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!