Friday morning in Las Vegas started with me arriving at the track just in time to interview J.J. Yeley at his hauler. But I found out that he had been asked to drive the No. 27 car for Baker Curb Racing in the Nationwide Series race. So he was participating in their practice session and wouldn’t be available till later in the day (We did end up connecting later in the day and I got some great answers from him).

So I headed to the media center where I caught some of the top-12 drivers press conferences, including Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and David Gilliland. I know I’m off on the order of some of these things because I’ve waited too long to write it down. But whatever, nothing all that interesting happened at that point anyway. Although I do think it’s hilarious that former IndyCar driver & champion Jimmy Vasser calls 5-time Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson “Lord of the Rings.” That’s brilliant in my book.

Anyway… Around noon I went into the Nationwide Series garage to interview Steven Wallace, son of Rusty Wallace. I’m still interviewing people with the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” questions, and I’m going to continue to do it until I get to everyone. I usually throw in a bonus question about their goals but that’s it. After I chatted with Steven I went right over to Michael Annett’s hauler to interview him. It was my second time talking with him but the first time in person. I was really tempted to ask him about the whole drinking while driving thing, but I didn’t. I feel like he’s got his scarlet letter to deal with and why bother asking about it.

Plus, I realized while I was talking to Steve Wallace that I’m one of those people that when someone says something negative about themselves or their circumstances, or is just frustrated in general, I tend to immediately want to say motivating & happy things to get them to think positively again. It’s weird, I could be talking to the Devil and he could be going on and on about how people aren’t sinning enough these days and I’d say something like “Don’t worry, I’m sure the numbers will pick up.” So I didn’t want to bring up Michael’s DUI and have the convo be a downer.

Those two interviews will be posted later and I think the answers are interesting. I also learned that NASCAR drivers have ever heard of “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” I think Brad Keselowski is the only one that knew what I was talking about. I’ve explained what the show is, like, 50 times. I always feel compelled to explain it even though it doesn’t matter.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.Once Sprint Cup Series qualifying began I walked out to pit road to take pictures. It felt great to get some pretty good shots of Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s like a ghost at the race track. I always hear about his presence or you can feel it and hear it when people lose their shit as he walks by, but it’s rare to see him for extended periods of time if he’s not speed-walking by you. So it’s all the more awesome when you can stand across from him and be like “He does exist!” 🙂

I spied Scott Lagasse Jr. in his street clothes walking pit road talking to various drivers and people. My guess is that he was on hand to let people know he was available for a ride, which is something I’ve seen other drivers do, like my IndyCar fave driver Richard Antinucci. You’ve got to keep yourself out there and be top-of-mind for people with potential opportunities. Which is why Carl Edwards now infamous business cards, are so infamous. You remember that stuff.

Once cars started making their qualifying runs I headed to the media bullpen area in the garage where they held the top-3 cars throughout the session.

I was scheduled to interview Joey Logano after his qualifying run and I wasn’t expecting to do it right there next to the cars and in front of everybody but that’s how it went down. Which was totally fine, of course. Coming off of that whole thing I saw Kyle Busch standing with his PR guy, Bill, his team and crew chief. I decided I should go ask him the one question I had for him, about his wedding special that was airing the next day on the Style network. I meant to ask it during his media session earlier but things were backed up and I didn’t raise my hand in time.

So I went over and asked if I could talk to Kyle, and I did! I just asked him basically why they decided to do the special, if it was because there was some purpose behind it or because it would just be a fun thing to do.

“It’s kind of fun to do but it’s more to share with the fans,” said Kyle. “Ya know, they’re always interested in people’s lives and it kind of gives us a chance to show it how we want to show it, our personal side a little bit. It’s an intimate moment between Samantha and myself but it’s something that we’ll always cherish, and we’ll always cherish together. There’s been a lot of people that have been intrigued to see it and there’s been a lot of people that could care less to see it.”

I was very proud of myself for asking to talk to him because, it should be known, that I’m really shy and what people sometimes mistake as bitchiness is just me being shy. It takes me FOREVER sometimes to work up the nerve to ask for things or just to do something. It also doesn’t help that in the world of NASCAR I’ve never had a teacher or a mentor showing me the ropes, not anyone that HAD to, like I would if I started working at a news outlet. So I’m just learning as I go, trying not to annoy or bug people in the process. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t met some awesome people within NASCAR–and outside of it–that have definitely helped me out. Now I’m rambling about something I didn’t mean to talk about. Anyway.

