished 14th
“It was kind of a crazy day. Our NIBCO/Menards Ford Fusion wasn’t very good for the first half of the race, but then the car started to come to us. We made a very minimal amount of changes there in the second half and just tried to drive a smart race. The guys did a great job on pit road again this week, which was crucial because it’s just so hard to pass here. I’m proud of this team. They never gave up and we’re satisfied with that finish. It could always be a lot worse than that at Martinsville.”


SLUGGER LABBE, Crew Chief - No. 98 NIBCO/Menards Ford Fusion
"We got caught up in that one wreck and had to pit. I think we ended up pitting 19 times today and to come back and finish in the top 15 shows the character of this team. Not many people expected us to be where we're at and we don't quit. We work and we work smart. We decided to get two tires there at the end for some track position and it paid off. That's just the way it is - it's Martinsville. All of the fenders and the whole body is beat in, but that's what you expect at a short track."

THIS HAS BEEN A BREAKTHROUGH YEAR SO FAR. AT WHAT POINT DO YOU START THINKING THIS COULD BE YOUR YEAR? "I hope so. I think some of the drivers aren't really happy that we're up here running this good. Obviously looking at the body, we got beat to death today. Right there towards the end, Paul made it three-wide for a lap-and-a-half and he stood up for himself. That's what I've been telling him. I've told him, 'You deserve to be here. They'll give you the respect, but you've got to go out there and get it. If you keep moving out of the way, they'll keep doing it to you.' So he stood up for himself and we had a good finish. The points will keep coming and as long as we keep running in the top 15, we'll be fine."


KASEY KAHNE - No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion
Finished 19th
“It was just a tough day for the Budweiser Ford team. We didn’t run as well as we’d liked, but picked up a few spots there at the end.”


ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 19 Stanley Ford Fusion
Finished 24th
“The car was really tight in the center for most of the race. We couldn’t quite get that adjusted like we needed to. Overall though. The No. 19 Stanley Ford Fusion was good.. There was definitely some short track racing going on out there today. We ran into a couple incidents on track and got spun around a couple of times ,but my guys worked super hard to keep things going. The finish wasn’t what we were hoping for in order to get our season turned around, but this Richard Petty Motorsports team will keep fighting and be ready to go again in Phoenix. ”


AJ ALLMENDINGER - No. 43 Charter Ford Fusion
Finished 38th

"When you're at Martinsville the double-file restarts aren't the most fun thing to have, especially when you're starting mid-pack all day, because you're bound to get wrecked. It was really nobody's fault because everybody is fighting for the same space, but I got hit in the back and shoved into all the cars. That just tore the nose off of it. All of the oil lines were pinched and when we tried to go back out there we blew up."

Credit - Ford Racing & Richard Petty Motorsports PR

Martinsville Results

Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 Finishing Order
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Joey Logano
3. Jeff Gordon
4. Ryan Newman
5. Martin Truex, Jr.
6. Brian Vickers
7. Clint Bowyer
8. Carl Edwards
9. Jimmie Johnson
10. Greg Biffle
11. Marcos Ambrose
12. Brad Keselowski
13. Sam Hornish, Jr.
14. Paul Menard
15. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
16. David Ragan
17. Kasey Kahne
18. Matt Kenseth
19. David Gilliland
20. Jeff Burton
21. Mark Martin
22. Kyle Busch
23. Kurt Busch
24. Elliott Sadler
25. Mike Bliss
26. Tony Stewart
27. Travis Kvapil
28. David Reutimann
29. Bobby Labonte
30. Jamie McMurray
31. Kevin Conway
32. Regan Smith
33. Scott Speed
34. Robby Gordon
35. Kevin Harvick
36. Juan Pablo Montoya
37. David Stremme
38. AJ Allmendinger
39. Joe Nemechek
40. Max Papis
41. Aric Almirola
42. Dave Blaney
43. Michael McDowell

Friday, March 26, 2010

Martinsville Qualifying Results

Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 Starting Lineup
(Qualifying was rained out and set according to rules)

1. Kevin Harvick
2. Matt Kenseth
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Greg Biffle
5. Tony Stewart
6. Kurt Busch
7. Jeff Burton
8. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
9. Paul Menard
10. Kyle Busch
11. Jeff Gordon
12. Clint Bowyer
13. Carl Edwards
14. Brian Vickers
15. Jamie McMurray
16. Mark Martin
17. Joey Logano
18. Scott Speed
19. Denny Hamlin
20. Martin Truex, Jr.
21. AJ Allmendinger
22. Juan Pablo Montoya
23. Kasey Kahne
24. David Reutimann
25. Elliott Sadler
26. Ryan Newman
27. David Ragan
28. Regan Smith
29. Bobby Labonte
30. Brad Keselowski
31. Marcos Ambrose
32. Kevin Conway
33. Sam Hornish, Jr.
34. Travis Kvapil
35. David Gilliland
36. Aric Almirola
37. Robby Gordon
38. David Stremme
39. Mike Bliss
40. Max Papis
41. Michael McDowell
42. Dave Blaney
43. Joe Nemechek
DNQ Casey Mears
DNQ Terry Cook
DNQ Johnny Sauter

Thursday, March 25, 2010

AJ on Testing at Charlotte

The following is an excerpt from this article by FoxSports -

AJ Allmendinger was on a mission this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Although it's hard to believe, last year was the first full season for the Richard Petty Motorsports racer in the Cup Series. And with the testing ban coming to fruition following the 2008 season, Allmendinger hasn't had the opportunity to run the laps and craft his skills as many other drivers did before him.

So for the driver of the No. 43 Ford, the last couple of days was spent gathering information from his fellow Roush/Petty drivers and honing his skills on the intermediate track. After posting the top speed in the afternoon test -- 183.943 -- it was clear his work had paid off.

"I've been judging my laps off of Kasey (Kahne), Paul (Menard) and Elliott (Sadler)," Allmendinger said. "I haven't been able to test much. So to be able to compare data, has helped a lot. It's easy to look at your own data but you have nothing to judge off anybody else.

"Kasey is so good here I can focus on what he's doing and improve my own line. Paul's doing well, too. Looking at all the comparative data is a good thing."

Martinsville Preview

No. 43 Charter Ford Fusion
• Allmendinger has made five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway where his best finish is 9th (2009)
• Allmendinger’s No. 43 Ford will be sponsored by Charter this weekend
• The No. 43 team spent Tuesday and Wednesday participating in a NASCAR sanctioned test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Allmendinger’s Take On Martinsville: “Martinsville is a cool track with a lot of history. The No. 43 has a lot of history there too with Richard (Petty) having the most wins. We have Charter on board the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion this weekend so it’d be great to get right up front and end the day with a good finish.

“We actually tested our Martinsville car last week at the little track at Rockingham (N.C.). I think all of our Richard Petty Motorsports teams were able to take away a lot of notes and information from that test and of course we learned some things from this last race at Bristol as well to be prepared for this Sunday’s race. We ran and finished in the top-10 in this race a year ago. I feel like if we can find a good rhythm and not make any little mistakes on pit road, this No. 43 team will have a good race.”

Thoughts From Crew Chief Mike Shiplett: “I think it’s good we have Bristol under our belts heading into this weekend’s race at Martinsville. AJ felt like he found a pretty good rhythm during the longer green flag runs last Sunday so I think we found some things that will help us out this weekend.

“Martinsville is one of those places we visit where one of the hardest challenges is pit road. It’s pretty narrow getting on and off so we’ll have to be careful and make sure we don’t make any mistakes there. We are just shy of the top 20 in points. We’re working on building more consistency in our runs and if we can get that, the points and everything else will all fall into place.”

Chassis History: Chassis No. 276 has been prepared by Shiplett and the No. 43 Charter crew for this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway. This Ford Fusion ran as the No. 44 for Richard Petty Motorsports in the November race at Phoenix International Raceway last season.

