Archive for September, 2008

Dover 2

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

How about Dover! Our NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry ran really well. I am so proud of our top-10 finish. MWR is really coming together. Reutimann has had a couple of top 10s going and almost had another one, but had a problem in the pits. Our results are showing that we are making progress. Last year, our NAPA team had a couple of top-10 finishes. We believed we were building on something special. But when the season started, we got off in a bad direction. Our cars just did not work right. But now, the team — Eric Warren and all his engineers, Bobby Kennedy, Ryan Pemberton, and Mike Clark — our entire organization has come together. We have new cars we are racing. We have been in them for about a month. We made a big deal about these Gen 3 cars and they really have helped our performance. It’s been a lot of fun to see all our hard work pay off in respectable finishes.

Overall, our practice and qualifying results really have not reflected how good my NAPA Camry has been. When you look back, at Richmond we unloaded fast. We were in the top 20 all through the race runs in practice. We put on tires and ended being 12th fastest. I was very happy when I left Richmond that Friday evening because I knew when I got back on Sunday; we were going to be good.

A week later at Loudon, I couldn’t drive my car at all. The NAPA car did not feel like it had front tires on it. It felt like I was the slowest car out there. Bobby Kennedy spent Saturday after practice looking through all his notes. He looked at the notes from the older version of our car that we raced back in June that scored us a second-place finish. He incorporated all the things that were different between the old set-up and what was in the new car. He changed it all back to what was in the old car. When the race started at Loudon, the guys fixed it. The NAPA car was good.

Dover was another interesting story. On Friday, I just couldn’t get it. I pushed. When I qualified, my car was way too comfortable. It was tight. I didn’t think my car was going to be that slow. I ended up qualifying 40th. Saturday morning started and in the first practice, we ended up in the 30s. The second practice also saw us end up in the 30s. But in the last 10 minutes of Happy Hour, a lot of teams went out on fresh tires. They went out to see what they had. The best time I saw out of anyone was a 24.20 (seconds). We ran a 24.30 (seconds). I knew my car was right. I told the guys we were going to race on Sunday because I had the feel and the speed I needed.

One thing you need to remember is while the monitor tells a story, sometimes it tells different kinds of stories. Sometimes the story is straight up. The monitor reflects the kind of day you are going to have. Other times, it does not. I felt pretty confident when I went to bed on Saturday night that I did not have a 30th-place car.

Another story I would like to share with you is if you look back to Dover one year ago, we started last and raced up to 15th place. We had a pretty competitive car and we didn’t have power steering. We also had to share a pit. Then back in June, we had what seemed like the worst car there. We couldn’t pass a soul. We ended up finishing 28th.  On Sunday when we made our first lap, Kurt Busch crashed to bring out the first caution. In that one lap, I passed three cars. I called Bobby Kennedy on the radio and told him, ‘I passed more cars in the first lap of the race than the whole time we raced at Dover in June.’ I was pretty impressed with my car, my team, and all the adjustments made. We were ready to go when the green flag flew for the second time around. It was a lot of fun on Sunday and I am very proud of our top-10 finish.

Up next is Kansas. I can’t wait. I believe we will run well. I was terribly disappointed with our performance at the Auto Club Speedway, which is banked like Kansas. I took a brand new car out there and we ran horribly. Fortunately, we did learn a lot of things there. We took what we learned and applied it to Dover. It worked. Now we are going to another banked track out in Kansas and I believe we will keep this positive momentum going. It sure is a lot of fun!

Stay tuned and I’ll talk to you next week!

NHMS 2

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Hi everyone—
One of the coolest things I got to do last week was race against my buddy Ron Capps at the zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. I know a lot has been said about our race as it was all over the radio the next day in Charlotte and the satellite radio networks. We also had a cool feature on ESPN 2’s “NASCAR Now” show and we made it on the NHRA broadcast on Saturday. All I can say is this — my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry is trained to turn left. It wants to turn left and that’s where I ended up. I should have gotten in the left lane because I was going down the right side. Generally when the speed gets up to 150 to 160 mph for a little stretch, there is a turn so my NAPA Camry tried to turn. I tried to put her back in line, but it was not meant to be. The good thing about all of it is I did make it through the lights at 100 mph and ran an 11-second time backwards. It was so much fun. I love racing. I love drag racing. I love my buddy Capps. I loved what we did over there. One thing I learned about my experience at the drag strip is they put glue on the track. They glue it down. When they got done putting the glue down, my shoes made sticky sounds when I walked on the track. When Capps and I raced, there was no glue on the track. I matted the gas and my NAPA Camry obviously didn’t stick. The way I see it, I am an amateur at drag racing. I didn’t know anything about the rules. I just hammered it. I ended up spinning out. That’s when they brought out the glue truck. I thought to myself, that’s not fair! Why didn’t I get to have it? All joking aside, it was a wonderful experience and I am so glad that I could have been a part of it. Bruton Smith (track owner) has himself a beautiful facility. I really think it is cool that drag racing was welcomed with open arms to NASCAR country. It was a sold out crowd for all three days and I wished I could have been there. Congrats to Capps as he moved up in the championship points standings. The NAPA Sprint Cup team is really pulling for him.

