Archive for April, 2008

Subway Fresh Fit 500 – Phoenix International Raceway

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Hi Everybody –

This week I would like to start off by saying how much I love to go to Phoenix. I actually went out last Tuesday evening via US Airways because I had to do a Toyota appearance on Wednesday morning. There’s nothing like waking up in Phoenix. It’s so pretty there, and even better, they have great golf courses. I got to play against Jamie McMurray and Mike Skinner. Skinner was better than us. He shot 80. I shot 85. We played from the shorter tees and there is no way to get a bad lie where we played. The grass was that perfect. Obviously from my score, you can tell I wasn’t very good that day, but I was able to make one birdie. I like birdies.

Thursday it was off to the track and we qualified. It was a decent run for all three cars. We all ran the same which was weird. We ran within a hundredth of each other. We all three had different set-ups, and we are three different drivers so it just goes to show you that it is a testament to the car. The cars are just so equal. You can go about it three different ways and still end up in the same place.

Overall, I was proud of Michael McDowell. He did a nice job on Thursday qualifying. He was really good in Happy Hour. We felt like he had a good car on Sunday. Sometimes you tend to forget he is a rookie because he is so predictable. I appreciate that out of him. He can log laps, give you good feedback, learn, and go through the process of getting up to speed. He’s doing such a great job. I really am proud of him.

David Reutimann was solid and steady as always — from the time practice started and until the checkered flag was flown at Phoenix. He just did a great job. I was real happy with him too. He got his car back into the top 35 in owner points. There is still no room for error, but it’s great to know we head to a track like Talladega where we all feel very confident with what we have, especially considering how we qualified at Daytona and at Talladega last fall.

As far as my race went, we started out a little free, but I was able to make some good moves. We were able to move up to 21st. I felt pretty comfortable that after an adjustment, I would be good. Unfortunately the first adjustment didn’t fix my NAPA Camry. It really didn’t affect it. It felt like we didn’t do anything. Then we lost a bunch of spots on pit road. Ultimately, we had to pit under green when some other cars were able to stay out and catch a caution to get their pit road service. I ended up being two laps down after just being on the lead lap running right on the edge of a top 20. So when they said go on the next restart, I was able to run third in line and out in front of the leaders. I was able to get one of my laps back. Then the next adjustment, the NAPA Camry got better. We raced hard to get the free pass, but we weren’t able to get in contention to get it. Late in the going, while running 21st, which is about where we should have finished, we had to stop and get gas again. That set us back to
a 24th-place finish.

Looking back at the last two weeks, Texas was as bad as we have ever run for two thirds of the race. We really worked hard to adjust. The last third of that race, we were actually a top-20 car. Unfortunately, we started so far behind that we were not able to show that. Then if you take how we ran on Saturday night, and how we tuned and made it better, I think it shows the confidence I have in my crew chief Bobby Kennedy, and my team, is justified. I am proud of my team. I am proud of the organization.

Wrapping up Phoenix, we flew home on the team plane. It’s quite a commitment for the organization to get close to 100 people back home. We got home to Statesville at about 6 a.m. on Sunday. I spent most of the day in bed watching the Masters. Then I went and had a pizza party at my mom’s house for my sister who turned 59. That was pretty cool. My sister has been a very important part of my career. When I first started racing, she worked for Darrell doing his books, and then she would help me do mine. She handled my books for a long time. It was great to spend time with her and my mom.

I am looking forward to Talladega. I am not only looking forward to Talladega, but Richmond and on down the road. We have some tracks coming up where we need to make some good headway in points. Richmond has always been a strong track for me. Unfortunately I did not get to race there last year, but when I drove for DEI, we always ran up front. I have won and set on the pole five times in the Nationwide car so I hope for another strong showing.

Monday it was back to the same old thing even though we are off this weekend. I did my television show for SPEED. Then Tuesday, I did my radio show for XM. I also spent a lot of time around the shop trying to get the pulse of the place since I was gone for almost a week. I like to ask the guys how it’s going. I also like to ask them what they see and what they need. If I can help, I can.

