After several weeks in the past few months on the road covering NASCAR it was great to have a weekend at home as NASCAR made their second stop of the year to the Phoenix International Raceway for the second to last race on the year. While PIR isn’t known for exciting races it is absolutely known in the motor sports photography world for some amazing light. Check it out.

With Jimmie Johnson on the verge of a historic fourth consecutive championship, this weekend I would spend a lot of time photographing him on and off the track.

Below is the view through the passenger side window as Johnson sits in his car waiting to head out on track for the opening practice session.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

Below is a wider version showing Johnsons car at the front of the line waiting for the track to open for practice.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

In the garage Jamie McMurray (below) sits as he watches crew members make adjustments on his car.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Even though I have countless car shots of every driver this season I still found myself out and about walking around the inside of the track looking for some shots.

I shot wide for the below photo to take advantage of the nice clouds overhead as Carl Edwards raced through turn four in front of the completely empty grandstands.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Going into turn three at the end of the backstretch I set up to shoot the drivers under braking where the nose of the car drags the track. The problem though was horribly distracting backgrounds.

Below, you can see the crappy backgrounds ruining my shots as Tony Raines heads into the turn.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f11, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

By slowing the shutter speed way down it cleaned up the backgrounds and made for a much cooler shot.

Below you can see what I’m talking about as Matt Kenseth heads into the turn.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f18, 1/50th, Manual

Back in the garage I went atop a pedestrian bridge to shoot down on A.J. Allmendinger (below) as he drove beneath me on his way to the track for some practice laps.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

In the garage I spotted Mark Martin wearing a unique looking helmet (below). One of his crew members standing next to the car was joking with me how Martin looked like a midget darth vadar with the helmet on.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1000iso, f4.5, 1/1250th, Manual

David Reutimann (below) walks from his car following the conclusion of the practice session.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

With a few hours time before Cup qualifying it allowed me some time to transmit images out.

For qualifying I headed out onto pit road to take advantage of the great light that Phoenix has to offer.

Below, Jimmie Johnson signs a die cast replica of his car as he walks down pit road.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f5, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Leaning against the inside wall (below) it gave the photographers some nice clean shots as Johnson watched other cars making their qualifying run.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f5, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Sitting a few feet from Johnsons car I was able to shoot the below tight shot as he prepared to put his helmet on.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f4, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Kyle Busch (below) gives me the evil eye as he sits in his car preparing to head out on track.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

As the sun got lower in the sky it finally started making for some nice light like I mentioned earlier.

Below, the sun shines into the eye of Juan Pablo Montoya as he prepared to pull out onto the track.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

I’m not sure why but I really dig the below photo of Mark Martin as he sat on the pit road wall waiting his turn to qualify.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 800iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

After qualifying there was less than an hour before the start of the Truck Series race so I had to transmit images quickly before prepping for the race.

Driver Ron Hornaday had a big points lead ahead of second place heading into the race and had a very good chance of clinching the series title in the race so I he would be the main focus of my coverage.

Below I shot the truck of Hornaday as it sat on pit road with a nice sunset in the early stages.


Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 800iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual


Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 800iso, f5.6, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

Five minutes later the sunset was getting much better as I shot the below photo of the trucks lined up.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

27 minutes after the above photo the sun was below the horizon giving the sky a completely different look that was one of my favorite images of the weekend.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Setting the camera down on the ground (below) I was able to shoot through a drainage hole as Stacy Compton (60) led Colin Braun (6) through turn four.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Manual

From the same exact position as the drainage hole camera I stood up to shoot the below photo as Kyle Busch (51) leads a pack of drivers in front of the empty grandstands.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Manual

Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick decided to slum it and run the truck race. Less than 20 laps into the race he lost control at the exit of turn four and spun in front of me, below.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Manual

Below, Ron Hornaday speeds through turn four in the below slow shutter speed shot.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f6.3, 1/60th, Manual

Hornaday had the first pit stall on pit road which always works great for shooting since you can get a nice close up photo without having to deal with other cars pitting in front and ruining your shots.

