Archive for February, 2009

The Auto Club 500 Post

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Hi Everyone –

I have to tell you that this past race weekend was bigger than Daytona. I expect to win at Daytona and I expect to be up front. And when it comes to the Auto Club Speedway, I have had top-10 finishes and I have run well there, but with these new cars, our team up until this point, really hasn’t been able to hit on it at a place like California. To start last and finish 15th is an accomplishment. I am really proud of my NAPA team.

After practice on Saturday, I was fairly confident that we would be competitive. On about lap five or six of the race, we had passed more cars than we did in all together in 2007 and 2008. I was really optimistic from the start because I liked the way the tires felt under me. I knew how to press it and when to press it. To start last, and make our way up to 15th makes me proud. I am real proud of Bootie. He is just on his game. He thinks about everything. He is always preparing and getting himself in a position to know what he has to do next. If the caution flag falls or not, I can just hear it in his voice that he is getting ready for what might be two or three steps down the line. It was real fun for me to listen to him call the race on Sunday. It gives me a lot of confidence as we race forward. I believe we can have continued success. Don’t get me wrong, 15th is a long way from where we expect to be, but there were times on Sunday where we had a car that was top-five material. We just didn’t hit it right with adjustments. We’ll just keep working because this was a huge test. If we would have left with a 27th or 28th-place finish, and that’s very easy to do because there were some good cars that left California in that very same situation, I believe we needed to be better than that. We needed to step up and be better than we have been in the past. David’s team over the course of last season was able to step up and run in the top 10 and top 15. In my opinion, they have passed a test or two. My team hadn’t. With Bootie’s direction, leadership, and preparation, I feel good about what’s happening. I am really proud of Bootie.

I think California is a good gauge as to how we should run at Las Vegas. These 1.5-mile tracks are pretty much the same. It’s a track that has been a struggle for us with this new car and California is certainly a track where we have struggled in the past. To be able to put a solid run in the books is good so we can now look forward to going to Las Vegas and doing it again.

Before I go, I just want to talk about my buddy Ron Capps and his two-race winning streak he has going. He’s a really fast learner. I have taught him a lot about parts. He didn’t really get it at first. I mean, the first race I ran for NAPA, I won. It took him a year to win. That’s pretty good to be honest with you. I think I’m just an over achiever by nature. For him to be able to spend a little bit of time under my wing and understand how the parts work and what the parts do and then spend the winter thinking about all that I taught him – it’s just rewarding for me to watch him apply it now. It just says wonders about how he pays attention.

He’s also a great partner to play games with …

I’m getting ready to head to Vegas now so have a great week and enjoy the race on Sunday!

Talk to you soon!

Daytona 500

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Hi Everyone –

Daytona Speedweeks are finally done and despite the race being shortened by rain, I can’t complain. What a spectacle and a phenomenal event. The Daytona 500 is like no other race. There were so many famous people there. Macy got to have her picture made with Tom Cruise and Keith Urban! Gene Hackman was also there. The stars were everywhere. It’s amazing how all of it leads up to the green flag. When the green flag waves, for me as a driver, it sets me off on this journey. You suspect that it is going to be a 500-mile journey. Sometimes it isn’t, but you think, ‘This is a big day and if I can get my car to victory lane, it will define my career.’ I can certainly attest to that with my two Daytona 500 victories. I think for a driver like Matt Kenseth who already has a championship under his belt, he obviously is an awesome race car driver; he still needed that Daytona 500 victory. Now, he’s got everything. I know he’s got to be very content right now. He was at the front when the race ended. I was in the same place back in 2003. I actually think it is harder to win a race that’s got rain coming because you just can’t anticipate when you should go to the front. Obviously, you better be in the front a lot! Matt got the lead at the right time and it was a well-deserved win for him and he’s a tremendous race car driver.

As for me, I am pleased with my team’s seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500. Our NAPA Toyota really handled well during the race. Actually, it was perfect. We just didn’t have the speed we needed. As the cars were getting strung out after a few laps on the restarts, I could march up through the field pretty well. I told my new crew chief Bootie Barker that we were close to having the winning car, but we were just missing power. I felt it a lot during the restarts. I’m not sure if 20 pounds less drag or 50 more horsepower would have made a difference. I will tell you, I wish we hadn’t lost that primary car in practice. I really loved that NAPA Camry and it was a blast to drive while I had it. It felt like the old No. 15 NAPA car that found its way to victory lane three times at Daytona. What could have been? Nope, I’m not going there. I am proud of what we were able to accomplish in Daytona.