Thursday’s going to be a big day at MWR. NAPA is coming to visit. I get to see Mr. Susor and other key NAPA folks. I am really looking forward to hosting them.

For the first time in my life of 44 years, I am going to play in what is called a “Member-Member” golf tournament. It’s at my local country club. I’ve been a member there for about a year. I really have never lived the country club life until now, so it should be interesting. It’s definitely a new chapter in my life. So that’s my big plans for the weekend.

Thanks for reading my blog this week and hope to have a lot to share with you after Talladega!

Michael

MICHAEL WALTRIP BLOG: Samsung 500 – Texas Motor Speedway

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Hi Everybody –

Texas produced quite a weekend for Michael Waltrip Racing. We were pretty much the story because of the crash Michael McDowell had during qualifying. McDowell’s wreck was big. While he was crashing, I was just sort of in awe and really didn’t think other than, “Wow.” When it stopped, there was probably 10 to 15 seconds before I knew he was OK and I saw him moving. It seemed like an eternity. It seemed like the longest period of time in the history of the world. When he got out, I was real proud of my team for constructing a car that solid. What I was most thankful for was the advancements that have been made in safety around here. You can point to 100 different things. But one thing you can point to is the SAFER Barriers. Tony George worked with NASCAR along with Dr. Sicking and Dr. Melvin to develop that technology. That to me is one of the biggest, single gains ever made in our sport. I just have to tell you that millions of dollars were spent to try to make a car — through the passion of Brett Bodine and Robin Pemberton and the passion that NASCAR has in that car — to make the car and track safer. But, when you see in a wreck like that, it sure does make you feel good about what we’ve all accomplished.

The media seemed interested in the crash too. McDowell was pretty busy. He made appearances on the CBS Morning Show, the Today Show, MSNBC and Inside Edition. It’s great exposure for all of our sponsors and NASCAR. I even joined him on Saturday night for an appearance on Geraldo At Large on Fox News Channel.

On the competition side, the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry did not practice well on Friday. We didn’t have the car right so we really leaned on our teammates. We felt really good about what David Reutimann had for a car and set up.  He was way faster than us. We studied a little bit and figured out what the differences were. We made them a whole lot alike. We had a conservative run when it was our time to go out and make a qualifying lap. It was a little bit too tight and I was not able to get all I had there. It was a good improvement and 20th was a decent starting spot.

Saturday, we tried to give ourselves a chance to learn. The first session looked promising for us. It’s wasn’t too speedy on the charts but when you looked at all the fast times, the guys made their time on their very first lap. They were on brand new sticker tires. We ran 31st. Our fastest lap was on our 10th lap on used tires. We never changed tires. Our tires were seasoned. A lay person might have worried about us, but I looked at it, and I felt pretty good about it. The final practice though, we were really loose. We regrouped and were hoping for the best on Sunday. Unfortunately, when it was time to race, the car was not good. I think part of the problem is our lack of testing time. In the last couple of weeks, our scheduled test sessions at Kentucky Speedway were rained out. That hurt us. We really needed that time to prepare for this track and improve our overall program. We are definitely ahead of where we were last year, but there is a lot of room for improvement. We still have more to learn about this new car. We worked so hard during the race and our result was just 31st place. Fortunately, the teams we are racing in points, had challenges too. Through our adversity, we were able to pick up one spot in the owner points standings. That’s one positive that came from our Texas experience. Another is we’re racing for sure on Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway. It’s always good to have another shot at it.

Be watching for us, McDowell and Reutimann too. I’ll be back in touch!

Goody’s Cool Orange 500

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Hi!

I hope everyone had a nice Easter weekend. I have forwarded some pictures to share with you on what I did over the holiday. I had a great time visiting my friend Rob Kauffman and his family in Italy. I ate a lot but somehow managed to lose a few pounds. If you have never been to Italy, I highly recommend it. I got to see the famous Coliseum, and I have to say, it reminded me a lot of Bristol Motor Speedway!

