Archive for August, 2008

Bristol

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Bristol is a track that the NAPA team should have no problems when it comes to being competitive. When I unloaded my car on Friday afternoon, it was off. It took us all the way until the race started to finally feel like we had our arms around it. When the race started, we started 42nd and made it all the way to 26th. We thought we were going to be competitive all night long. Unfortunately, it got away from us when we got wrecked.

A lot of people have been asking about what happened between me and Casey Mears. To be honest, I did not expect Casey to take a right on the front straightaway, which wasn’t too far off from what happened at Richmond a few months ago. I thought he would have learned from past history and I thought I made it clear not to do that again. We saw a lot of racing side by side all night at Bristol. People tried to crowd up and get into line and you just can’t do it. We were all the way to the start-finish line when Casey decided to take a right to get ready for the corner. If I would have known what he was getting ready to do, I would have tried to let off. I don’t want to wreck and I got wrecked. I had no idea. I just thought we were going into the corner like normal. Unfortunately, he made a right and caused a big wreck. The wreck was just part of racing at Bristol. I am not mad at Casey. I really appreciated what I saw from the guys who were forced to climb out of their wrecked race cars. Jeff Burton is the perfect example. A couple of cars got together in front of him. He slowed down to miss them. Another car hit Burton and wrecked him. I mean, Jeff Burton did absolutely nothing wrong and ended up finishing 42nd. He had a terrible night. When he got out of the car, he said it was just racing at Bristol. Kasey Kahne said the same thing. When I got home, I studied the video and I should have gotten out of there quicker. I slowed down because they were wrecking all around me. Drivers always second guess what they should do. We try and figure out how to do it better. It probably would have been smarter to just run wide open through there. Heck, I had to slow down to miss those guys as they started to get together.

Racing at Bristol is just a lot of fun. The difference in the track now is you can actually race on it. You used to just have to hit somebody and then go on. Hitting someone is still an option, but there is also a way to find another groove so you can pass a guy. If you looked at Happy Hour practice times, the fastest guy on his average lap ran a 16.20 (seconds). The 35th-place guy ran a 16.36 (seconds). That’s 35 cars that are a tenth and a half off each other. So when you go to pass a guy, if you are a tenth better than him, you have your work cut out. That’s what happens at Bristol. You have to figure out a way to pass and then race him to get the position.

The race to the finish and the antics after the race made for really good TV. Carl lurked right there with Kyle Busch all night long. When he got the chance to jump on Kyle, he took it. I don’t see anything wrong with what Carl did to Kyle when it came to the little bump and run. People move each other around a little bit. That’s acceptable. When a driver is the aggressor, and he goes to hit a guy ahead of him, you better be ready to get out of town real quick in order to keep from being hit back. I think Carl was real fortunate that Denny Hamlin was right there. Denny tried to get the spot away from his teammate so he could get back up to second. It chopped Kyle’s line down and allowed Carl to get three or four car lengths away. That’s the break Carl needed to go off and win the race. 

As for this coming weekend, the car we are taking to Fontana is the same car we had at Michigan two weeks ago. When that race ended, our car was right. Toyota sends out a race recap and they take every lap in the race and split it into quarters. In the fourth quarter at MIS, we had the third-fastest car during that sequence of over 70 laps. Our car was one of the best out there. We know what we did to tune up to that point, so we are looking to unload fast at the Auto Club Speedway. So enjoy the race and most importantly, enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Michigan 2

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Hi Everyone —

We started off on Friday at Michigan International Speedway and I knew that my car was pretty good. I would go out one time in practice and my car would be loose. The next run it would push. It was back and forth. Regardless, I thought I had a pretty good car. When I went to qualify, the NAPA Toyota did it again. I went down into Turn 3 and got really sideways. I thought to myself, “What do I do now?” I went into Turn 1 and got sideways again. The one thing I knew was I could not risk wrecking my car. I needed to race it. It’s new. It’s a car that I am really proud of. I wanted to see what it was like because the last Gen-3 car I had; it was wrecked on the third lap at Indy. I got back into Turn 3 and I wasn’t very good. I felt like I did not run hard enough. I might have been a little amped up when I went to qualify. I may have driven in too hard a couple of times. I was a little frustrated with myself because I have been doing this a long time. You would think that I would have it figured out by now as to where I needed to let off. Looking back, we just did not have a good combination for qualifying.