Support The Paralyzed Veterans of America: There are several ways you can help support the PVA, a veterans service organization established in 1946 that helps our military heroes who have experienced spinal cord injury or dysfunction. Enter a raffle to win a Jeep CJ-2A Willys restored by Petty's Garage. Visit And don’t miss out on the second annual King’s Cup—Karting For A Cause event hosted by Richard Petty on Tuesday, May 25. To learn more about how you can participate in the King’s Cup, visit:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Ramble - Bristol Edition

If Allmendinger is the Best Buy Guy, Why is he Driving that Green Insignia Car?

Chartreuse. Avocado. Lime green. Eye-catching. Just plain ugly. I’ve heard the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion described as all of these things over the last couple of weeks. Ever since the Insignia paint scheme made its 2010 debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway, people have been talking about it.

From the broadcasters in the booth to NASCAR fans on message boards and Twitter, everyone wants to know exactly what color green AJ Allmendinger's car is. The answer to that question is simple – the color of the #43 car is INSIGNIA Green, of course! And you better get used to it, because love it or hate it, it’s sticking around for awhile.

Of course the next question on the tips of everyone’s fingers seems to be – what exactly is Insignia anyway? According to, Insignia is a Best Buy Exclusive Brand designed to provide customers with affordable, well-designed technology. The Insignia line features a wide range of consumer electronics including televisions, Blu-ray disc players, home theater solutions, audio products and more.

The comparison that NASCAR fans should be familiar with is the relationship between the #48 Hendrick Motorsports sponsor Lowe’s and Kobalt Tools. Lowe’s is the retail chain store that is normally on the hood of Jimmie Johnson’s car, and Kobalt Tools is a product line that is sold through Lowe’s, and which makes occasional appearances on the car. Likewise, Best Buy sells many different brand name items, but the Insignia line is their “house” brand. In past years Best Buy was a regular fixture on the hood of Elliott Sadler’s #19 car, and the Insignia scheme was brought out for limited occasions.

So why is Best Buy reducing the amount of advertising coverage for their stores by changing from the familiar blue and yellow Best Buy scheme to the green Insignia scheme for the majority of the 2010 season? The answer lies in a prior paragraph – the fact that thousands of race fans are wondering what Insignia is. Everyone has heard of Best Buy, but even as a regular shopper in their store, I was unaware of exactly what Insignia was until I did a little research.

According to Paul Zindrick, motorsports director for Best Buy Racing, the company has modified how they want to use their racing program and their sponsorship with RPM. The main reason that Insignia will be on the hood of the #43 for the majority of their sponsored races is to focus on promoting brand awareness for that particular product, rather than for Best Buy as a whole, which virtually everyone is already familiar with.

That explanation makes good business sense to me, and while it took me a little while to get used to the color, I have come to love it. It is a shade of green that no one else is sporting, and it is very easy to pick AJ out in the crowd of cars. Best Buy was even nice enough to add a little Petty blue to their paint scheme to go along with the car number that the King, Richard Petty, made so famous.

Hold on – wait a minute. Isn't a green car supposed to be bad luck in racing? Yes, so the superstition goes. I think Darrell Waltrip would argue with that old wives’ tale though, considering he had numerous wins in his green Mt. Dew ride in the early 80’s. Besides, when all is said and done it doesn't matter what color your car is, as long as it is fast!

So INSIGNIA Green it is. Whether you like it or not, you can't miss seeing it on the track. Hopefully we'll be seeing it towards the front of the field when it makes a return to AJ's car after a few weeks off, and someday see it in Victory Lane. Until then, you can always visit your nearest Best Buy store to view their Insignia products and support one of the sponsors that make NASCAR possible.

Photo courtesy Paul Zindrick with Best Buy Racing

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bristol Race Recap

AJ Allmendinger’s weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway started out a little sketchy. He was on the bottom half of the practice sheet in Friday’s session with a time that put him in 24th position. Just a short while later in qualifying, he backed up that mid-pack time and placed 23rd on the starting grid. Needless to say, it wasn’t the strong run that the Richard Petty Motorsrpots team was probably hoping for at the infamous short track – especially after coming off of such a strong run at Atlanta.

Saturday seemed to be much better though, with the Insignia / Best Buy team posting a top ten in the first practice session before improving that to a 7th place time in Happy Hour. Unfortunately, the track conditions on Sunday were cloudy, cooler, and threatening rain – which was a far cry from the sun and warm temperatures on Saturday. So when the green flag flew on Sunday, AJ didn’t jump forward like this fan expected him to.

With no scanner audio to listen to during the first tire run, I don’t know what kind of condition AJ was battling. But just from watching my Trackpass Raceview, I could see that he was struggling. Then a problem on the front tire during the first pit stop made AJ’s situation worse by putting him even further back in the field. He restarted around 30th place and had to pass all the cars that he had just passed the run before.

Fortunately, it was just a short time before AJ was again running near 20th position. Unfortunately, that first bad pit stop was a foreshadow on the struggles ahead of him that day. On the next pit stop he got pinned in behind Bobby Labonte and had to be backed up before exiting. The tight quarters on pit road and a crew who just didn’t seem to be on their A game on Sunday put AJ back several positions on each pit stop the team made.

As far as handling went, crew chief Mike Shiplett kept trying to find the balance between being tight in the center of the corner and being loose coming off the corner. Every time they helped one condition, they seemed to hurt the other. The car was decent on long runs through the first half of the race. But towards the end, AJ radioed in that he was having problems with tire grip suddenly dropping off. With lap times slowing so dramatically at the end of the tire runs, I think it was difficult for Mike to call for just a two tire stop to gain the track position that they need.

The #43 Insignia car was decent all race long, but never really great. AJ struggled to pass cars only to have to pass them again every time they pitted. He never quite managed to break into the top 10 during the race, but he did stay out of trouble and brought the car home in one piece. Despite what could only be described as a race where the team struggled the entire 500 laps, AJ managed to eke a 17th place finish out of it. Obviously not what he was hoping for, but it could have been worse.

Next weekend it is on to another short track where passing is going to be difficult and tempers are going to flare. Track position will be key, and good calls on the box along with better pit stops by the crew will be a necessary ingredient to having a good day. The mean green Insignia machine will be gone at Martinsville, while Charter Communication has a turn on the famed #43, but hopefully the good luck of the last couple weeks remain.

To make my point about the pit stops hurting AJ's race position - here is the driver lap chart from Yahoo's NASCAR site. Those downward spikes coincide with the pit stops.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bristol Post-Race Quotes

AJ ALLMENDINGER - No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion
Finished 17th
"It's one of those days, and this is what we're trying to build on with the team, it was a bad day. We never really got it right. At times, I thought we were better than others, but we just struggled on fighting to get the car to turn. We were losing rear grip, but this is what we said was gonna make us a good team is to make our bad days 17th and that's where we finished. We missed the wrecks and probably had about a 20th-22nd place car and salvaged 17th out of it. That's not what we really want to be happy with, but it's one of those days that could have been a lot worse. We gained some points because there was a lot of guys in front of us that had a bad day. I think we should be OK at Martinsville. We've just got to keep working on it."


PAUL MENARD - No. 98 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Ford Fusion
Finished 18th

"As good as the car was earlier I'm kind of disappointed with that. We were in the top 10 all day, but we had two sets of tires that just weren't wearing like the others and that kind of threw us for a loop. We kind of messed ourselves up by taking two tires there at the end because everybody behind us took four, so we were kind of a sitting duck. All I know is that today could have been a helluva lot worse, that's for sure."


ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 19 Stanley Ford Fusion
Finished 20th

“Today was not what we came here hoping for. This No. 19 Stanley Ford team fought hard and I know we have what it takes. We’ve got a lot of work to do and I’m hoping the testing we did at Darlington and this past week at the Little Rock (Rockingham) track will help us find better results next week at Martinsville.”


