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December 21, 2014

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The ups and downs of race day

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Sam Morris

Greg Biffle takes the checkered flag at the the Nationwide Series Sam’s Town 300 Saturday, February 28, 2009 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Updated Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009 | 6:32 p.m.

Sam's Town 300

Greg Biffle gets congratulated by teammate Carl Edwards after holding him off at the end of the Nationwide Series Sam's Town 300 Saturday, February 28, 2009 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Launch slideshow »

You know when you’re having one of those days where everything just goes your way … yeah so far Scott Speed is off to that kind of start Saturday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The former Formula One driver captured his first career Nationwide pole in his first career start for today’s Sam’s Town 300.

“It’s a good way to start my Nationwide Series debut, I guess,” said Speed, who posted a fast time of 29.597 seconds at 182.451 mph. “The car was awesome.”

Then there’s the flip side. You know, when you’re having one of those days where everything just doesn’t go your way … yeah so far I’m (Andy Samuelson) having one of those starts today at LVMS.

(Author note: Obviously I try very rarely to put myself into a story, but sometimes you just have to share silly circumstances with friends. Plus this blog is meant to offer a light-hearted look at today’s race. If you’re really want to see the race action live, you either braved the crumpled up concrete and construction of I-15 to get to this 1.5-mile track in the desert, or are watching the race courtesy of ESPN 2 (Ch. 31 for us Cox Cable subscribers, wink). Don’t worry I’ll keep you up to date with the major points in the race while Sun writers Ron Kantowski and Brett Okamoto keep tabs on what’s going on in the grandstands and Neon Garage.)

Wow, 8 a.m. — Ok, make that 8:30 with a couple of pushes of the ol’ snooze button — comes so early when you go to bed at 5:30 or when some people probably left parts of Vegas to get their parties started at LVMS.

The reason for my own late night was a couple of college buddies were in town. And if you’ve ever been to Vegas, you know how quick one drink turns into watching the sun rise over the Valley.

9:30: When me and Brett O. rolled in to the circus-style atmosphere about 15 miles north of the Vegas Strip, a hearty group of people already were cracking tall boys from their favorite car sponsors. Now, that’s racing!

10: Anyway to make a long story short, we had a technical snag-fu on the Web site this morning. I tried to utilize our 45-minute drive from Henderson to LVMS to solve the problem. But a quick shot of joe from the Starbucks cup turned into one of the worst decision ever. Here’s a little more foreshadowing: I don’t normally drink coffee!

Before I could even get the brew to my lips, a faulty lid had already turned my light-blue jeans into a spotty brown tie-die look that accented my blue and white striped polo quite nicely.

Being that it was a busted brim, I couldn’t properly put the lid back on the cup. Then factor in the 80 mph from Jeff Gordon on my left and the waves of java flowed like an angry ocean, although my wardrobe saved the carpet of the 1993 Explorer and my computer – or so I thought.

10:30: A couple of drips did manage to hit the screen and keyboard of my Mac. But after quickly wiping them off (there’s was no such luck saving my ensemble) everything was functioning fine. But when I got up to the media center my “A” key didn’t work.

I gave the keyboard a quick blow and let the computer reboot. Ten minutes later, I found out just how valuable the “A” key is, especially if your name begins with an “A” and you need it for a log-on.

After the initial “Oh shucks” (replace with expletive) moment, I asked around if anyone else had a keyboard. But being the digital days we live in, everyone, of course, had a laptop just like mine – which means … (insert expletive)?

While my nametag at the media center might have been incorrectly labeled as “Adam,” the LVMS IT department was on the ball.

11: The IT guys came through with a portable key board and just like local favorite Brendan Gaughan is doing today, I’m back on track with my own backup gear.

“Given the early start, the coffee incident and computer mishap, I’m not even thinking about leaving the media center to go track-side!”

11:05: In the Neon Garage, a skinny guy wearing a big Charlie Horse black hat adorned with an imitation eagle feather peered under the hood of AJ Allmendinger's No. 44 Harrah's Dodge.

Richard Petty, the NASCAR legend, sort of looked like me when the alternator in my Geo Tracker craps out 20 miles on the other side of Barstow. He had his nose down in there, like something might jump out and magically fix itself.

Then one of the crew guys came running over with a wrench and The King practically jumped back away from the car, as if he was in the way or something.

Richard Petty? In the way?

Sometimes, the changing of the guard is a little sad to watch.

11:25: Dale Earhhardt Jr. pulled his car into the garage and it took about 15 seconds for the window looking into it to resemble Siegfried and Roy's old white tiger habitat at the Mirage. When Junbug, or whatever Darrell Waltrip calls him on TV, climbed out of the car, a young girl screeched and snapped a picture.

