The red carpet is rolled out at the Auto Club Speedway (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)On to driver introductions. This year the Auto Club Speedway rolled out the red carpet, literally. Basically from the pit road wall to the back stage area there was a long red carpet roped off for the drivers to walk. It was a cool idea and it was nice because it allowed for drivers to be cheered or booed twice before they made it to their racecars.

After all of that I headed down pit road and saw Michelle Gilliland standing next to her husband’s car. I totally interrupted her conversation with someone else and I’m totally sorry about that, but I had to introduce myself and I was afraid I wouldn’t get another chance to do so that day. I hadn’t talked to her since I interviewed her over the phone back in March. She was just as nice and gracious as she was then. We chatted for a bit and then I headed back down pit road trying to figure out where I was going to stand for the national anthem.

It’s always annoying ’cause I don’t want to be in anyone’s way, or be super obvious. It’s one of those moments in life where you just want to be there but you don’t want to be noticed, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. I dunno. I got as far as Tony Stewart’s car and spied Krissie Newman chatting with him. I also caught sight of Casey Mears being very sweet with his very pregnant girlfriend Trisha Grablander. I watched Dale Earnhardt Jr. give an interview and I ended up standing behind Jeff Gordon’s pit crew with some other reporters and PR people.

I watched the first couple of laps of the race from behind Denny Hamlin’s pits. It had a good view of the start/finish line. I also got to watch ESPN’s Dave Burns give a report and then listen to him as he talked to the kid that has to hold up the mini TV screen for him during the race. It helps the pit reporters so that they can see what’s going on on the track while they run around the pits. This kid that was with Burns seemed to be new ’cause he was telling him to just stick with him at all times. That must be an interesting job. You have to stay with the guy; he doesn’t say where he’s going you just have to follow.

I watched the race from the press box but when there were ten laps left I made sure I was back in the pits in position to get to victory lane. Apparently so were everybody else and their mother. The minute pit road was open everyone raced across to get into position for Jimmie Johnson’s arrival. I was slow and there was no way I was getting close to middle of it all but I did come away with some great shots of Jimmie entering victory lane. He actually drove in at the wrong angle and had to back up, turn and drive in again.

There was no point in standing behind all of those people, looking at nothing so I went back into the garage and headed to the conference room for the press conference with the top three finishers. I caught Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle but there wasn’t much to ask it seemed and not a lot to say about the race. It was a pretty boring race wasn’t it?

I headed back home to my sister’s place where she, my brother-in-law, my three nephews and their cousin had all stayed up to wish me a happy birthday. This had to be one of the most memorable birthday weekends I’ve ever had.

The No. 24 Pepsi pit crew

The No. 24 team listens to the national anthem before the start of the Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray waits with his girlfriend, Christy Furtrell, for the start of the Pepsi 500 on pit road at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson enters victory lane after winning the Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)