On Sunday at Loudon, my car was really, really good. We had a crappy day on Saturday during the practices. I couldn’t get my NAPA Camry to drive remotely like it had only a month ago at Loudon. It didn’t even react like it did the previous weekend at Richmond. It just wouldn’t do anything right. I really want to tip my NAPA cap to my crew chief Bobby Kennedy and the boys. They changed the car around in preparations for Sunday’s race. We started 32nd which was where we were in points because qualifying was cancelled due to rain. We drove up into the top 20. When we made our first pit stop, we took only two tires. It helped us get into the mid-to-low teens in track position. We were not only able to hold on to the position but actually, improve it. After that, our day went to pieces. We came into the pits running in the teens for our second stop, but ended up going out in the 30s. Our green-flag pit stop did not go as planned. We also had a chance to get two tires but instead, we chose to take four tires. Things just did not work out for us on Sunday like it should have. It’s a shame. We had a good car and we were more than capable of bringing home a top-10 finish so scoring 25th was somewhat of a disappointment. Nevertheless, all three MWR cars are locked into the top 35 and we are capable of running up front. David Reutimann certainly has the best team right now. His group has gelled. They are finishing each others sentences so-to-speak. The NAPA team just keeps working hard and we have a great base to work from. We are getting close so we will keep working to improve upon things.

Dover is up next in The Chase. I loved how Greg Biffle established himself last weekend with the win at Loudon. No one really saw that coming. If you went by the practices, Clint Bowyer was a shoe-in for the win, especially since he won at Loudon last year. We didn’t really hear much from him. Biffle made The Chase. He locked himself in. He’s always seems as if he is on the edge of winning. Now all of a sudden, he is the talk of the town. Way to go Biff!

If you are paying any attention to the Internet, you are probably seeing the rumors about MWR merging with another team. That’s certainly refreshing because a couple of months back, there were rumors that my organization was closing. Got to love rumors, right? I think the best way to explain what is happening in our garage area is to examine the economy. There is going to be a lot of moving parts and pieces behind the scenes in the garage area. All of the merger talks are about the owners, such as myself, making sure that we are fiscally responsible. It’s our job to make sure our cars and the teams are as solid as possible. It’s all about racing in 2009 and beyond so there you have it.

Stay tuned and I’ll talk to you next week!

Hi from Richmond!

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

I hope everyone faired well from Tropical Storm Hanna. We made out fine. The NAPA team was expecting to have a day off on Sunday, but due to the postponement of the race, we weren’t able to have that day off. Instead, we fired up all our planes and went home to North Carolina on Friday night. The guys got to spend Saturday with their families and some even spent the day on Lake Norman because the weather was nice at home. We got up early on Sunday and returned to Richmond.

When I left Richmond on Friday night, I knew I had a car that I could be competitive with. I felt really good about Reutimann and McDowell, too. Everything translated well because Friday was a great forecast as to what to expect from the MWR teams on Sunday. All three cars ran good, and at one time, all of them were running in the top five with David as the leader. It was David’s second top-10 in a row. He also led the most laps of the event…a first for MWR. Our crew chiefs also made great calls during the race. Nowadays, it seems like you have to mix things up. Sometimes you have to take two tires or just stay out. Every now and then, calls like that can bite you in the butt. It about bit Reutimann. He almost went a lap down or maybe he did get a lap down, but got the Lucky Dog pass. He went on to lead all those laps. Track position is so important. These cars are so competitive and everyone runs the same speeds. But as a driver, you have to trust your crew chief when he makes those calls. You need guys like Bobby Kennedy, Ryan Pemberton and Peter Sospenzo on the box making calls that can gain you the track position. You have to go with their decisions and know that sometimes it doesn’t work out. Good or bad, it’s just part of it. Fortunately in our case, everything went right. I was very happy with the jobs all three teams did. It gave us a chance to be up there and be a part of the story. I am so happy and proud of the job they did.

