By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Having already "run tires" a couple of times—running requires carrying four, 45-pound tires via dolly—I suddenly find myself promoted. My new job: Fetch two new tires from the back of the Goodyear tire trailer. Pronto! Not a problem, until...
"Hey fourteen!" grumbles the grumbler in the trailer, "you gotta sign for these!"
So be it. Upon receipt of two new tires at $449 each—which brings Stewart's running tab for the Texas race to $29,968.93—I sign my name to the bill. This from the guy who squabbles over the sale prices at Discount Tire.
I return to Stewart's spot along pit road and deliver the tires and, sheepishly, the receipt. "You gave them your credit card number, right?" one of the crew members says. I'm pretty sure he's joking.
On the track, things aren't so lighthearted. Stewart leads for 12 laps, the last with 63 to go. But, inexplicably, he speeds on pit road for the race's crucial stop and suffers a penalty that drops him to 16th. He drives hard down the stretch, working his way back into third, but that prevents Stewart from conserving fuel on the last lap. He literally runs out of gas. Just minutes earlier, his crew had been scrambling to Victory Lane just in case. Now Stewart coasts across the finish line in 12th.
"Sorry, boys," Stewart says on the in-team radio. "I fucked us again."
As Stewart—in his 51-seat private jet—and the NASCAR circus head to Talladega this weekend, I'm left behind with some souvenirs: grease under my fingernails, a spiffy shirt on my back and perhaps a permanent buzz from breathing in 500 miles of gas fumes. As long as no eye-popping bill lands in my mailbox in the next week, I'll consider it Victory Lane.
"Then he jumps into his Chevy Impala "
Why do you do this? No one in their right mind even believes that a NASCAR Cup Car shares so much as a single part with an Impala.