On Saturday when practice was over, I knew we were going to be good in the race. We really were competitive with our times. I felt really good about our car. Truly, we were good when it came to race time. We just had one segment where our car got a little bit off and Kyle Busch was really good. He was six seconds ahead of the field. He slipped up there and got me lapped. That was unfortunate because I think we could have ended up with a top-10 finish. Regardless, I was certainly proud of our team’s effort. They made great adjustments all day. When we started, I was so loose the first 30 to 40 laps. I felt like it was as loose as I have ever been in my whole career. The team got that adjusted and it really made my day better. Then we got it on the other side. It got too tight so it just showed us how sensitive these new cars continue to be. We lived it a little bit on Sunday, but we made a good solid showing. We may not have gotten the result we wanted, but it was a respectable result and we needed it after three tough weeks that included two wrecks and a blown motor.

Before I go, I would like to give a shout out to a very nice lady in the NAPA suite. On Saturday, she was tending to our NAPA guests. She gave me a little stuffed monkey. She said the last couple of weeks I had a monkey on my back and if I took the monkey and put it in my NAPA Toyota, it would get off my back. I did. I made it all the way to the end and got a much needed top-20 finish. I appreciate her kind gesture and I appreciate the fans that read this blog. Thanks so much and I’ll catch up with you later.

– Michael

Pocono 2

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

I’m back from Watkins Glen. Did you know that four of the last five years, qualifying at The Glen has been rained out? When I was in my motorcoach getting ready to walk over to the garage for the first practice, I looked out and thought to myself, “Come on! Work with me!” Sure enough, as soon as I got into my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota it rained, so we didn’t do much on Friday. The field was set by the rulebook. Marcos Ambrose, who won the Nationwide race on Saturday, lined up last on Sunday and was able to race his way to a third-place finish. That was awesome!

Looking back, Saturday during practice I expected to be fast, at least faster than I was. I had gone to Infineon Raceway, and while I finished 25th, I really felt it was a top-10 car. We were just stuck in the back because of poor gas mileage. I loved my car. So when we went up to Watkins Glen, I thought we could do the same and run in the top 10. I felt like we were going to have a good race on Sunday, but then the car ended up not cooperating. Bobby Kennedy and the guys worked hard. They made some great changes after practice so heading into Sunday, the car was better. I was competitive. I passed some guys. I think we ran around 25th for most of the day. Unfortunately, I got into that big crash. That deal was pretty interesting. I never knew what was happening. Never in my career has anything like that happened. I have always been able to see what I am fixing to hit. At Watkins Glen, I didn’t see anything. Bam! It happened. It really wasn’t a huge hit on the NAPA Toyota. I think the guys wrecked hard in front of me and bounced mostly out of my way. I think if I had been a car length back, I would have been OK. The wreck didn’t have anything to do with me. I was just blindsided. My spotter couldn’t even see it. He never mentioned it. Then all of a sudden, I am on fire. Cars are flying up behind me and I am thinking, “Well, this is not the way I envisioned the race ending.” I felt like we could get a top-20 finish. I think it was still realistic at that point, but I had to go to the garage area.

What’s important to me about all of this is the NAPA AUTO PARTS car needs to finish the race. NAPA sells quality parts. They don’t break down. I don’t want to see DNFs (did not finish) beside my name and the NAPA Toyota. What was great was my NAPA boys. Bobby Kennedy, Ron Otto, Chris Hall … all the guys that work so hard on the NAPA car feel the same way too. There were only five laps to go and I didn’t have a radiator or oil cooler. The front end was tore all to pieces. Those boys cut the front end away. They changed the radiator. They bypassed the oil cooler and got me back on the track when the white flag was flying. I drove down pit road; I came around and took the checkered flag. That shows what kind of guys I have on my NAPA team. It really means a lot to me what they were able to get done on Sunday.

