Archive for November, 2010

Homestead

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Hi Everyone,

The 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has come to a close and we have a champion. Jimmie Johnson completed the drive for five by winning his fifth-straight NASCAR Sprint Cup. That’s an accomplishment that will be tough to beat. He is certainly going to go down as one of the best, if not the best, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver ever. Congratulations to Rick Hendrick and his entire organization.

As for our race, we had the winning car. There is no doubt in my mind. For close to 200 laps, I was having an incredible time and told my crew that I wished they knew just how much fun I was having out there. The race was ours if only we could have avoided the cut down right rear tire. We showed what we are capable of doing. It’s nice but it also stinks because we couldn’t take advantage of it. I have been proud of these NAPA Know How guys all year long. We’ve got some stuff to work on, but we know what we need to work on so I expect to come out of the box strong in 2011.

I have to say, I have enjoyed my first season as driver of the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. I’ve never been this busy before and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I starred in my first NAPA commercial. I never expected that one commercial to have the impact that it did. I only wish I had a dollar for every time a fan asked me to sing the NAPA Know How jingle.

It was a privilege to bring more than 2,400 people along for my ride at Texas Motor Speedway. I was familiar with NAPA’s efforts to help raise money and awareness for Susan G. Komen All Out for the Cure, but it was great to see firsthand what could be accomplished in a little over three weeks. I enjoyed promoting our message by doing radio commercials, Facebook videos, interviews and television appearances. I’ve never been a big fan of the color pink, but I am now. It means a lot to so many people who have been touched or affected some way by breast cancer.

As for the NAPA AUTO PARTS team on the track, we learned a lot this year. At the midway point, I felt really good about our group as a whole. We were 12th in points and that was impressive especially considering we were a new team. And to be honest, I wasn’t expecting us to be quite that good that soon. So I really had high hopes heading into the second half of the season with us going back to tracks for the second time this season and understanding more about the cars that Michael Waltrip Racing builds. Unfortunately, we went the wrong way on the performance charts. We went downhill. We had a stretch of about three or four weeks where we had rotten luck. Once that went away, our performance wasn’t quite there.

Over the last month, month and a half, we’ve been doing a lot of experimenting in getting ready for 2011. We’re picking apart certain parts of the car and figuring out what is it that we are lacking. It’s important for us to find out what we need to work on during the winter and understanding it better. We’ve been going through a bunch of scenarios over the last few weeks and trying out a bunch of different packages. We’ve found some gains and we’ve found some places where we definitely need to work. All you can do is make your best educated guess and on the things you need improvement on and go to work on it. That’s what we’re going to do.

I think we have a very good idea of the direction we need to take. We will do our best to get it all sorted out and fixed by the time we go back to Daytona, but in reality, you never are 100 percent certain that you have all the solutions until you get to the track and put them into play.

We have an incredibly talented group of people on this NAPA AUTO PARTS race team as well as everyone at Michael Waltrip Racing that contributes to our team. I’m confident that we are all on the right track and I’m looking forward to climbing back into our NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota and representing NAPA the best way I
can both on and off the racetrack.

Phoenix International Speedway

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Hi Everyone,

Phoenix International Raceway produced a mixed bag of results for me. For the fifth time this season, I drove in the NASCAR Nationwide Series event. I really enjoy doing it and I think it helps with our Cup program too. The Toyota I ran had a Travis Pastrana paint scheme to promote the new partnership Michael Waltrip Racing and Gary and Blake Bechtel announced with Pastrana last Thursday. He’s an icon in the action sports industry, so to have him form a team with us is a win-win situation for all of us and NASCAR. He’s scheduled to run seven races next year so I look forward to working with him and wish him the best.

When I’ve driven in the Nationwide Series this year, the Diamond-Waltrip team has given me a top-five car. With that said, I definitely felt good about my chances. Our car started out pretty strong, but after the first green-flag run, the handling really went away. Not long after the halfway mark, I went into Turn 1 and had to pump the brakes. My car spun out and backed into the Turn 1 wall. It was a hard hit and we were done for the day. As a driver, I’d like to expect all the races to go perfectly, but in reality, it doesn’t always work out that way.

On the Sprint Cup side, it went better. We had a good NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. We qualified 11th and I was happy about the effort since we went out really early. Then during the race, we had a top-10 run going until we had a cut tire. We had to pit an extra time during the caution so it put us at the rear of the field on what would be the final restart. I wasn’t surprised to see the race go green at the end. Phoenix has a tendency to go green for long periods of time. It has gotten harder to pass over the last couple of races since the bottom groove seems to be head and shoulders better than the second groove. I’m not sure why that is but everyone prefers the bottom groove. In the end, the field spread out and it was tough to regain the track position we had lost. We ended up 15th. I thought we were going to end up better than that, but considering the bad luck we’ve been having, I’ll take a top-15.

I heard an interesting rumor on Monday when I got back. There is talk that Phoenix might get repaved and reconfigured. I am kind of on the fence about it. Phoenix is a great race track in my opinion. The surface is definitely worn out and has been patched up in some spots. But I like the worn out asphalt. I also like the unique layout of the place. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I’m sure they’re putting a lot of thought in deciding if changes are needed. I’m for whatever they decide. It’s a cool place.