What I love about the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is that we left Richmond and are now getting ready to go to Loudon. Everything that the teams learned this past weekend at Richmond is relevant. The tracks are similar so I expect to see teams be more prepared for the race this weekend, and with the Chase starting, it should be very interesting. Speaking of the Chase, I plan on racing those contenders the same way I always race them. I think the contenders appreciate that and expect it. I have only one thing on my mind and that is to win the race. I hope my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota will perform at the level we did back in June. I want my team to be a part of the story again. I know David Reutimann and Michael McDowell like their chances this weekend as well. MWR is very optimistic about where we are heading, our direction, our cars, our team, and what we are doing. It is a great feeling going up to Loudon and we look forward to the final 10 races of the season.

As I am putting this blog together on Tuesday (Sept. 9), I just got done playing in Dale Jarrett’s Shootout at Rock Barn Golf Club in Hickory, N.C. I just love the entire competition and comradery that took place. Drivers Elliott Sadler, Kyle Petty and Reed Sorenson were there along with pro golfers Jay Haas, Jeff Sluman and Jay Bilas. Everyone was just hanging out knowing that on Sunday afternoon whether you are golfing or racing, it’s a battle amongst great talent. It was so much fun!

I’m heading out now to race my NAPA buddy Ron Capps at the new ZMax Dragway in Charlotte. I am going to kick his butt in my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry! He’s in NASCAR country now so check out what happens as “NASCAR Now” covers our day at the new dragway. Our feature will air Thursday evening at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Stay tuned and I’ll talk to you next week!

California 2

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

I really appreciate going out west. It’s great to see all the fans and I enjoy experiencing a totally different scene. Tinsel town is right down the road. All the stars show up. It’s just an electric atmosphere. I enjoy visiting all the NAPA folks out there. They don’t get to see us a whole lot. They are always enthusiastic about the opportunity to say hello. We certainly got to visit a bunch of folks in the NAPA suite and NAPA hospitality tent on Saturday and Sunday. I really enjoyed myself.

I also had a lot of fun leading up to the race. On Wednesday, I got to walk the red carpet for the big Pepsi 500 party in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. I drink Coke and I am a Coca-Cola driver, but also know the importance of helping promote the race for the track so I appreciate everyone working together. Then on Saturday, I went out to the Fan Zone to kick off the DVD launch of the Warner Brothers movie, Speed Racer. I signed autographs. I helped give away a Plasma flat-screen television for Panasonic. That was a lot of fun.

When it actually came to the race, we took basically a copy of the car we had a Michigan that ran so well. I was really optimistic about how it would run. The race ended up being a real struggle. We ended up finishing 33rd after starting 30th. That’s terrible. In the late running, we had to pass Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, who was on the lead lap, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch and a couple of DEI cars. That’s just tough. When you are a little bit off, and you are talking about the best drivers and the best teams in the whole world, we were only one lap off the pace. We did all that passing for just 33rd place. It certainly was a disappointing result, but the effort was there as a team. My team really made the car better all night long. At the end, it was the best it had been. We just ran out of time. Regardless, I am real proud of the effort. I am real proud of the team.

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day. Mine was pretty quiet in North Carolina. I got home at 7:30 a.m. in the morning from Fontana. I slept until I had to go to Charlotte to tape my “This Week in NASCAR” show on SPEED. I went back home and slept some more. I goofed off a little bit on Tuesday morning by playing golf. I did my XM Satellite Radio show. I had a famous guest on my show — Olympic icon, Dara Torres. I think she was one of the feel-good stories of the Beijing Olympics. She was kind enough to call in on her way to the “Oprah” show. You can hear it tonight (Thursday) on XM channel 144.  Rick Allen of SPEED also was a guest co-host. It was a real entertaining show so I hope you get to listen to it. It’s on every Thursday night. When that was all over, we came out to the house – Traci, Jennifer and Cindy – the girls from MWR was there to help me as I signed 2,000 NAPA AUTO PARTS die cast cars for Motorsports Authentics. The cars will go to the distributors to pass along to the fans. After I was done with that, I did a live shot with the folks at “NASCAR Now” on ESPN 2. Basically, we didn’t have much of a story to tell. We were just sort of catching up on the progress we are making at Michael Waltrip Racing. It was nice to explain that to everyone. I ended up turning a somewhat day off into a good day for MWR, NAPA and all my supporters. Yesterday, I went to Nashville, Tenn., to record some stuff at CMT for Best Western. They are doing a promotion. I guess you could say I was busy which is a very good thing. I hope to continue to get more and more face time so I’m happy about that. Today is back to the track. We go to Richmond this evening. I hope the hurricane will be kind to everyone. I am also looking forward to getting that NAPA Toyota back up front. I always run good at Richmond so I am looking forward to a good race.

Stay tuned and I’ll talk to you next week!