NEW YORK — Three-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson's whirlwind day came to a close when four Knicks City Dancers presented him with a cake to celebrate his 34th birthday.
In between, there was a pie-throwing contest at "Live! with Regis and Kelly," fashion advice from Brian Vickers to Kurt Busch, and Ryan Newman's attempt to toss popcorn across a room and into someone's open mouth.
It was the last pressure-free day for NASCAR's 12 championship drivers, who pumped up the Chase for the championship across New York City on Thursday before heading to New Hampshire for what's expected to be the most competitive title-race to date.
"It's definitely the tightest field I've ever been a part of," said Greg Biffle, seeded 12th in his third Chase appearance. "The competition is pretty close, and I think anyone could win it this year."
The field includes four champions, two first-timers and 50-year-old Mark Martin, who earned the top seed with a Sprint Cup Series-high four "regular season" victories. Widely considered the best driver to never win a championship, Martin isn't setting any expectations in his first Chase since 2006.
"I learned a long time ago it's easier to not be disappointed when you don't have high expectations," Martin said.
Martin, a health nut who carefully watches his diet, snacked on a cookie and a cream puff as he threw himself into NASCAR's marathon day of Chase promotions.
As usual, putting all 12 drivers together provided for an entertaining day.
Vickers, who earned his first Chase berth last weekend in the final qualifying race, began his day with a 6 a.m. wake-up call for an appearance on the CW "Morning Show." Several others got to sleep in – their first scheduled event was at Regis, where they met up with Vickers. Once all in the green room, they quickly deduced that Johnson and Kasey Kahne were wearing the exact same shirt, while Johnson and Denny Hamlin had similar military-style jackets.
It surprised Kurt Busch, who was in a full suit with tie because "I want my grandmother to say I look dapper." But against his more casually dressed contemporaries, he felt overdressed. He tore off his tie moments before they went on set, and Vickers quickly helped him adjust his outfit.
"Unbutton those two top buttons," Vickers told him.
"I can't, too many guns will pop out," Busch replied.
"You need that top one unbuttoned," Vickers insisted.
"I'd unbutton mine, but they all popped off," Hamlin interrupted, showing off the missing buttons from his golf shirt.
"Which club was that?" Busch wondered.
Hamlin, operating on just four hours of sleep, only smiled.
Then it was time to change into full protective gear for the pie-throwing contest, which the drivers reluctantly participated in. It was the show's attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest custard pie-throwing contest. The drivers were given full rain suits – Busch promptly affixed a sponsor logo to his – and protective goggles.
As they made their way out to the street, Chase rookie Juan Pablo Montoya issued a warning.
"I'll make you a deal," he told the others. "Anyone gets me with a pie, I get you back on Sunday."
Despite their earlier grousing, the drivers seemed to enjoy the contest once the custard starting flying. They were all laughing after, even as they fruitlessly tried to clean custard off their soiled shoes.
The day continued through several more stops and a four-hour session at Hard Rock Cafe, where the bantering continued during down time in the "green room."
But all the fun came to a halt when the day ended and drivers began the trip to New Hampshire for Sunday's first of 10 Chase races.
"It's going to be tough," said two-time champion Tony Stewart. "It's a good field, and I don't think anyone is a clear favorite right now. It's going to be really interesting."