KASEY KAHNE - No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion
Finished 34th

"I think we broke a lower A-Frame. I'm not positive, but something broke and it fell over on that side and went up the track. We were pretty much done after that, so it's pretty disappointing."

Credit: Ford Racing

Bristol Results

Food City 500 Finishing Order
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Tony Stewart
3. Kurt Busch
4. Greg Biffle
5. Matt Kenseth
6. Carl Edwards
7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
8. Jamie McMurray
9. Kyle Busch
10. Jeff Burton
11. Kevin Harvick
12. Martin Truex, Jr.
13. Brad Keselowski
14. Jeff Gordon
15. Brian Vickers
16. Ryan Newman
17. AJ Allmendinger
18. Paul Menard
19. Denny Hamlin
20. Elliott Sadler
21. Bobby Labonte
22. Robby Gordon
23. David Gilliland
24. David Stremme
25. Travis Kvapil
26. Juan Pablo Montoya
27. Joey Logano
28. Kevin Conway
29. David Ragan
30. Casey Mears
31. Scott Speed
32. Sam Hornish, Jr.
33. Marcos Ambrose
34. Kasey Kahne
35. Mark Martin
36. Regan Smith
37. Terry Cook
38. David Reutimann
39. Aric Almirola
40. Clint Bowyer
41. Michael Waltrip
42. Dave Blaney
43. Joe Nemechek

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bristol Qualifying Results

Food City 500 Starting Lineup
1. Joey Logano
2. Kurt Busch
3. Dave Blaney
4. Jimmie Johnson
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Juan Pablo Montoya
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Carl Edwards
9. Marcos Ambrose
10. David Reutimann
11. Tony Stewart
12. Paul Menard
13. Mark Martin
14. Jeff Burton
15. Denny Hamlin
16. David Gilliland
17. Jamie McMurray
18. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
19. Martin Truex, Jr.
20. Regan Smith
21. Ryan Newman
22. Sam Hornish, Jr.
23. AJ Allmendinger
24. Kasey Kahne
25. Greg Biffle
26. Clint Bowyer
27. Aric Almirola
28. Brian Vickers
29. Scott Speed
30. David Ragan
31. David Stremme
32. Robby Gordon
33. Kevin Harvick
34. Casey Mears
35. Joe Nemechek
36. Brad Keselowski
37. Elliott Sadler
38. Kyle Busch
39. Michael Waltrip
40. Terry Cook
41. Travis Kvapil
42. Kevin Conway
43. Bobby Labonte
DNQ Mike Bliss
DNQ Max Papis

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bristol Preview

No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion

• AJ Allmendinger made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the spring race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in 2007
• This weekend’s event will mark the driver’s sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Bristol where his best finish is 16th (2009)
• Allmendinger posted a sixth-place finish at Atlanta two weeks ago, his best finish so far this season

Allmendinger’s Take On Bristol: “Bristol is really a unique track and like a lot of drivers and people in the sport it’s one of my favorite tracks that we go to. It’s a crazy atmosphere. You have this half-mile track with the stands rising tall all the way around it. Its almost like an ancient coliseum or something. The crowd is always electric too.

“After the way we ran at Atlanta the other weekend, I’m really looking forward to getting back at it. Granted, Mike Shiplett and everyone on this No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion team will have to focus on some completely different things than we had to the first four races, but I’m sure we will be able to build off the last race’s momentum. Bristol is where I qualified my way in to my first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 2007. To be in such a different place now from where I was then, where I don’t have to worry about whether I’m going to make the race or not, is a huge benefit. The King has three wins here. It’d be awesome for this to be the weekend that the No. 43 gets back to Victory Lane.”

Thoughts From Crew Chief Mike Shiplett: “Bristol is a really fun track. I think everyone always looks forward to heading there. It’s the first short track race of the season so what we’ve focused on the first few races won’t completely apply here. You can almost throw aerodynamics out the window. The focus is purely on handling and what we can do to get this No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion to driving good. We’ll also have to keep an eye on the grip and how the tires are wearing.”

Chassis History: Chassis No. 288 has been prepared by Shiplett and the No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy crew for this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. This Ford Fusion was run as the No. 44 for Richard Petty Motorsports last September at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Allmendinger finished seventh in that event.

Allmendinger Takes Insignia To The Fans: In Atlanta, Allmendinger introduced a new look to the No. 43 Best Buy racing team. Insignia, one of Best Buy’s exclusive consumer electronic products, features a wide selection of HDTVs, Blu-ray players, home theater solutions, GPS, audio products and more. This Saturday at 9:15 am ET, Allmendinger will head to the Bristol campgrounds to give away Insignia HD Radio Portable Players to 43 lucky fans. Stay tuned to @AJDinger and @RPMotorsports on Twitter for further details.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Ramble: Off Weekend Edition

AJ Allmendinger: In Love at First Sight?

Even if you haven’t been lucky enough to experience it first hand, we’ve all heard stories about love at first sight. How you look across the room and see something that you like very much. Your pulse starts to speed up and there is just that feeling – something deep inside your soul that tells you this is it, this is the one.

I can’t help but wonder if AJ Allmendinger felt that way the first time. No, not when meeting his wife Lynne. I mean the first time he walked into the Richard Petty Motorsports race shop and saw that newly wrapped Ford Fusion with the famous #43 on the side, electronics giant Best Buy on the hood, and his name above the driver’s door. I know as a fan it certainly struck a chord in me when it first took to the track in Daytona this year.

There are undoubtedly some very well known driver and sponsor pairings in the sport of NASCAR – a list too lengthy to delve into here. There have also been some very personality appropriate matchups in the past, as well. Avid fisherman and hunter Martin Truex Jr. being sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, for example. Looking through the current list of sponsor and driver affiliations though, I have a hard time coming up with one that is as perfect as AJ Allmendinger and Best Buy.

There are a lot of great corporations that have stepped into NASCAR sponsorship recently, but the interests of the driver aren’t necessarily represented well. Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano don’t exactly strike me as the do-it-yourself types that typically roam the aisles of Lowe’s and Home Depot. Juan Pablo Montoya may occasionally shop at Target, but it’s difficult to imagine Tony Stewart browsing through Office Depot for paper clips and copy paper. And Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Matt Kenseth seem like three of the unlikeliest guys to be peddling alcohol products.

There are a few that aren’t too far off the mark. Scott Speed and Brian Vickers are good promoters of the Red Bull product, as was AJ back in the day. Red Bull and AJ went very well together, because there is such an energetic air around the 28 year old that he almost seems to be in motion even when he is sitting still. But no Red Bull athlete is THE guy for Red Bull. You are just one of many spokespersons for the company, which is its own branding machine. When you think of Brian Vickers, you may think of Red Bull. But when you think of Red Bull do you automatically think of Brian Vickers? Or do names like Travis Pastrana or Shaun White jump into your head first?

So it is understandable that AJ has expressed in recent interviews how much he is enjoying the prospect of being branded with one particular company for the first time in his NASCAR career. He wants to become THE Best Buy guy – the person that you think of when you walk into one of their stores for whatever electronics, multimedia, or appliance needs you might have. But besides just being the Best Buy guy, he is and has always been a big fan of the store itself.

When I recently had an opportunity to visit with the Allmendingers at the track in Las Vegas, I was discussing with AJ’s mom Karen how the sponsorship pairing seemed to be a match made in heaven. And what I learned was that it was even more so than I imagined. Any guesses on what AJ’s first ever credit card was? According to Karen it was a Best Buy card. After moving from his native California to Colorado in 2003, where his new Toyota Atlantic RuSPORT team was based, Best Buy was the store AJ chose in order to outfit his new place with the electronics that he deemed his biggest necessity.