Below, a crew member rolls a tire to an awaiting crew member as Hornaday pits during a mid race caution.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Manual

Kevin Harvick recovered from his earlier spin to win the race (below) with Kyle Busch finishing in second place.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Manual

While my typical post race routine is to haul ass into victory lane to shoot the race winner climbing from his car this race would be the exception to the rule as I instead set up on pit road to shoot Hornadays championship celebration.

Below, Hornaday is doused with water by a crew member as he climbed from his truck with his fourth Truck Series championship.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Manual

Below, Hornaday celebrated with high fives from his crew members.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Manual

The main championship ceremony will take place in Miami next week so the only thing they would do was a quick trophy presentation for the media.

With that in mind my only goal was a photo of Hornaday hoisting the championship trophy.

Sounds easy right?


When he first lifted the trophy an MRN reporter got in the way of a clear shot.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Manual

A few minutes later he would once again lift the trophy and we had fail number two as crew members blocked the view (below).


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Manual

Eight minutes after the first trophy hoist we finally got the shot we wanted as Hornaday lifted the trophy a third time.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Manual

With that a long day at the track was finally complete.

For Saturday it would begin with back to back Cup Series practices.

Below, NASCAR president Mike Helton walks through the garage area.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f4, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

Kevin Harvick (below) heads under the pedestrian bridge on his way out to the track for the first practice that was cancelled a few moments later due to a quick rain shower.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

Less than 30 minutes later the sun came back out and the storms headed off to the distance and practice would finally get started.

Below, Kasey Kahne (9) and Joey Logano (20) wait in line to head out of the garage to the track.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 320iso, f4.2, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

I always like to shoot photos that are unique to the individual tracks.

The below photo of Jeff Gordon racing down the backstretch illustrates what I am talking about. What better way to show Arizona desert than some nice mountains?


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f9, 1/200th, Aperture Priority

A short while later was the Nationwide Series race.

As with the previous evenings truck race we had a driver (Kyle Busch) who could clinch the championship with a semi decent run.

Early in the race he would suffer a big setback when he spun down the backstretch with Clint Bowyer (below).


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

Running a Super Mario Brothers paintjob, Denny Hamlin (below) leads the field from the darkness of turn two. I love the light!


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

Below, numerous cars head down the backstretch towards the unique “dog leg” kink in the track.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm with 1.4 convertor, 400iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Crew members for Kyle Busch work to repair some of the damage to his car during a pit stop (below).


Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

With the problems suffered by Busch, clinching the championship was off the table which allowed me to concentrate on the race winner.

Carl Edwards, who recently got off crutches from a broken foot would end up winning the race. Instead of his trademark backflip he instead took it easy on his recovered foot by doing a slow roll on the track, below.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

Then he waved to the crowd.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

In victory lane I went with my one camera in each hand setup to shoot Edwards as he climbed from his car.

Tight Camera:


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f5, 1/400th, Manual

Wide Camera:


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f4, 1/500th, Manual

A short while after the initial celebration and several minutes of editing I headed back out to victory lane to shoot Edwards posing solo with the race trophy.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Manual

Below, Carl holds the stomach of his pregnant wife Kate Downey as she poses with him for a photo.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/200th, Manual

I liked the below photo as Carl lifts a pile of all the sponsor hats he has to pose for photos with.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Manual

At the end of his pile of hat photos Carl posed with us remaining photographers. Jennifer looks a little bit too happy to be standing next to her favorite driver. Settle!


Photo by Rusty Jarrett

For Sunday there was nothing to shoot but the main race.

Prior to the race I went into the press room to shoot Arizona senator (and presidential loser) John McCain as he spoke with the media prior to taking part in the pre race activities as the Grand Marshall, below.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Manual

For the first half of the race I set up on the outside of turn two to take advantage of the awesome light pockets that would come as the sun got lower.