Now for the big news! NAPA and I will be back together in 2009. I am very happy. I believe we are moving in the right direction at Michael Waltrip Racing. NAPA has been a huge part of building the foundation for my race team. I think sometimes people lose sight of the fact that we are a year-and-a-half old. We are racing against organizations that have been doing this for 20-plus years. We are gaining on it. We are getting a foot hold in the garage area. I really appreciate NAPA’s support in order for us to continue to grow and improve performance. Thanks, NAPA.

With that said, I am looking forward to going back to Michigan to turn things around for us. Three bad weeks in a row is enough! Enjoy the race and I’ll write to you soon!

Pocono

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

Last week heading into Pocono, I had a very typical week in my life as a NASCAR driver. Monday, I taped my television show, “This Week in NASCAR.” Tuesday, I did my radio show and played a little golf. Then Wednesday morning, I woke up and flew to Canada to do an appearance at a NAPA store. It is so hard to figure and predict what kind of crowd you are going to have. Usually, we get a couple hundred people. I sit there, talk to the folks, cruise through autographs, and then I am on my merry way. For some reason, and I think it is because I consider myself as being one-eighth Canadian, when I got to Kingston, Ontario, there was probably over 500 people waiting at the NAPA store in the rain! The line was all the way around the building. I was shocked. I have never even heard of Kingston, Ontario, but they know me. It was so much fun to see all the people who showed up. I saw lots and lots of Dale Earnhardt fans. I signed more pictures of me, Dale and Dale Jr., racing at Daytona in 2001 than I have seen in a long time. It was really cool to see somebody walk up with that 2001 picture and have me sign it. Then, they would follow it up with a brand new NAPA diecast. It was just really, really fun. I want to thank all the folks in Kingston for coming out. I also want to thank all the people at NAPA in Canada for organizing such a well-planned and well-attended event.

When I left Canada, I went to Pocono on Wednesday evening. I got prepared for the running of the race. When practice started on Friday, I really liked the way the car drove. It just didn’t have any power on the straightaway. We discussed it. When I qualified, I felt like I made pretty good turns, but yet, I was 42nd. In Cup racing, it is so close. I was only three or four tenths off of being in the middle of the field instead of the back. I wasn’t all that concerned. To be honest, Pocono is a track where you can start a half a lap down and still be able to have a great day. It doesn’t matter where you start because the track is so big that you can work your way to the front. So when the race started, something just wasn’t right. It wasn’t long until the motor broke. I don’t think I have ever finished last for two weeks in a row. I don’t think anybody has. It’s so disappointing. Toyota has assured me that they are all over it to try and figure out exactly what went wrong. They spend a lot of money and take a lot of pride in what they put under the hood of our cars. I have no doubt that they will get to the bottom of it to make sure it does not happen again. The crazy thing is, the most disappointing engine failure I have had in my whole career came earlier this year at Talladega. You’ve heard me tell the story several times in my blog, but we had Talladega won on the final lap until the engine broke. The Pocono failure may have topped the Talladega failure because I really wanted to race at Pocono. I wanted to work on my car. I wanted to go fast, but I didn’t get the opportunity. We just didn’t get a chance last Sunday.

Despite the disappointments, I really feel good about where we are heading as a team. I believe we will be solid at Watkins Glen this weekend. At Michigan, we had a top-five car back in June and got crashed on the last lap. We didn’t get to show it, but we had a really good car. We had a run of four races that included a second-place finish and other solid runs. Running up front at Daytona on the last lap before getting wrecked showed some promise. We had four or five runs in a row where I felt like we were heading in the right direction. As soon as I started to feel that way, we got wiped out at Chicago. Indy, I got loose and spun out. Then this past weekend, the engine broke. We had some momentum going. We were proud of our results and now, we have had some problems. We have to just tune up and go to Watkins Glen and get it headed in the right direction. I hope, and I believe in my heart, we can go to Bristol with a chance to win. We ran well there in the spring, but our cars have come a long way since then. That’s a track that I love and a place where I think we can have some fun. So stay tuned, and thanks for your support during our ups and downs. Rest assured we are making a lot of progress with our cars. We are doing a lot of fun things on our competition side so I am really looking forward to getting back on track at Watkins Glen.
– Michael