So while you may occasionally spot Jimmie Johnson heading to his local Lowe’s for a new lightbulb, my guess is that you will see AJ at a Best Buy store much more frequently. In fact, just the other day AJ’s wife Lynne posted the following on her Twitter account – “Heading into Best Buy to have our laptop upgraded to Windows 7.” And I’m sure she was met with Best Buy’s customary good service when she did.

Not only is Best Buy a perfect sponsor for AJ, who is a self-avowed lover of electronics, but Best Buy seems to have found a kinship with the new spokesperson for their stores, as well. Paul Zindrick, motorsports director for Best Buy Racing, had this to say about their driver. “AJ is a great fit for Best Buy. Our employees and our customers can relate to him. He has such a natural passion for our products and the services that we provide.”

Now I’m obviously a very loyal fan, as evidenced by the fact that I choose to spend the little bit of free time I have promoting my driver with self-satisfaction being my only return. And that loyalty carries over to the brand of products that are on AJ’s car whenever it’s possible. I’ve drank my share of Red Bull in the past simply because of his association with them, but I have to say that I enjoy supporting his current primary sponsor more than any other.

That kind of support isn’t necessarily easy for me in this case because my "local" Best Buy store is a 100 mile drive away and not even in my state. But I have always shopped at Best Buy – it’s one of my favorite stores to wander through. I’ve purchased computers, stereo equipment, appliances, and many CDs, DVDs, and video games over the years, and have always gotten top-notch quality.

There’s a difference when I walk into the store these days, though. It isn’t just the Best Buy store anymore. It might as well say AJ’s Store above the doors. And when I walk out I may be a little bit lighter in the wallet, but there is a definite sense of satisfaction in supporting my driver’s sponsor. In a couple of years when I’m looking at investing in a new computer or home theater system, I know where I’m going to get it – AJ’s Store, Best Buy!

So was it love at first sight for AJ? Well, I’m not the one to answer that question. I hope it was, and I hope that the marriage between this driver and sponsor lasts for many years. And in toasting to the new union, let me not forget to add wishes for a very fruitful relationship by way of numerous trips to Victory Lane. So here’s to AJ and Best Buy. Cheers!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ford Interview with Mike Shiplett

MIKE SHIPLETT, Crew Chief - No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion

HOW MUCH OF A CHALLENGE IS BRISTOL FROM A CAR SETUP STANDPOINT? "Bristol has changed quite a bit since they repaved it. It used to be one groove and you would have to hit somebody to get by them, but now there are basically three grooves you can run now. It is more or less getting the right balance of the car so you have a good solid entry and can get the car turned in the middle, and not be too loose up off the corner. Now with the banking you have a lot more options as the driver to run different lines. It is a little bit more challenging just getting the up-and-down movement of the car exactly right, so you get entry, middle and exit the same."

DOES BRISTOL CREATE MORE DRASTIC ISSUES FOR THE CHASSIS? "No, it isn't as violent as it was before. It isn't like a mile-and-a-half where you keep the splitter as close to the ground as you can all the way around the racetrack. At Bristol your splitter will be up and down the straightaways and then fall into the corner and be sealed up through the middle. Just trying to find that balance is tough because you have a lot more movement. You are going more for mechanical grip than you are for aero. Aero is out the door at Bristol. It is all about mechanical grip and getting all four tires working together and pressing into the racetrack at the same time and coming up off the corner at the same time. Controlling your entry and exit so the whole car platform moves at the same time is what you are trying to control."

IS IT TOUGHER TO CALL THE RACE AT A PLACE LIKE BRISTOL? "What we do a lot is communicate through the spotter. Depending on if you are on the frontstretch or backstretch you can only see half the track at a time. What we do is sit down with the driver and spotter before the race and go over a lot of what-if scenarios. Then I can talk to the spotter on another radio and if I have to tell AJ [Allmendinger] something I will relay it to the spotter and he will tell AJ in between clearing him in and out of traffic. If I start talking and something happens in another corner, I know we are going to be in that corner in eight seconds, so there is not enough time for me to get off the radio before he could drive right into a wreck."

IS THERE ONE THING THAT IS A STICKING POINT AT BRISTOL? "The biggest thing is you can enter pit road in two different places. In a yellow, everyone enters off turn two. If you have to make a green flag pit stop you have to enter off of turn four. The driver, making 500 laps around that place, can get confused very easily with what corner they are in. Some of the best drivers in this business have come down the wrong pit road and lost the race at Bristol. It is easy to do."

MANY DRIVERS SAY BRISTOL IS THEIR FAVORITE TRACK. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS? "It's their favorite track because you take the aero completely out of it, so it is all back in the drivers hands. At other tracks, we control how fast the driver can go with the balance of the car and with aero. At Bristol, it is all mechanical grip and how far the driver wants to push it and how sideways the driver wants to get going into the corners."

Credit: Ford Racing

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Should AJ's Bristol Intro Song Be?

Bristol Motor Speedway is once again letting the drivers choose their introduction songs for the Food City 500 on March 21st. Some drivers will probably use the same one as last August, some will use their second choice, some will just throw a song out there, and a few are even letting their fans decide from some pre-approved selections. I asked my Twitter followers what song they would pick for AJ to be introduced to. Here are the responses:

The Hamster Dance
- Catchy tune. I've been humming it ever since it was suggested.

Stand by Rascal Flatts
- AJ's not much into country, but the lyrics speak volumes to what he has been through in NASCAR

Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen
- I'll leave it up to AJ to pass judgment on whether or not he thinks fat bottomed girls really do make the rockin world go round. I'm not going to make that call.

Movin' On Up theme song from The Jefferson's
- Certainly describes his climb in the points standings

Let's Go Girls by Shania Twain (Assuming this is actually Man! I Feel Like a Woman)
- This suggestion made me laugh

I Can't Drive 55 by Sammy Hagar
- Who doesn't love a little Sammy?

Runnin' With the Devil by Van Halen
- Guitar riff alone would be worth it

For Those About to Rock by AC/DC
- Classic by one of my personal all time favorite bands

and of course you know I got lots of votes for this song:

SexyBack by Justin Timberlake
- I wonder if AJ knew he was creating an anthem for himself when he made the claim back in 2006 that he was going to bring sexy back to NASCAR. I can't hear this song without picturing him doing a little dancing to it.

Now came the hard part. I tried to think of a song that I would want AJ to be introduced to. I'm a music lover of all kinds. Several of my favorites have good thumping beats or catchy choruses. I narrowed it down to In the End by Linkin Park, Move It by Dope, and Never Enough by FFDP. But then I thought of the chorus in this one particular song:

I Will Not Bow by Breaking Benjamin
I will not bow, I will not break
I will shut the world away
I will not fall, I will not fade
I will take your breath away

It seemed appropriate, so that is my decision. Now we will have to wait and see what AJ's actual choice was for his introduction song. I can't wait for Bristol.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Atlanta Race Recap

AJ started off the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the 25th position. While the Insignia / Best Buy Ford Fusion had been good in all three practices earlier in the weekend, qualifying wasn’t what AJ had hoped and he had some traffic to work through in the opening laps.

The car was good from the start with only a little bit of tightness in the center of the corner and needing just a bit more grip in the rear coming off the corner. AJ radioed in that the back end was dancing around a little bit, and that he wasn’t real comfortable with the high lane. But the car was running so well down on the white line that he was putting down some of the fastest laps on the track. The only problem seemed to be if he got stuck in traffic and couldn’t get by on the bottom.

With a good balanced race car that was just a touch on the free side even after adjustments, AJ steadily made his way through the pack. By lap 100 AJ was battling for a spot inside the top 10 and was fighting a car that didn’t have any rear grip. That scenario continued to play out through the middle laps of the race – no grip, and just on the edge of the top 10.

One good thing that the #43 RPM team had going for them was that the car was fast on long runs. Running the bottom helped to save the tire wear on the car, and as others fell off the pace AJ would gradually make his way past them. The Insignia / Best Buy pit crew was also a big asset in the team effort in Sunday’s race and either maintained or gained track position with each pit stop.