Before I go, I want to congratulate NAPA and the Bill McAnally Racing team with driver Eric Holmes. They won the K&N Pro Series West championship on Saturday night. That’s pretty neat especially since my brother won the K&N Pro Series East title a few months ago. It’s safe to say a NAPA-sponsored car dominated those two divisions this season.

Now, it’s off to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race of 2010. There are three drivers who have a legitimate shot at winning the title. It should be fun for you guys to watch. I know I am looking forward to ending our first season together with a strong run!

Texas 2

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Hi Everyone,

I just got done having lunch with Bob Susor and John Hannigan at the National NAPA AutoCare Council Meeting at Michael Waltrip Racing. I enjoyed meeting all of the AutoCare shop owners who were on hand to participate. They asked me all kinds of questions and they wanted to know about the fight that broke out at Texas between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton. Tempers definitely flare out on the track and I’m happy to say, I’ve never been called to the NASCAR Trailer. I pretty much saw it unfold as most fans did by watching it on a television. I was in the garage as the NAPA Know How crew tried to repair our car. What a disappointing day for us and to be honest, I was happy to leave Texas. You have days like that, but it still doesn’t make it any easy to accept. We were on mark for at least a top 15 and then problems started. At first, I thought we were going to be OK, but after I cut a second tire down, it ended our chances.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am over what happened at Texas because we were running the NAPA Signature Toyota paint scheme. I wanted to turn in a great run as a way of thanking everyone who participated in the project. We ended up having over 2,400 names on it. Several people who made donations as well as others whose names were actually on the car came to see it over the weekend. The car made a big impact not only on me, but my entire NAPA AUTO PARTS team. One breast cancer survivor introduced herself to my crew as they pushed the car out to qualifying. She was so happy to see it and then looked for her name. She found it and wanted her picture taken with my crew by the car. On Sunday, a man introduced himself to our shock specialist Luke Cunnington. He told us how the car meant a lot to him as his wife’s name was also on the car. Unfortunately, she lost her battle with breast cancer three weeks ago.

The person who described our NAPA Signature Toyota the best was my Honorary Pit Crew Member Marcia Dluhy. She was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2007 and after 12 surgeries and lots of chemo and radiation treatments, she is in remission. She took one look at the car and said, “That car has a lot of power.”

What she said has stuck with me. After our month-long campaign raising funds and awareness for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I cannot be more proud to be associated with a sponsor like NAPA AUTO PARTS. It was nice to see all of our hard work end with a $250,000 donation to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. We presented the check to the breast cancer awareness group on Sunday morning during SPEED’s Race Day broadcast. If you missed it, you can watch it here: http://tiny.cc/ox853.

I’m off to Phoenix. I’ll be pulling double duty again. I hope to have two strong performances to talk to you about next week.

Talladega

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Hi Everyone,

How about that race at Talladega on Sunday? For a split second, I thought we had the race won! Regardless, it’s nice to finally finish a race off with a result that reflected how good our NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota ran all day. We had a big push there at the end and had a chance at the win. So, Talladega wasn’t a win for us, but I am OK with sixth place.

The NAPA Know How crew built a new car for this race after we destroyed our superspeedway car at Daytona. The new car was even better. Toyota brought an engine for us with even more horsepower. Overall, I was very happy with all of the improvements. As you saw, we were competitive all day. We ran up front and even led some laps.

Racing was really interesting. Two cars running back-to-back were faster than a long line of cars. I’m not sure why or how it happens. It’s rather crazy to see two guys pull out in 20th position and pass everybody that is in line. I guess it has something to do with the splitter and the way the nose is on the car. I may not understand it, but it makes for a lot of fun.

My NAPA Toyota was a strong car that could push in a two-car draft. I worked well with a lot of guys, but what was strange, I couldn’t push my teammates very well. And if anyone got on my bumper, I was able to go fast, regardless of who it was. Joey Logano was a huge help to me. He pushed us all the way to the front. We caught up to the leaders – David (Reutimann), Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Juan Pablo Montoya. We had the push to win it, but the hole closed up at the end. I have to thank Joey for the push. Obviously at the end, I was happy to be in one of those two-car drafts. It almost paid off. It was a good ending to a fun day. There is no rhyme or reason to the final laps at Talladega. We were fortunate that everything worked out.

It’s nice to have some momentum heading into this weekend’s race at Texas. It’s a big weekend for us. We’re bringing the NAPA Signature Toyota to raise even more awareness for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The NAPA Know How Facebook promotion raised $51,000. We have over 2,400 names on the car so that is really neat and something I am very proud of. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The car is literally a show stopper because everyone on the shop floor at Michael Waltrip Racing stops and looks at it. I can only imagine what will happen once it rolls off the NAPA hauler in Texas. Fans, especially those affected some way by breast cancer, will appreciate the car. I know I am very proud of it. It’s probably the most meaningful paint scheme I have ever raced and I hope to make everyone proud when it goes around that race track.

We also sold out of all the NAPA All Out for the Cure hats. I want to thank all the fans who submitted names for the car and those fans that made a trip to their NAPA AUTO PARTS stores, AutoCare Centers and Michael Waltrip Racing to buy hats. All of the effort to help us is very much appreciated and on Sunday, NAPA will hand over a $250,000 check to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. We’ll be doing it during the 9:30 a.m. NASCAR Race Day on SPEED broadcast.

Here’s a little video from me: http://tiny.cc/cbwq5.