NASCAR Sprint Cup practice – stalking the garage

During this years NASCAR race weekend activities I vowed to produce images that were somewhat different from what I had typically produced in the past, which was clean shots of cars on track. Having said that, most of my time was spent hanging out in the garage area and looking for interesting photographs of the drivers or crew’s preparing the cars for qualifying and racing action.

02 March 2012: Matt Kenseth (17) waits in his car before a practice session for the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup Series Race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale Arizona.

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02 March 2012: Jimmie Johnson (48) heads to the track during a practice session for the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup Series Race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale Arizona.

In some cases I was able to capture nice images of the drivers standing in the pits, but mostly they are in their cars or dashing into their hauler to review the speed/time charts or get cooled off. There are drivers that spend time standing around in the pits waiting for the crews to make changes to the cars and there are drivers that are instantly running to the hauler and are rarely seen standing in the garage area.

Jeff Gordon will stand in the garage area and just “hang out” while his crew makes adjustments to his car, and that’s a good thing because it allows the photographer’s time to capture good images of Jeff without his helmet on. He doesn’t always look happy, but at least we are able to capture images rather than some of the drivers that you just never see.

When stalking the garage area I tend to be using my 70mm – 200mm lens with my 580EX II flash because it can be a bit dark in the back of the garage area and sometimes a little camera-mounted flash is better than a very high ISO shot without any flash/fill light.

02 March 2012: Tony Stewart (14) in the garage area during a practice session for the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup Series Race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale Arizona.

If there is TV crews around and they have made prior arrangements to speak with Tony then you will see him, but for the most part my experience is that Tony Stewart doesn’t like the photographer’s and treats them like paparazzi and makes every effort to either have his back turned or be hiding from the still photographers.

02 March 2012: Kevin Harvick (29) in the garage area during a practice session for the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup Series Race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale Arizona.

Kevin Harvick can seem like a bit of a hot-head at times but he doesn’t seem to treat the still photographers as badly as Tony Stewart, Kevin might be one of the reasonable guys that understands that we, as photographers are just trying to do our jobs and are there to bring the action and excitement of NASCAR racing closer to the fans.

02 March 2012: Jeff Burton (31) in the garage area during a practice session for the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup Series Race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale Arizona.

I don’t have many clean shots of Jeff Burton so when I saw him climbing out of his car I tried to grab a few frames.

02 March 2012: Jimmie Johnson (48) in the garage area during a practice session for the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup Series Race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale Arizona.

Jimmie Johnson wasn’t making it easy to get clean shots of him, I think maybe when a driver isn’t having the best season they don’t really want to be in front of the media/photographers but really that is exactly where they should be.

02 March 2012: Kurt Busch (51) waits in his car before a practice session for the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup Series Race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale Arizona.

Kurt Busch has just been frustrated with his efforts after leaving Penske racing and I wonder if the fact that he swears like a sailor on shore leave has anything to do with his leaving?

I don’t think Juan Pablo Montoya really likes the media guys too much, he tends to display a bit of a dislike for the still photographers so that makes getting good shots of him sometimes difficult.

I asked one of Juan Pablo’s crew if he would mind if I stuck my camera in his car while he was sitting there and he looked at me like I was asking for permission to do something that everyone just does anyway, but in the past some of the different crew guys have told me their drivers hate it when the photographers stick our cameras in their car windows. In this case it only yielded an average looking photo, so hey, what are you gonna do?

Jeff wouldn’t look at me or change his expression, which I guess is OK, he just starred straight ahead and sat there as I fired off several frames that all looked about the same.

I just liked this shot of AJ Allmendinger peering over his car from the back of the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage. I think it makes a great ending for this story.

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