Now solidly running between 5th and 8th position for the second half of the race, AJ continued to make forward gains. Other than one adjustment that didn’t seem to help the car and the continuing problem with the back end dancing around, the #43 Ford Fusion was a solid contender all race long. And as the closing laps wound down in a long run, AJ again started picking up spots.

An ill timed caution just as AJ was starting to make a move on Matt Kenseth for 4th place threw all of that out the window though, as Mike Shiplett had to make a call on whether or not to pit. As AJ sat in 5th place, I was against the call to come in and pit, but when pit road opened everyone came and Mike made the call to take four tires while a few cars gambled and only took two.

Now sitting in 8th place at the restart, AJ dove down to the bottom when the green flag flew and started digging. Fortunately, the bottom turned out to be a great place as a multi car incident was triggered in front of him and he managed to slip just below the spinning car of Jamie McMurray. And NASCAR’s new policy of multiple tries for a green-white-checker finish came into play.

Restarting in 6th place this time, AJ got stuck in a bad spot as Juan Pablo Montoya’s car in line ahead of him spun the tires on the final restart. Taking it three wide in the middle to avoid teammate Kasey Kahne, AJ somehow managed to keep the gas pedal down and not tear up the car. He fought hard to try and get a top 5 out of the day, but ultimately the car just wasn’t handling at its best in that last run and he was afraid of taking himself out if he pushed too hard.

All in all it was a good solid day not only for AJ and the #43 Insignia team, but also for Richard Petty Motorsports as a whole. Kahne ended up finishing in 4th, and new teammate Paul Menard gambled on two tires and finished in 5th. Now the teams go into a down weekend with momentum enough to carry over to Bristol in two weeks. Best Buy got a lot of quality TV time for their Insignia brand, and I’m sure AJ is gaining confidence back in Mike and the cars after a rough start to the season. It was a good weekend!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Atlanta Post-Race Quotes

KASEY KAHNE -- No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion
Finished 4th

"We had a good run out there today. We had a really fast car and it was great most of the day. The track changed quite a bit the last 50 laps and we just didn't keep up quite like we needed to to win the race. I thought we had a third or fourth-place car at that time and that is where we finished, so it all worked out fine."

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE SO MANY FORD'S IN THE TOP FIVE TODAY? "It is great for the Ford family, the RPM Ford's and Roush Ford's. It is nice to see the success and it is definitely something that we can build on."


PAUL MENARD -- No. 98 Menards Ford Fusion
Finished 5th

"It felt really good. The car was fast and a top five is a great way to start the year. The guys did their homework in the offseason and improved these cars so much.

WHAT ABOUT TAKING TWO TIRES ON THE FINAL PIT STOP? "Slugger made a helluva call there taking two tires at the end and get some clean track and we knew we probably weren't going to hold off four tires, but it at least got us in front of the excitement and I guess there was some at the end. We dodged a bullet there at the end with all the action out there.

HOW BIG A DAY WAS THIS IS FOR RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS? "These guys work their tails off all during the offseason, and it was a lot of fun out there today. All of our cars were fast this weekend. We got three of the top six finishers, so I think Richard Petty Motorsports is back."


AJ ALLMENDINGER -- No. 43 Insignia Best Buy Ford Fusion
Finished 6th

"It was a good run out there. The Insignia Best Buy Ford was good all day. I am really proud because we were a top-10 car all day and we kept fine-tuning it and got it right. I am really proud of the guys. I feel like we could have probably had a fourth of fifth out of it, but I am still really proud of the team.

WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN QUALIFYING AND PRACTICE ROUNDS AND TODAY? "I am not very good qualifying here, but I love racing here. We got a solid baseline to start the race with today and I think that really helped us. That was a big difference.

ON HAVING RICHARD PETTY CONGRATULATE HIM ON PIT ROAD. "He is why I am here. We are learning. There are still some things we have to get better at but all in all, for the pit crew and myself, it was a really good day. Hopefully this is something we can build on the rest of the way."


ELLIOTT SADLER -- No. 19 Hunt Brother's Pizza Ford Fusion
Finished 19th

"It was a frustrating day. We took a shim out of the left-front and that hurt us a lot. The front end of the car kept hitting off the race track and then we put a rubber in the right-rear and that kind of made it worse. Low and behold, that was the longest green-flag run of the day, so that put us way behind. We got our qualifying effort better on Friday, we just have to work on our communication and adjustments during the race."

ANY TIRE ISSUES FOR YOU? "No tire issues for us. I don't think any of our cars had tire issues."

WHAT ABOUT THE RESTARTS AT THE END? "That's wild. They're double-file restarts and everybody is trying to get all they can get."

Atlanta Race Results

Kobalt Tools 500 Finishing Order
1. Kurt Busch
2. Matt Kenseth
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Kasey Kahne
5. Paul Menard
6. AJ Allmendinger
7. Brian Vickers
8. Greg Biffle
9. Kevin Harvick
10. Scott Speed
11. Marcos Ambrose
12. Jimmie Johnson
13. Tony Stewart
14. Regan Smith
15. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
16. Bill Elliott
17. Ryan Newman
18. Jeff Gordon
19. Elliott Sadler
20. Jeff Burton
21. Denny Hamlin
22. Bobby Labonte
23. Clint Bowyer
24. Mike Bliss
25. Kyle Busch
26. David Gilliland
27. Martin Truex, Jr.
28. Sam Hornish, Jr.
29. Jamie McMurray
30. Travis Kvapil
31. Kevin Conway
32. Boris Said
33. Mark Martin
34. Max Papis
35. Joey Logano
36. Brad Keselowski
37. David Ragan
38. Joe Nemechek
39. Carl Edwards
40. David Reutimann
41. Dave Blaney
42. Michael McDowell
43. Robby Gordon

Friday, March 5, 2010

Atlanta Qualifying Results

Kobalt Tools 500 Starting Lineup
1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
2. Kyle Busch
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Mark Martin
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Kasey Kahne
7. Ryan Newman
8. Elliott Sadler
9. David Reutimann
10. Carl Edwards
11. Kurt Busch
12. Marcos Ambrose
13. Greg Biffle
14. Matt Kenseth
15. Tony Stewart
16. Jimmie Johnson
17. David Ragan
18. Clint Bowyer
19. Martin Truex, Jr.
20. Denny Hamlin
21. Bobby Labonte
22. Jeff Burton
23. Paul Menard
24. Jamie McMurray
25. AJ Allmendinger
26. Brian Vickers
27. Dave Blaney
28. Brad Keselowski
29. Joey Logano
30. Mike Bliss
31. Max Papis
32. Scott Speed
33. Joe Nemechek
34. Bill Elliott
35. Kevin Harvick
36. Sam Hornish, Jr.
37. David Gilliland
38. Regan Smith
39. Robby Gordon
40. Travis Kvapil
41. Kevin Conway
42. Boris Said
43. Michael McDowell
DNQ Aric Almirola
DNQ Casey Mears
DNQ Terry Cook

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Atlanta Preview

No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion

• The No. 43 Ford Fusion will debut a new look as Insignia joins the Best Buy racing program
• Allmendinger will make his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Atlanta Motor Speedway
• The California native finished 14th in the 2008 fall race at Atlanta, his best career finish at the 1.54-mile track

Allmendinger On Atlanta: “Its been fun racing out on the West Coast the last two weeks, but it will be nice to get back on the East Coast and on to Atlanta. I know I’d like to leave both the Fontana and Las Vegas races behind, that’s for sure, although we learned some valuable information about what isn’t ideal for our car as far as setups go. We certainly haven’t seen the results we want or that we know we’re capable of, but I know what this No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion team can do, so it’s not yet time to panic. I know we can be much more competitive and I’ve got the utmost confidence in Mike Shiplett. Its still early in the season and I’m ready to get to Atlanta and get back to work.”