At the start of the race I noticed the cars reflecting in the sponsor suite windows high above the track. Normally I can never get any decent photos with the reflections but I was pretty happy with the below shot.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f5, 1/1000th, Manual

Jeff Gordon (24) and Kevin Harvick (29) race side by side through turn two past the infield adorned with sponsor logos painted on the grass, below.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Somehow my camera settings got bumped resulting in the below accidental blur shot of Kurt Busch in turn two. It ended up being a nice accident!


Nikon D700, 80-200mm with 1.4 convertor, 250iso, f16, 1/50th, Aperture Priority

Jimmie Johnson took the lead early in the race and stayed at the front of the field nearly the entire race.

Below, Johnson leads teammate Jeff Gordon out of the shadows of turn two.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm with 1.4 convertor, 250iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

Shooting from the outside of the track is usually not a great place to shoot pit stops but at Phoenix you can get some nice angles from the outside.

Below, Kurt Busch pits during the race.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

While Phoenix is not really known for big crashes there was a Talladega like pileup when Dale Earnhardt Jr (88) spun near the front of the field taking Matt Kenseth (17), Bobby Labonte (71) and Tony Stewart (14) with him, below.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm with 1.4 convertor, 250iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

The damaged car of Michael Waltrip (below) races into turn one missing his front end body work following an earlier accident.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

In the closing stages of the race I headed to the inside of the track to get all set up to shoot the finish and victory lane.

From pit road I messed around with some slow shutter speed shots as drivers raced down the front straightaway.

Below, Denny Hamlin speeds towards turn one.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm with 1.4 convertor, 100iso, f11, 1/60th, Aperture Priority

Chad Knaus (below), the mastermind behind Jimmie Johnsons success is the picture of intensity as he watches the action from atop the Lowes pit box.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm with 1.4 convertor, 250iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

For the fourth time in the last five races at Phoenix it would once again be Jimmie Johnson taking the win (below) and all but locking up his fourth straight Sprint Cup championship.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

Below, Johnson nosed his car up to the inside wall and proceeded to do a great burnout as his crew members cheered behind the wall.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

I was dead backlit for the shots of his celebration but it ended up making for what I feel are awesome photos of the bunout


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/800th, Aperture Priority


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Johnson continued his great burnout all the way down the front stretch past me, below.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

With some awesome light on his face Johnson climbed from his car to celebrate in Victory Lane.

Tight Camera:


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/1000th, Manual

Wide Camera:


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1600th, Manual

The confetti in the air added a nice element to the below photo.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1600th, Manual

A short while after the initial celebration was my favorite victory lane activity…..

The bottle of champagne!


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f8, 1/320th, Manual

After champagne Johnson was whisked off to the press room for interviews which gave me some time to transmit images before heading back to victory lane a short while later to shoot single shots of him with the trophy.

Instead of shooting straight on with the rest of the photographers I went off to the side to line him up with the Phoenix logo. I set the camera to a slow shutter speed and would shoot several consecutive frames to catch a flash from the other photographers giving a nice off camera flash look.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/80th, Manual

That wraps up my second to last NASCAR race of the year.

Next week is Championship weekend in Miami!

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Posted in Me, NASCAR, P.I.R., Racing, Sports   | 5 Comments

5 responses to “Jimmie Johnson burns down the house in the Arizona Desert”

  1. Jamey says:

    Nice work Mark. Great images.

  2. Dawn says:


  3. I love the Mark Martin shot too, Mark.
    My eye was drawn to it immediately.
    Gorgeous light and the shot personifies Mark Martin to a “T”

  4. David says:

    MR… nice work from Phoenix! Especially all those sweet tearsheets! AWESOME!

  5. Christina Pinon says:

    Hey! you have amazing work.My name is Christina Pinon I am a senior in high school right now at Valley Vista in Fountain Valley, California and for a school project I need to interview someone who I would like to be when I grow up. If you can contact me through email that will be great! thank you 🙂

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