Then she showed her friend a digital photo of the back of Junebug's helmet and his HANS device.

The friend wasn't that impressed.

"I got a nice picture of his butt yesterday," she said.

11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: The big boys of the Sprint Cup Series finish their final practice without a hitch.

1:10: Things are brightening up a bit at the speedway for me. I cautiously leave my safety net in the media room for a quick lunch and quickly position the credential around my neck to hopefully conceal the big brown stain on my shirt.

The fajitas I scarf to get back to the start of the race were quite tasty. But the way this day is going, let’s hope that’s the only mention of the items.

As I quickly catch the elevator before the doors close I can’t help but smile. There inside the silver doors are nine members of the “Flying Elvi” team. I keep quiet for the one-story ascent. So do middle-age men dressed in sequins talk about at the racetrack? Driving, what else. But their conversation seems to be more about directions to a certain locations, then how to keep from spinning out of a hairpin turn at 180 mph. But a classic scene nonetheless.

1:15: Any Tool Time fans in the house?

Mickey Jones, AKA Pete Bilker, AKA one of the 'average-joe workers' that made appearances on Tim Allen's Tool Time on "Home Improvement," has been spotted at the LVMS. Actually his beard was spotted, but we think Mickey was standing somewhere behind it.

Rumors has it that Evander Holyfield is also somewhere on the premises. Standing by for confirmation.

1:20: Nothing really spectacular to talk about during driver introductions. Although when hometown hero Kyle Busch’s name was announced over the loud speaker, some of the responses weren’t so, um, positive. Has to be a little hard to hear boos coming on your own track.

As Scott Speed walked past UNLV basketball coach Lon Kruger, the grand marshal for today’s race, it’s hard not to imagine that the former Kansas State player didn’t crack a joke in his distinct voice to the Red Bull driver about his nicely sculpted faux-hawk.

“So I got this player, Joe Darger who has the same haircut …”

1:30: Las Vegas teenager Kyra White, a 14-year-old who attends Liberty High School, completely nailed the national anthem as the crowd roared in approval and two A-10 Warthogs from nearby Nellis Air Force base screamed overhead on the beautiful day with temperatures in the low 60s..

1:37: A smiling Kruger (why shouldn't he enjoy the moment, he's gonna be stressed enough trying to get the Rebels to their third-straight NCAA tournament in the coming weeks, makes it official: "Gentlemen start your engines."

1:45: The 43 drivers oblige and Speed leads the pack three times around the track.

1:53: In a sign of things to come, Denny Hamlin spins out on the third lap in Turn No. 4, while Mike Bliss and Brad Keselowski also made contact to create the first of many cautions on the day. Before the race, Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughan told Dale Jarrett that he thinks the higher number of cautions at LVMS over the last couple of years comes from a bumpy Turn No. 1.

2:05: On lap No. 22, Las Vegas' own Kyle Busch, was involved in a big crash as he tried to pass Kevin Harvick. Instead he slammed hard into the wall, creating a six-car crash that ended his day and also that of pole-sitter Speed.

“A mistake on my part for trying to battle for the lead that early on in the race," Busch said.

But not everyone was sad to see the 2002 Durango High grad fail.

"It was awesome," said Tom Rhiner from Oregon. "Since he started racing, he's always come off to me as a self-righteous prick. He's got a bigger ego than he deserves. The crowd was all pretty happy."

Well, not everyone.

"It sucks, it happened today and it better not happen tomorrow," said Amy Cunningham, who traveled with her husband, Tim, from Phoenix, Ariz. for the race. "We stood there and watched for a little while longer and now we're going to get a beer."

3:30: The caution-filled race couldn't even hit the halfway point without another stoppage when Carl Edwards cut a tire to signal the eighth caution of the day on lap No. 99.

4:10: Gaughan provided a moment of hilarity towards the end of the race when he spun out exiting pit road. The son of South Point owner Michael Gaughan was able to save his car after one rotation and joked with his team: "I wasn't speeding."

4:40: The fun continued with four laps to go when Hamlin ran into the wall, causing his right-front tire to rub against its fender. Moments later as he could no longer accelerate, Bliss ran right into him. Luckily Hamlin was able to exit his flaming car and walk away.

"What a weird day," Bliss said. "It's unbelievable. I can't wait to go home.

5: Greg Biffle wasn’t without his own problems Saturday as he suffered a penalty on pit road and ran out of fuel on a restart, but unlike the other 43 drivers his luck in Las Vegas didn’t run out.

"We're excited to get back to Victory Lane," said Biffle, who won for the first time in 76 races as held off teammate Carl Edwards on a green-white restart to win the caution-plagued Sam's Town 300.

Sun reporters Brett Okamoto and Ron Kantowski contributed to this report.

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