Carl Edwards hits the Jackpot in Vegas

The 2011 NASCAR season is now in full swing and the question everyone is wondering is if Jimmie Johnson will win his sixth straight Sprint Cup Series championship. There is a long line of top drivers doing everything they can to prevent that from occurring. At the top of that list is Carl Edwards. On to the races!

I am currently writing this blog from the media center at the NHRA races in Gainesville, FL and am in a hurry so this blog will be short and sweet.

Below, fans look down from the Neon Garage as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Gordon climbs into his car prior to practice for the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f3.5, 1/640th, Manual

Mark Martin, below, suns himself in the sun as he waits on pit road to take his qualifying lap for the Kobalt 400.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 640iso, f5, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Following his fast qualifying lap, Carl Edwards would pose with a woman in a wedding dress who recently got married at the track. In the below photo Carl is jokingly telling the media not to tell his wife Kate, haha.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

In the below photo of Matt Kenseth the glare from the white roof made it tough to see into the car very well but I noticed a dark square on the roof which I used to my advantage to knock down the glare on the windshield. It took a little moving around to get it into a perfect place but it ended up producing a cool photo.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 1250iso, f4, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Below, Joey Logano points at a friend walking by his car as he sits in the garage prior to pulling out on the track for practice.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 1250iso, f4, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Running a pretty sweet looking Snickers paint job was hometown hero Kyle Busch, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f9, 1/400th, Manual

Fans cheer (below) as driver Matt Kenseth drives past on his way out to the track for final Cup practice. (The guy on the left in the #3 hat doesn’t look very impressed.)

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Manual

Below, four time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon sulks in the garage area following the final practice.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 1250iso, f5, 1/200th, Aperture Priority

For the start of the Nationwide Series race I hiked it to the top of the roof on the outside of the track. While its pretty far away from the turns it still is a great spot to shoot from with a very long lens.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

A few laps into the race I would get a wild shot that made my whole weekend worth coming out for when driver Josh Wise would lose control coming off turn four and slide into the infield.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Ok not a big deal, right?

WRONG.

Wise would end up hitting a road across the infield and it would vault his car a few feet off the ground into the air, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Here are two guys who are either redneck as hell or they’re making fun of the stereotype that all NASCAR fans are Dale Earnhardt Jr loving rednecks with gloriously flowing mullets.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

After that shot I left the roof and ran around killing time shooting in some different spots.

Below, Danica Patrick races alongside Shelby Howard in the tri-oval during the Sams Town 300. Patrick would finish the race in fourth which was the highest finish EVER by a woman in one of the top three levels of NASCAR. Nice!

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

The race was dominated by Kyle Busch but after crashing in the late stages of the race it opened the door for the winningest driver in Nationwide Series history to steal the win.

Below, Mark Martin takes the checkered flag to win the Sams Town 300.

Nikon D700, 70-2000mm, 320iso, f4, 1/2500th, Manual

In victory lane it was time for the camera in each hand set up.

Here is the wide angle camera shot…

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4, 1/800th, Manual

….and heres the tight vertical camera shot.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 320iso, f4, 1/4000th, Manual

Below, the car of Marcos Ambrose goes through pre race tech inspection as tons of fans look on from all directions prior to the Kobalt 400.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

On pit road prior to the race I found Paris Hilton hanging around looking for a party, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 640iso, f6.3, 1/1000th, Manual

About an hour prior to the start of the race I headed to the roof to shoot the start of the race. Once on the roof I ran into tennis legend Andre Agassi and his equally legendary wife Steffi Graf at their first ever NASCAR race. The both ended up being very nice and we chatted about photography as well as NASCAR. Steffi had her Canon camera with her (Agassi is a spokesman for them) but her battery was dead so she gave me her flash card to put into my Nikon camera to shoot a family picture for them.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Below, following the national anthem the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds performed a fly-over above the track.

Nikon D3s, 10.5-17mm, 640iso, f8, 1/2500th, Manual

A few minutes later they made another pass past the track, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 640iso, f8, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

Below, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth leads the field to the green flag during the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Manual

After the field raced past me I shot them going away into turn one as a pretty impressive crowd looked on, below.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

It didn’t take very long for the first caution of the race to come out courtesy of a spinning Robby Gordon, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 640iso, f6.3, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Not to be outdone we would have another caution a few laps later as Andy Lally would spin in turn two, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 640iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

In the below shot I went atop of a staircase on the roof and shot down on Jeff Burton as he led a pack of drivers as fans looked on in the foreground.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 320iso, f6.3, 1/3200th, Manual

After a few more laps shooting on the roof it was time for the long walk around the outside of the track to turn two to shoot some car shots.

Below, Kyle Busch (18) races in the middle of the field of drivers through turn two on a mid race restart. Unfortunately for Kyle he would blow an engine in a ball of fire a lap later.

Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 500iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

Below, Tony Stewart leads the field through turn two on another restart. Stewart had the dominating car of the race but a pit road miscue would evaporate any chances he had to win the race.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Another contender all day was the previous weeks winner Jeff Gordon. He looked like he had a chance to battle for the victory but a late race crash into the turn four wall would end that one…

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

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

In the final 20 or so laps of the race I migrated down to pit road to get set up to shoot the finish of the race and whatever on track celebration would occur.

With about 10 laps to go several drivers had to pit under green for fuel.

Below, Dale Earnhardt Jr tops off with gas as he changes right side tires.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

Until you have been on pit road for a NASCAR race its hard to explain how much of a hassle it can be to get those up close pit stop shots. The below photo is a good example of how crowded it can be as a bunch of photographers squeeze in to shoot the pit stop of Brad Keselowski.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

In the end it would be all Carl Edwards who would take the checkered flag for his first win of the 2011 season.

Below, Carl Edwards celebrates with his customary backflip following the victory.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Manual

As soon as he landed I hauled ass to victory lane to get him climbing from his car for the media.

Below is my wide camera shot.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

And here is the tight vertical shot.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/1000th, Manual

After a quick jog to the media room I transmitted the celebration shots then hustled to the parking lot, hopped in my car and made the 5 hour drive back to Phoenix to sleep in my own bed.

Next up is NHRA in Gainesville followed by the first Lucas Oil Off Road race of 2011.

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