One of my favorite drafting partners, Jimmie Johnson, really wasn’t up to making a run with me. His car just wasn’t right. He couldn’t go where he wanted to so I know how frustrating that was for him because that was me last year. If your car doesn’t handle well at Daytona, it’s pretty much junk!

At the end, I knew the rain was coming so I just had to make the charge. We were real fortunate to get in a couple of holes and make it all work out. I am really proud of the NAPA team. It was my first race with new crew chief Bootie Barker. I really enjoyed working with him. It was a lot of fun. I really look forward to going to California and see what we can get accomplished out there.
I am also really proud that all three MWR cars did well and finished in the top 20 at Daytona. We were the top-three finishers out of the Toyota camp. Marcos Ambrose did a great job especially considering it was his first Daytona 500. Reutimann got 12th. It was a day that MWR needed and now we are going to hopefully build on that and continue the momentum with more good runs.
Wish me luck in California. I am running both the Nationwide and Cup races. Talk to you soon!


Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Hi Everyone –

Daytona Speedweeks are finally underway.

When I first set foot on the grounds of the Daytona International Speedway, it was in the mid-70s. I stood on pit road and it all looked pretty cool. When I came down in 1983, I was driving a Dash car. I felt all kinds of anxiety, ignorance and even a little bit of bliss. I never will forget when I pulled onto pit road and then made it onto the back straightaway in my little four-cylinder car. I thought, ‘Wow, it’s a long way down there.’ It was pretty intimidating since I basically drove on quarter-mile tracks up until that point. Then move forward almost 20 years and I will never forget the feeling I had when I won my very first Daytona 500 in 2001. It was the first points race in my NAPA AUTO PARTS car. The following year, we came close to duplicating the win and then we got the victory again in 2003. I will never forget the feeling I had and where I was mentally. The same could be said about 2004 and 2005. My physical and mental state matched the competitiveness of the NAPA AUTO PARTS car. It’s been a tough couple of years since then, and probably the toughest of my entire career. Entering this season, I feel like my NAPA AUTO PARTS car is back and I am right there with it.

How about that wild Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night? It was wild for me because at one point on lap four, I saw the UPS car wreck right in front of me and I had to think to myself, ‘Do I still own that car?’ Then I saw the Aaron’s Dream Machine slide in front of my lap and I said, ‘I know I own that one.’ I called Bootie on the radio and said, “Are there any more cars out here that I own or have anything to do with because they are all trying to get me.” Eventually, we were able to make our way up to the top five. I got in another little skirmish with Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon. I got some damage and had to come to pit road for some minor repairs. It was great after all of that to still be able to climb back up through the field. Unfortunately, I got into another bind with 35 laps to go. I tried to get in a hole that I thought was there. When I got in it, it was there, but then I wasn’t able to close the deal. It got me into the outside wall and our race was over.

As for Sunday’s qualifying session, it was somewhat of a disappointment for the NAPA team especially when you compare it to last year’s outside-pole effort. Last year, my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was bouncing all over the track, but it was fast so I didn’t say a word. This year, I could tell we weren’t as fast and it still wasn’t quite driving well. I was thinking that we should get it handling better for qualifying in order to see if it would help get more speed out of the car. Bootie was able to get it driving well, but  when we made our qualifying lap, it was still slow. I was disappointed with our result because we have more power than we had a year ago. We have less drag in our car than we had a year ago. We didn’t have a rule change since the last time we were here and somehow, we still ran slower. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Good news is qualifying at Daytona is not an indication as to how the car will race. We proved that in the Budweiser Shootout.

So now my NAPA team is shifting into race mode in preparations for the Daytona 500. It is like running a marathon. I have to prepare mentally. My experience at Daytona has given me a good idea about what has to happen in order for me to get to victory lane for a third time. I have a plan and I am going to think about it all the time until the green flag drops on Sunday. All I am focusing on right now is how am I going to get my NAPA Toyota to victory lane. This requires mental toughness and that toughness is needed all the way up to 20 laps to go. I will concentrate on being smart so I can put myself in the right position and then I will go for it. I really feel like I am in a great place, mentally. My team is in a good place. I believe the opportunity to run well is there so I can’t wait to seize it and hopefully, win my third Daytona 500.

Wish me luck!