I finally saw Kyle & Samantha’s wedding special, “Fast & Fabulous: A NASCAR Wedding,” the other day and it was cool. I think my favorite part was Samantha’s dad’s story about telling Kyle, in jest, that if he hurt his daughter that he (Kyle) could drive without one leg, but he definitely couldn’t without both of them. That was funny. 🙂 If you haven’t seen the special yet, they’re still showing it–check out the schedule. Also, there’s a short clip from the show here, and a bonus scene here.

After Matt Kenseth was crowned the official polesitter for the race on Sunday, Brad Keselowski held a press conference to announce his foundation’s new endeavor for 2011.

It was after 5pm and there weren’t THAT many members of the media still in the media center. A lot of the biggies were there but it wasn’t the normal scene. I thought it was odd to have scheduled it so late in the day, but I guess that’s the only way they could schedule it? I don’t know. It’s a shame because his new program, Race to Recovery, will take wounded veterans on FULL-SPEED ride-alongs at various race tracks around the country including Talladega. Brad wanted to give back to those that have given up so much for us and our country in a way that made sense, something that was in his wheelhouse.

“I am extremely proud of this program and can’t wait for the first event at MIS,” Keselowski said. “Over the course of the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of wounded service members and I’m always so inspired by their stories. The work they do and sacrifices they have made allow me to be able to come out here and do what I love to do every weekend—drive a race car. I’m pleased to share some of my world back with them.”

The goal behind the Race to Recovery program, according to Keselowski, is to inspire and incentivize those who are working hard to overcome service-related injuries with a three-day VIP Race Experience. Three service members/veterans along with one “crew chief”—the person who has most inspired them in their road toward recovery—per market will be invited for the three-day experience. In addition to numerous at-track perks, these individuals will receive a specialty driver suit, private time with Keselowski and other Team Penske drivers, video and photographs from their personal experience, and more.

This is a crazy-cool idea that I’m sure will motivate some vets to get back into life. I mean, can you imagine having Brad Keselowski drive you around Talladega at 200mph?? I mean, really?? Crazy. Media have been invited to get in on the action as well, but after my experience riding in the pace car on Sunday I don’t know if I could do it (more on that later). You can find more information on this program on the Checkered Flag Foundation website.

After taking questions, Brad and his foundation’s director invited everyone downstairs for the unveiling of the car that Brad will drive for the ride-along events. I think the only people on hand for it were me and Branden, a college student & journalism major who was covering the event for his school’s newspaper.

But get this, right in the middle of it Robby Gordon appeared out of nowhere and asked Brad if the car was the one he was racing in the Nationwide Series race the next day (it wasn’t, of course). Brad asked Robby how he was doing and he said he wasn’t having such a good weekend so far. I don’t think he ever stopped walking, he was clearly headed to the drivers motorcoach lot.

Little did I know that this was AFTER he’d had his altercation with Kevin Conway in the garage. Considering what I now know happened, he was VERY composed. You could tell he wasn’t happy but I just figured it had to do with how his car was handling.

More stories from Vegas to come. 🙂

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice

Cars are ready to roll out for practice on Friday, March 4, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart waits for practice to start on Friday, March 4, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Ron Malec

The obligatory Ron Malec photo! This was just as practice began, Jimmie Johnson drove up and stopped right in front of me and then Ron ran up to the car to make a track bar adjustment.

Kasey Kahne

Kasey Kahne during practice for the Kobalt Tools 400 on Friday, March 4, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Mark Martin

Mark Martin signs autographs for fans during qualifying for the Kobalt Tools 400 on Friday, March 4, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. There were a TON of fans at the track. The most I'd ever seen on a Friday/Pole Day.

Scott Lagasse Jr and Jeff Gordon

Scott Lagasse Jr. chats with Jeff Gordon on pit road during qualifying for the Kobalt Tools 400 on Friday, March 4, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Jeff Burton and Richard Childress

Jeff Burton and Richard Childress watch qualifying on Friday, March 4, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch post-qualifying run on Friday, March 4, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Joey Logano post-qualifying run

David Reutimann

David Reutimann post-qualifying run on Friday, March 4, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards post-qualifying run on Friday, March 4, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski unveils his Race to Recovery car with the help of his foundation's Executive Director Andrea Ross.

(all photos credit The Fast and the Fabulous)