This weekend’s NASCAR races at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet just about lived up to its hype.
It was billed as the first time races would be run under the lights at the speedway. And a pretty good race was thrown in, too.
The weekend started off with a bang when my favorite driver, Tony Stewart, held a press conference to announce that he would leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to join Haas-CNC Racing, which will now be called Stewart-Haas Racing.
I have mixed reactions about the change. It is good to see him go after his goals, but he is going to struggle quite a bit in his first year, and he isn’t getting any younger.
The reason I started liking him was because of that No. 20 Home Depot car. He won’t have that car anymore, so I will have to get used to that change. While Stewart will still be my favorite, I will still like the No. 20 car (unless Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ever end up driving it).
That was about all the excitement for Thursday as storms washed out all of the evening action, including the Gretchen Wilson concert. Wilson performed Friday afternoon instead, and boy was it hot. Standing in the middle of a few thousand people in 90-degree heat taking pictures is hot enough, but wearing pants makes it even hotter.
The concert was pretty good, even though I’m not a big fan of country music. However, a few clouds in the sky would have been nice. This year I had a hot pass, which allowed me into the Sprint Cup garage as well as use of a camera for the first time in my two years at the races.
It was really interesting to see how often the drivers came into their garage during practice to make changes. It was also awesome to see the changes being made close-up.
Then it was onto the Nationwide Series race, where I began in the pits.
After taking pictures of Stewart and Kevin Harvick in the pits, I made my way into turn four to take some action shots. The night racing lived up to its billing as it was an awesome sight to see the lights glow on the cars from up front.
With the lack of a caution over the final half of the race, I was up in Victory Lane in no time. This was also my first time there, and it was just as it appears on T.V., the champagne streaming everywhere.
The low part of the night was after the race when we were forced to drive out of a different exit. It took us an hour to drive two miles.
There was a high amount of anticipation for the Sprint Cup race. Nationwide winner Kyle Busch was on the pole and looking for his seventh win of the Sprint Cup season.
Before the race started, there was a ceremony on the track featuring Richard Petty, celebrating his 50 years in racing. It was quite a sight to see many of the drivers ask for the King’s autograph in cowboy hats. That got everyone ready for the race as I headed up to the press box to see the night racing from above.
The changes in the track and sky were incredible as daylight turned to dusk. As night fell, the cars began to sparkle from the press box, which was a sight to see.
Busch had jumped out early to the lead, but it looked like Carl Edwards, Stewart, and Martin Truex, Jr. had the best cars.
However, Truex Jr. couldn’t get through the traffic and Stewart made a couple of bad adjustments, as the defending champion ended up with a fifth-place finish.
Edwards had passed up Busch on multiple occasions, but had car problems late when he was in the lead, forcing him a lap down.
That left Busch fighting off Jimmie Johnson and Harvick for the win.
Busch was in command until a pair of cautions allowed Johnson to catch up and ultimately take the lead.
Another caution came and it set up a furious race to the checkered flag.
Busch made a move past Johnson and held him and Harvick off to complete the sweep.
One of the interesting things I took away from the press conference was how lucky all of the media felt Busch was because of the final caution flag.
I left wondering why he wasn’t given credit for some great racing. After all, if those previous cautions didn’t come out, no one would have been able to catch up to the No. 18 car.
The other interesting thing I have noticed a lot this year is the lack of crashes. Sure, it is good and safe for the drivers, but it stinks for the fans.
Just two of the nine cautions Saturday dealt with spins (both were single cars). Friday night featured just three cautions.
The new cars have obviously helped. However, people want to see cars run into each other. Nobody wants to see injuries, but people like wrecks. The lack of wrecks could greatly hurt the sport in the future.
Despite the lack of accidents this weekend, the races will still go down as another memorable experience for me.