RyanEllisRichmond (2 of 11)

Photos by Chris Gordon.

Ryan Ellis rarely misses a Capitals game. A former college hockey player, the Ashburn native is a diehard fan. But as the Caps closed out the Flyers in Game Six of the first round, Ellis wasn’t watching, or even tracking, the game. Instead, he was making his second career start in the top-tier NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at his home track at Richmond International Raceway.

“That’s the track I grew up watching Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt race at as a little kid and say ‘Oh, it would be cool to sit a little closer next year, not knowing that 15 years later I would driving at it.” Ellis said. “I always wanted to. That’s the only thing you ever think of, but you never really expect to get the chance because you can never expect anything in this sport.”

You would think NASCAR and hockey don’t mix, but they do. NASCAR is a southern sport built on cheap beer, rivalries, and relatively unsophisticated V8s speeding past you at ear-splitting levels. Hockey is a graceful northern game featuring cheap beer, rivalries, and relatively unsophisticated people punching each other in the face. In the stands at Richmond, as Ellis raced in the Toyota Owners 400, there were dozens of people in Capitals gear to be found, including some in full jerseys.

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Miller Lite, Crispy M&Ms, the AARP.. and now Russian Machine Never Breaks. With tonight’s Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, we entered the rarefied air of NASCAR sponsors. After a rain delay of nearly seven hours, our boy Ryan Ellis took to the track in his #33 ScienceLogic/RMNB Chevy SS for his debut race in NASCAR’s top series.

As we noted in our profile of him, Ryan is a huge Caps fan, former GMU hockey player, and RMNB reader from Ashburn. Ellis said his goal for the race was to learn and avoid accidents in the penultimate race of the year. He did just that, bringing his car home undamaged in 40th in a hectic race filled with uncertainties and the heat of NASCAR’s playoffs. The race was called due to rain after drivers completed 219 of the scheduled 312 laps. Going forward, Ryan hopes to build on this opportunity to get a full-time ride next year and continue to make Sprint Cup Series starts. Congrats to Ryan on a safe first race! This was one of the coolest things we’ve done as a blog. It was a thrill to share it with him. Let this be a lesson: RMNB readers are awesome!

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Caps players Peter Bondra and Michal Pivoňka pose with Ellis and his Ashburn Ice House-sponsored car.

Ellis and his Science Logic Sprint Cup Car.

Ellis and his Science Logic Sprint Cup Car.

There’s a reason why race car drivers thank companies before family members in post-race interviews: they are the main reason they have a seat. This Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, Ryan Ellis, a die-hard Caps fan and RMNB reader from Ashburn, will get a shot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the sport’s top level. The 25-year-old will drive the Circle Sport #33 Chevy SS, sponsored by the Reston-based IT firm Science Logic, in the penultimate race of the season.

“I’m really, really freaking excited,” Ellis told me last month.

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John Erskine and Snooki

John and Kari Erskine pose with Snooki (via @johnerskine04’s Twitter feed).

Saturday night, Richmond International Raceway hosted NASCAR’s 26th race of the year, the final contest before the 2011 Chase field or “playoff” is set. Naturally with such a big race on hand, there needed to be some A-List talent to wave the green flag. So NASCAR trudged out the Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi to be the Honorary Starter of the Wonderful Pistachios 400. Really? You can’t make this stuff up.

However, Snooki, the daughter of a New York City firefighter, decided to pass the duties on to Frank Siller, founder of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a charity committed to “doing good” in memory of Frank’s brother Stephen, a member of the FDNY killed on 9/11.

The Capitals’ John Erskine, both a huge NASCAR and Jersey Shore fan, made the two-hour drive down to Richmond with his beautiful wife Kari to root on five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, whom he met a few months ago in Pocono. After getting a tour of the raceway and the chance to pose with the Wonderful Pistachios trophy, Ersk went on a mission to find the Jersey Shore star. And succeed he did. Above, you can check out the photo.

Incredibly, Snooki now becomes the third Jersey Shore reality-star that a Caps player has either met or been photographed with. Let’s do the recap thing.

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