Crew Chief Mike Shiplett’s Take: “Like Las Vegas, Atlanta is a very fast track. The tires are your main concern. They can get worn out quick and leave you losing grip. Finding the right balance for the car will be important—how do you get the car handling right, push through the field, yet not wear out your tires fast? With the tire test that was done there a couple months ago, I know the Ford teams have some notes from what came out of that. The track can be rough in Turns 1 and 2 as well. So we’ll keep our eye on that as well.

“Performance-wise we know we can get better results than what we’ve seen out of the last two races. AJ is determined and this whole No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team is determined. I’ve got no doubt we’ll get things turned around and get ourselves back in the top 10 where we belong.”

Chassis History: Crew Chief Mike Shiplett and the No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy crew have prepared chassis No. 265 for this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This Ford Fusion was run as the No. 44 for Richard Petty Motorsports last October at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Credit - Richard Petty Motorsports PR

My 1st Race Experience & Getting to Meet the Dingers

While my trip to Vegas may have started early Thursday morning, my true adventure began on Friday. First thing that morning I climbed aboard the shuttle bus out to the Speedway and was in absolute awe from the time I got there. After entering the gates and walking to the grandstands, I got my wristband for the Neon Garage access and then walked out to where my seats were so I could see the view.

As a first timer, I couldn’t imagine the swelling in my heart when I first caught sight of the track laid out before me. It was amazing! My heart was already racing, and there weren’t even any cars out on the track at that point. I wanted to be in the garage area though, so I hurried my way through the pedestrian tunnel and then immediately made a beeline for the 43 garage stall.

I stood at the lower window for quite some time watching the crew work and getting a couple of strange looks from them since I was really the only one standing there. But I was wearing my Best Buy shirt with pride so they could tell who I was rooting for. I just wondered if it was odd for them to have to work with people gawking through a window just feet away or if they simply tuned it out. In any case, it didn’t stop me from doing it all weekend long.

Eventually I made my way to the upper story of the Neon Garage and watched from up there as well. It’s hard to describe how fascinating it was and how it was just what I was looking for on my trip – a behind the scenes look at what goes on at the race track and in the garage area.

I took a ton of pictures of the Valvoline car and then eventually tore myself away and started wandering around to the surrounding garage stalls. While I peeked in on the other teams, I pulled my phone out of my pocket to type out a tweet only to find that I had several messages from Twitter. One in particular from Dr. Lynne telling me to answer my phone!

Now let me explain that the Neon Garage area is of course extremely noisy with all the cars running, and at that time the Nationwide cars were also out on track practicing. But truly the noisiest thing was the band that was playing in the center of the garage area. The music was so loud that it nearly drowned out the car sounds, which is what I was there for. It was highly annoying and if I would have known who to complain to, I would have.

In any case, it was so loud that I couldn’t hear my phone going off and even though I had it on vibrate as well, I apparently hadn’t noticed. Well just as I read the message from Lynne, my phone started ringing again and I answered it. It was AJ’s mom Karen, who I had exchanged emails with prior to my visit and felt like I already knew. She was trying to find me in the garage area, so I headed back to the 43 stall as a meeting place.

I was immediately at ease with Karen, and we started talking right away. She and Lynne were generous enough to arrange a meeting with AJ for me, and he was nice enough to agree to do it, I suppose as a thank you for the information that I post on the website. I felt so honored when Karen originally told me that I just couldn’t get over their generosity, but when it actually came time to happen, I was very anxious. I mean I was getting to meet AJ freaking Allmendinger. It was surreal.

So anyway, the man himself snuck up behind me while I was talking to Karen. Possibly to check out my butt – because let’s be honest, it is pretty nice. So who could blame him? But more than likely he stayed back there because he had been warned that I was nervous and might puke on his shoes. In any case, once I realized he was there and turned around, the first thing that my all time favorite driver said to me was that I was lame. And immediately my anxiety was gone.

Now I already know I’m lame, I’m kind of proud of it actually, so I promptly agreed with his assessment without needing to know why he thought I was. It turns out that he had read my tweet the night before when I went to bed early, and apparently you are not supposed to go to bed at 9:30 at night when you’re in Vegas. I hadn’t gotten the memo. So yes, I was lame. In fact, I was lame all but one night of my stay.

Like I’ve said already, AJ is very genuine. What you see on TV is what you get in person. He likes to joke and tease and is fun to talk to. He’s ornery in the best kind of way, which is something I’m quite used to. He dishes out crap and he takes crap – it was all good. From that first moment on, I was very much at ease and able to banter back and forth.

I like to tease and joke myself, but it is hard to do online because you are limited in how to express it and it is too easy to be misunderstood. But if you notice that I am more playful in the way I talk to any of the Allmendingers, it is because they know my personality better now, and I’m sure they will take it as intended. (See the checking out the butt joke above for reference. Just a joke, people.)

Anyways, AJ was nice enough to sign my daughter’s t-shirt that I had brought from home, but he was perhaps slightly perplexed that I didn’t want anything signed for myself. So he proceeded to try and sign my forehead with his Sharpie. Then on Sunday after he did a PRN interview at the Speed stage, he winged an autographed hat right at my head and I ducked. Which of course he made fun of me for.

Again, I said that I didn’t need any signed stuff from him and that I had plenty of AJ gear already, especially after Karen loaded me up with some awesome Best Buy stuff. So he teased that I was over him and claimed that he had caught me ogling Tony Stewart at some point. At which time we decided that I would now start cheering for Burger King and start a website dedicated to Tony – hence the joke behind any future Whopper World references.

I don’t pretend to know what goes on in AJ’s head, but he probably viewed me as if I was from another planet. Which if you’ve ever been to Wyoming, you know isn’t that far off the mark. AJ and his family are from the San Francisco area, and Lynne is from Toronto. City folk, as we would say. I’m sure the concept of someone living in a remote area like I do is probably very foreign to them.

I would love to someday take the Dinger family up in my mountains and show them the beautiful scenery here. But I’m pretty positive I already know the response to that offer – a resounding, “Are you insane?!?” At the track our different lifestyles didn’t matter, though. We shared a common interest in race cars, and in wanting the best of all things for AJ in the future. He deserves it. Nice guys shouldn’t finish last (or 25th) – they should finish first.

And while several people have pointed out that it’s odd, my not wanting AJ’s autograph doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s the best driver ever. It just means that a black scribble on a hat or shirt is nothing compared to the memories I now have. On second thought, I might have been able to pawn it for some cash after he’s a Cup Champion. Maybe I should have gotten one after all.

So anyway, getting to visit with AJ was fun, even though he obviously had a tough weekend and was busy with other obligations. I got to spend some time with Lynne as well, even though she is likewise busy with her chiropractic work on the weekend. To be honest, I think I was more intimidated by meeting Lynne than I was AJ. I guess it is that insecure female part of me when confronted with a stunningly gorgeous woman like Lynne is. But just like with AJ, all of that was gone within seconds. Lynne is so very nice and down to earth that you can’t help but be comfortable with her.

I did meet AJ’s dad Greg as well, but he was either in the garage area or in the Red Bull energy station for most of the weekend, so didn’t get much of a chance to visit. Karen and I talked and talked while we wandered around looking for AJ’s merchandise hauler though, and I could have spent all weekend just chatting. But I was there for the racing and eventually I got back to watching the cars.

Truly I spent more time in the Neon Garage watching the 43 team at work than I did in my seats in the grandstand. In fact, I think Friday’s qualifying session and the race on Sunday were really the only times that I was in the stands. And everyone went out of their way to make me feel at home. With my whole family being mechanics, the team was nice enough to blow an engine so I could watch it being changed. And Mike even set up the pit box right across from my seat and arranged for a special pit stop during the race where no one else would be on pit road, just so I could get a good picture.

