Since Kristen nicked the race and qualifying titles, this shall have to suffice :P
I suppose that's as good a place to start really. For the second time in my life, I catch a plane to hook up with people I've only previously known online. Worked out just fine the first attempt, so I figured I'd approach it the same way in the hope that, unlike the song by Split Enz, history does repeat. And, lo and behold, from the instant Kristen laughed off my rant about the BART tunnels cutting my phone coverage at the critical moment, to the look she gave me that basically said "is that it? Where's the rest of your luggage?", I had a good feeling this weekend was going to be a classic (as I said at the time; if I can last two weeks out of that same backpack, five days is easy).
Being a morning person, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend who prefers to sleep until the crack of noon at the earliest, getting up at six on Friday didn't bother me much. After picking up RA6AN and dumping some of our stuff at the hotel, we ventured out for qualifying day. RA6AN and I were seated right alongside Victory Circle, so we had a pretty good view of the haulers and we were able to snap some shots of unsuspecting people (none as good as that shot of Chad though)...eventually, after we realised who the heck they were and got the cameras ready in time *rolls eyes*
Rick Hendrick being inducted.
The defending race winner.
The prerace favourite.
The Brew Crew going through their final checks before qualifying.
Clint must like getting his photo snapped...saw him a few times.
Who'd have picked Joey to be the highest finishing JGR driver?
Jeff giving tips to the rookie...maybe on the bump and run?
We moved down towards the flag stand for qualifying which was rather strange for me since I assumed that, since he's from California, Jimmie 'Vader' Johnson (I'm sticking to the Yahoo! nicknames for them now) would have gotten cheered when he went to the top of the timesheets but the roar when Kasey knocked him off left me scratching my head before RA6AN said he's from the wrong part of California. It was around this time that my 'Team Kiwi Racing' shirt got recognised and we chatted to the people behind AmbroseChick's twitter (I think I'm still part of that group on nascar.com actually) which was a very cool deal.
After deciding to go early again on Saturday - Kristen picking my weakness and stopping for coffee - I wandered, which soon became staggered, up the hill to turn two since I wanted to snap some pikkies of the cars coming through there at relatively slow speeds. We didn't stay for the West Series race in the end and managed to catch the last 20 odd laps of the Nationwide race from Road America once Jon got booked in.
Speed leads Truex and Hornish up the hill.
Ambrose starting a hot lap.
An RCR and MWR truck minus the trailers.
The morning after Marcos announced he was heading over the Pacific.
Sunday dawned and, again, taking the offer of Starbucks in the morning, I arrived at the track with Kristen. After the hardest working non-payroll person in the Penske organisation went off to the garage, Jon and I went out onto pitlane, passing the time by chatting to a few of the many Aussies in attendence - it almost felt like a V8 Supercar race for me - before meeting up with RA6AN and Hoosier who managed to not get as sunburnt as us at Pebble Beach the day before...it must be all those trees that litter the golf courses. Just before that, Kristen gave us a world class tour of Kurt's pit area which was highly impressive.
It brought him luck for a while...and it got on 'Trackside'!
Jimmie ticking off a place he hadn't won at before.
Now, I want you to take a good look at that group photo that Kristen posted on her race day blog. See my smile and wonder if that's how I really felt? Well, the photo below I took in my hotel room (with the aid of the camera timer of course) after Jon and I had got back is a better reflection of my feelings I reckon...they say a picture is worth a thousand words but I'm pretty sure this has just one; bugger.
Marcos gave it his all, but came up empty in the end.
However, I've moved beyond it now. I am very proud that Marcos took the fight to Vader since it had all the makings of another Phoenix 2009 Autumn (hey, I still write 'tyre', you're not getting me to call it 'Fall') race until then.
The story doesn't end there for who should I run into at SFO but Mr M. Waltrip. Had a very brief chat with Mikey since our lines were moving in the opposite direction, he just gave me a rueful nod and a "thought we had it" before I wished his teams all the best for next week...even me with my limited knowledge on personalities could tell he was still crushed over the ending (heck, so am I!).
I'll close with this; I thoroughly enjoyed going to this race in 2006, no question about that. But the 2010 version was so much more special as I went with three amazing NASCAR fans that I have no issues at all adding to my met-in-real-life-so-they're-not-only-online-anymore friends list. Thank you Kristen, RA6AN and Jon for making a very cool weekend even better.
And that is why, despite my having a sore throat (remind me to never use the air conditioners in that place again), despite my legs feeling like lead and despite my boy fluffing the best chance he's had yet to win a Cup race, my smile in the group shot was 100% genuine.