Speaking of Bristol, it was sure nice to have had a decent finish there so that I could go to Martinsville and not worry about qualifying. There’s a really big difference between wanting to do good and having to do good. I wanted to do a really good in qualifying at Martinsville, which meant I was going to be calm and aggressive and do my job. I knew I could mess up, and it wouldn’t be the end of me so I wasn’t timid. I wasn’t nervous. I was focused. That’s the biggest difference. Even when you qualify and make the race, which we got better at last year obviously, but even when you did your job it was still very hard because you knew you had to be right. On Friday, I was just able to focus on the job at hand and not worry about any other issues. I got after it as hard as I thought I could, and it almost got away from me on the first lap so I was a little conservative on the second lap. We ended up qualifying 16th so I was pretty pleased since I had a competitive car for Sunday.

We had a couple of new things with MWR this weekend. I had a new driver in Michael McDowell. I am proud of Michael joining our driver lineup. Dale Jarrett is just a great champion and we appreciated what he has meant to our team. He helped get us going and helped bring credibility to a young organization when he signed up to be a part of our team. He brought a wonderful partner like UPS onboard at MWR and obviously, we paid the price of a new team — trying to start an organization at the Cup level at absolutely the perfectly worse time ever to do so — when there was more competition and more cars than ever before, a new manufacturer that had to build two types of cars. Ignorance is bliss sometimes. We were in trouble, and I didn’t know it. I felt happy for the opportunity and wanted to be a car owner and wanted to provide not only a race team that the drivers and the crew members could be proud of, but one that the fans could connect to. A lot of thought went into a lot of different parts and pieces of MWR. All the way from the fan interactive race shop that we have to the chrome wheels that I thought was just a touch that the fans have really appreciated. We had a lot of fun things going on, but we also had it stocked up against us. To fast forward a year and come here and have all three cars locked in the show and David and I and Michael all qualify respectively, I’m very proud of where we are, but when I say that, I also know we’ve got a long way to go. We didn’t sign up to be in the top 35. We signed up to win races. That is what Toyota has always been able to do, and I think you see with the type of commitment we made in this business, that is our plan as well.

Also new at Martinsville is I had a new crew chief. Bobby Kennedy is my new crew chief. The word that I didn’t know what it meant until I was welcomed at Dale Earnhardt Inc. was chemistry. Those people could talk and know what each other meant. Sometimes they didn’t have to say words. They would just look at each other and they would know what to do. Bobby Kennedy and I have always been that way. We can relay and communicate well together. I missed what he brought to me as a driver. Paul did a great job. He’s a real technical guy. He’s really good. There was no reason why he couldn’t be the crew chief, but I felt like the best chance for me to win and run up front was to have a guy that knows exactly what I am thinking, and what I want to get accomplished. Paul is now on the test team. We felt with Paul’s methodical and technical approaches to the process, he will be a real asset to ramp up our test team.

When it came to our race at Martinsville, it was real disappointing. We had a really good car and were running 14th when Kurt Busch got into me. I wasn’t too happy about what he did. The NAPA team regrouped and Bobby made a great call for us to take on two tires. It allowed me regain most of the spots I lost. Our car ran really competitive, and we had no problems holding our own against the guys who had taken on four fresh tires. We felt like we had a good game plan in place for the end of the race in regards to when to put on four tires and when to put on two. Unfortunately, I got into the back of another car because I did not see the cars in front of me suddenly slow down. It’s frustrating when you have a good car, and plan in place, but then not take advantage of the situation. We were right where we needed to be and instead, ended up in 35th place. I have no doubts that this team will learn from our mistakes this past weekend and get better.

Before I go, I want to give a shout out to my buddy Ron Capps. He made it to the opening round of the eliminations at Houston. His day was tough like mine, but we are all working hard to get our NAPA machines up front. In no time, we’ll all be there celebrating so thanks for all your continued support.

Texas is up next and I am looking forward to racing on Sunday! Be watching for us and I’ll be back in touch!