Okay, so the blown engine and the unscheduled green flag stop were huge disappointments in the weekend. I won’t lie and say it was all sunshine and roses, because I wasn’t happy with how the race turned out for AJ. But those three days still rank up there as some of the best I’ve ever experienced. It was such a blast that even after sitting out in the hot sun and having a splitting headache from the constant roar of the cars, I didn’t want it to end.

All good things eventually come to a stopping point though, and I reluctantly boarded the bus back to my hotel after the race was over. Considering how long some of the people were stuck in the parking lot, I was thankful to be back in only 45 minutes. As soon as I walked in my room I flopped onto my back on the bed and sighed happily. Pure bliss! Would I go to a race again? In a heartbeat. Anyone want to give me a loan?

A Hick Chick Goes To Vegas

I’m not really sure where to begin with my five day trip to Las Vegas to see my first ever NASCAR race. I was very nervous in the week or so leading up to my departure, but I think it had more to do with traveling alone than anything else. In fact, at one point a couple of days before my flight was supposed to leave, I was ready to just call the whole thing off – cancel my flight, try and sell my race tickets, etc.

I am not a traveler. I’m a homebody. There is no place I’d rather be than in my house, other than possibly up in the mountains just a short drive from where I live. I had only been on a plane three times in my life prior to this, and all of those times were with family or friends that took care of everything for the most part. I didn’t know how to check in for my flight, what to do with my baggage, and the last time I flew was prior to 9/11 so obviously security is a little different now. So to make the trip to Las Vegas of all places completely on my own was a very big step.

Since I wanted to make sure I was at the track as soon as they would let me in on Friday morning, I flew into the city on Thursday. There are only two flights out of my local airport each day. And by local, I mean a desolate 50 mile drive away. In fact, at 4 in the morning I only met one vehicle in those 50 miles. But basically my options were to either get in Vegas by 9:15 in the morning or not until 7:45 at night. I figured getting there early would be best so I could get checked into my hotel and get my bearings.

For all of my worry and despite the fact that some bad weather had come through the night before, my plane rides to Las Vegas via Salt Lake City were completely uneventful and went very smooth. My luggage didn’t get lost or anything. I figured out how to catch a shuttle to my hotel and despite being there so early, they had a room that was available for early check in. I was all set.

Having looked over the list of driver appearances for the weekend, the first thing that I thought sounded interesting was Martin Truex Jr’s charity poker tournament that started at noon. By this time it was 10:30, so I wandered to the monorail station at my hotel, figured out how to buy a 3 day ticket and headed for the south end of the Strip. I wandered around MGM Grand and NY/NY for a bit before heading into the Monte Carlo where the tournament was being held.

After some meandering through the casino, I finally saw a big crowd gathered over in a corner and walked that direction. People were gathered three and four deep around six or so poker tables that were unoccupied at that time despite it being after noon already. I circled around and finally found a spot with a good view near a side entrance to the casino. Then I proceeded to wait.

I’m not good at waiting. I live in a town of less than 2000 people. I don’t have to wait in traffic, wait in lines, or wait on anything else. So I got tired of standing there and was staring out the doors behind me to try and decide which direction they would take me. All of a sudden, the vaguely familiar silhouette of a guy approached with sunglasses on and with a small entourage in tow. Yep, it was Martin. He walked in, looked around and said, “Wow. There are a lot of people here.”

Now bear in mind that I live a sheltered life and I’ve never really been that close to someone that I’ve seen on television before. Also bear in mind that Martin is another one of my favorite drivers, although still far distant behind AJ. Not to mention, and any male readers can skip this part, but he is quite handsome when he smiles. Which he proceeded to do as he walked within mere inches of me.

So that was my first star struck moment of the weekend, and actually my last as well. Martin walked back by a few minutes later, then he and the other drivers and the participants gathered around the tables. I circled around and got a few pictures and then got bored watching them and left. It wasn’t terribly interesting, although I did hear that Martin finished fourth or something in the tournament.

After that I proceeded to wander the south end of the Strip. With no one else that I had to keep pace with, I moved along at a fairly rapid clip shooting pictures that I thought my 9 year old daughter would enjoy. The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay was very cool, and just the interesting architecture of some of the casinos was fascinating.

I wandered around M&M’s World for awhile and was slightly surprised to see a huge line of people all sitting on the floor already waiting for Kyle Busch, who wasn’t scheduled to begin signing for another two and a half hours. It is his hometown though, and at the poker tournament Kurt got a big round of applause from the fans gathered there.

I won’t bore you with all the details of my wanderings. I mostly just did a quick walk through of each casino on the east side of Las Vegas Blvd as I made my way north. I caught a little bit of the fountain show at the Bellagio, although it wasn’t full dark yet and not as spectacular. Then I started noticing that people were beginning to line the streets. I wondered what was going on and then remembered that the NASCAR haulers were going to be parading up the Strip that evening.

I found a really good spot and stood around for awhile, but they were running late and I’ve already established that I’m not good at waiting. So I started meandering up the Strip again, keeping fairly close to the street so I could watch when they finally did come. Again I was surprised by the multitude of fans decked out in their favorite driver’s gear. NASCAR is not that big where I come from, and it is rare for me to even see someone with a driver’s t-shirt on, let alone covered head to toe like some of the fans were. It was nice, because I felt a kinship with these fellow NASCAR fanatics.

The hauler parade was fun to watch, but hard to get pictures of. I ended up deleting most of them because they were just a blur. Of course I cheered when the 43 hauler went by, and was pleasantly surprised when a woman just a few feet away screamed out, “Wooo! Go AJ!!!” I looked around to find the fellow Dinger fan, but couldn’t pinpoint who had yelled it.

After a 3 am start to my day Thursday, I headed back to the hotel early and crashed. My legs were sore and I already had blisters, but so far it had been a fun trip and I hadn’t even been to the track yet. The next morning I headed to the Speedway though, and I will get into more detail about my time at the track in a later post. Suffice it to say that I never wanted to leave. It’s too bad that I didn’t win a big jackpot while in Vegas so I could just follow the race circuit each weekend. I loved being around the cars.

Anyway, outside of my activities at the track, I spent my evenings doing more sightseeing. After that first long day of walking, I ended up having to tape up my toes because I already had blisters. But I set out from my hotel each evening after I got back from the Speedway and caught the monorail to whichever section of the Strip that I wanted to go to.

Not knowing what the weather was going to hold, and since it was my first and possibly only live race, I didn’t take any chances that there would be a rain out on Sunday. On the off chance that they would race on Monday, I made sure to book my stay through Tuesday. So I ended up having all of Monday to walk around Vegas as well and hit any of the places that I either hadn’t already been or that I was too afraid to go to at nighttime.

Which actually brings me to a point that I wanted to make. Traveling alone is fun in a lot of ways because I wasn’t answerable to what anyone else wanted to do. I could follow whatever whim I wanted and go wherever I pleased, whenever I pleased. But walking around a big city alone at night was rather terrifying. Maybe it is just because I’m such a small town girl, but there are some freaky people out there. And more than once I found myself in fairly deserted areas, especially going to and from the monorail. Perhaps taxi rides would have been better, but they would have strained my already limited budget.

Which brings me to another point. Las Vegas isn’t very much fun when you’re broke. Having had to scrimp and scrounge in order to even make the trip, I found myself on a very limited budget. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bemoaning my lot. I have a decent job and our business is managing to hold its own in these tough economic times, but there isn’t much to spare. My family lives a very simple life though, and we find our fun in the ample outdoor opportunities that abound in Wyoming , which for the most part are thankfully still free.

For Vegas though, not having money pretty much sucked. High dollar restaurants were out, which compared to the food prices I’m used to at home, was pretty much all of them. Drinking was out. Not only because I wasn’t going to pay the outrageous prices, but because I was a lone female so not real smart to get inebriated and leave myself vulnerable. And of course what does everyone else come to Vegas for that requires money? Gambling! Yep, it was out also. Although through the generosity of others and some play money from my mom, I did have enough left over to sit at the slots for a few hours on Monday.

So a tight budget simply left me with wandering around looking at the sights, which were admittedly fantastic. But the more I walked around and soaked everything up, the more I wished that my husband or one of my friends was with me. It isn’t near as much fun to see the amazing things that Vegas has to offer if you can’t even ooh and aah over them with someone at your side.

So yes, it might have been lame, but I was back in my room by 10:00 on most nights and used up a ton of minutes texting back and forth with my husband and sending tweets out to people who probably could have cared less. But I had to talk to someone about what I was seeing!

Needless to say, I was very ready to come home when my plane finally took off early Tuesday morning. I missed my family, I missed my dog, I missed my house, and I missed my quiet little country life. My time in Vegas was truly an experience of a lifetime, but I was so glad to get back to Wyoming. That 50 mile stretch of nothingness on the drive home never looked more beautiful in my eyes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Las Vegas Race Recap

It was a very different experience for me to actually be watching a race in person than to be following along on the computer. For one thing, I had no clue what position AJ was in the entire time. Obviously I could see where he was on the track in comparison to the leader, but I couldn’t tell who was on the lead lap and who wasn’t.

In some ways it was disconcerting for me not to have that information at my fingertips. I like to know how his lap times compare to the other drivers throughout a tire run, which I can see on my Pit Command. And I like to know who is on the same lap as him and how close they are, especially when he is trying to fight for the lucky dog spot.

However, there were many perks to actually being at the track and getting to watch. The biggest of which was that I could actually see the #43 Valvoline car going around the track each and every lap instead of a little computer simulation of it. Getting to hear the noise of the engines and see all the hustle and bustle in the pits during the race was very cool, too. Not to mention hearing the interaction of the fans as they cheered and jeered the drivers.

The one thing that I can’t live without on race day is my scanner audio though, and thankfully I borrowed one that I could bring with me and listen in to the 43 team’s communication throughout the weekend. The cars were so loud that I couldn’t hear what was being said sometimes, but I still caught the gist of what the handling of the car was like.

Unfortunately, the handling wasn’t good. Alternating between tight and loose all weekend, the hot and sunny weather conditions on Sunday left AJ with a wickedly loose race car. So wicked in fact that he lost it off of turn 4 not long into the race and just caught the infield grass before saving it and getting back on track. (Something that I somehow missed and didn’t know until I watched the race replay on TV.)

The grass that AJ mowed up in his little excursion clogged up the grill though, and he soon found the engine temperature rising. With no other choice but to pit and get it cleaned off, crew chief Mike Shiplett called him in and took two tires and an adjustment to try and help the handling. The unscheduled stop left AJ 2 laps down to the race leader and things looked pretty bleak.

A caution just a little while later helped turn things in AJ’s favor though, as he took the wave around and got one of his laps back. Then another quick caution was a godsend as AJ didn’t have to pit out of sequence with the other cars who had pitted while he stayed out. Plus he was able to come into the pits and get four tires and another adjustment to try and help the drivability of his car.

Now fighting for the lucky dog, AJ drove his tail off and eventually managed to capitalize and get back on the lead lap. At this point I was optimistic that he would still have a shot at a top 10 finish. Even though the car wasn’t handling great, they were working on it and he was now on the same lap as the leaders.

At this point, the race turned into a total bore with a really long green flag stretch. Not only that, but the car still wasn’t good. While everyone else seemed to get better throughout the race, Mike just couldn’t seem to come up with an adjustment that would help AJ out with the conditions he was facing. It was very frustrating, but still amazing to watch him zip around the track each lap.

By the final stretch of the race, a top 10 wasn’t even in question and a top 20 was looking like a long shot. After having such good runs at the end of last season, I was really hoping for a more promising start to this year. Even though AJ improved his finishing position over this same race last year, I still have to say that the result was a big disappointment.

Bringing it home in 25th place with a teammate in the top 10 is disheartening. I’ve been giving Mike the benefit of the doubt, and I know that Vegas is a tough track that AJ doesn’t have a lot of laps on. But the fact that the car was bad off the truck, blew a motor, got better in practice, and then was crap for the race is baffling. I don’t doubt for a second Mike’s passion and commitment to the team, but something needs to change really quickly. More communication with the other crew chiefs, the engineers, trying more aggressive adjustments … something.

Whatever it is that needs to happen, the results need to pick up soon. Yes, it is only 3 races into the season and the team was in worse shape than this last year. But the rest of the field isn’t going to sit around and wait for RPM to figure it out. While they’re scratching their heads, everyone else is picking it up. 27th in points is not where I want my driver to be. He is better than that, and he deserves better than that.

Las Vegas Post-Race Quotes

KASEY KAHNE -- No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion
Finished 9th

“We were a little bit off at the start and then we made a lot of adjustments to our Budweiser Ford. As we got further to the front and the weather changed a little bit, it was doing the opposite of what was going on earlier. It was kind of a different setup than what we’ve run in the past, so we just need to work on that a little more and figure out exactly what happened there, but I was pleased. From where we were the first 100 laps, we made big gains.”


PAUL MENARD -- No. 98 Moen/Menards Ford Fusion
Finished 17th

Crew Chief Slugger Labbe on the Las Vegas Event: “I kind of got us in trouble on the first start because I had Paul go a little quicker than the tire changer could finish his job, so that was my fault. We got behind and then we put two tires on during the third stop in the race and the Menards Ford just didn’t react like we had hoped and it got too loose. Our car turned good all day long, which is a good thing, so we’ll take these three top twenties in a row. It’s something Paul has never done in his career, so we’ll just keep building on that. I feel really good about our cars, what we’re doing, and the pit crew. Paul’s feedback is awesome and I think everyone is growing together and that’s positive, so we’ll just keep getting good finishes and move forward.”


AJ ALLMENDINGER -- No. 43 Valvoline Ford Fusion
Finished 25th

“I’m not sure exactly why, but we just missed the set up we needed to have to be successful this weekend. Mike Shiplett and this Valvoline crew worked really hard all day to make the handling better for me, but we just couldn’t get it to where it needed to be. That was certainly a hard-fought 25th-place finish, that’s for sure. It just proves you can’t give up during these races and that’s one thing our Richard Petty Motorsports team just won’t do. We’ll put this one behind us, head to Atlanta and see what we can do there.”


ELLIOTT SADLER -- No. 19 Stanley Ford Fusion
Finished 27th

“We really thought our Stanley Ford Fusion was going to be a lot better than that on race day. I’m not sure why we were so far off for a while, but by the time we started to make the changes that we needed to really get our car better, it was just too late. It’s disappointing, but sometimes you have days like these. I’m proud of my crew for working so hard. I’m sure everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports will put their heads together this week and make sure we have a better weekend in Atlanta.”

Las Vegas Results

Shelby American Finishing Order
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Jeff Gordon
4. Mark Martin
5. Matt Kenseth
6. Joey Logano
7. Tony Stewart
8. Clint Bowyer
9. Kasey Kahne
10. Greg Biffle
11. Jeff Burton
12. Carl Edwards
13. David Reutimann
14. Marcos Ambrose
15. Kyle Busch
16. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
17. Paul Menard
18. Ryan Newman
19. Denny Hamlin
20. Martin Truex, Jr.
21. Regan Smith
22. Scott Speed
23. David Ragan
24. Travis Kvapil
25. AJ Allmendinger
26. Brad Keselowski
27. Elliott Sadler
28. Sam Hornish, Jr.
29. Dave Blaney
30. David Gilliland
31. Brian Vickers
32. Robby Gordon
33. Max Papis
34. Jamie McMurray
35. Kurt Busch
36. Kevin Conway
37. Juan Pablo Montoya
38. Bobby Labonte
39. Mike Bliss
40. Boris Said
41. Joe Nemechek
42. Michael McDowell
43. Aric Almirola