First off, I got to attend my first Regional Spring Owner’s Meeting last Tuesday in Greensboro, N.C. I really appreciated meeting all the store owners and NAPA employees who were in attendance. So many people came up to me during the cocktail reception to welcome me aboard and to wish me luck. I truly feel a part of the NAPA family and I couldn’t be more proud to represent all of you.
As for our third race of the season, it was a mixed bag at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. My weekend started off by attending my poker tournament to benefit my foundation on Thursday. We held it at the Monte Carlo Resort and Spa. We have over 60 players including Michael, my crew chief Pat Tryson, Marcos Ambrose and his crew chief Frank Kerr. Kurt Busch also showed up and he was the first driver to go out. I am proud to say that I made it to the final table. It wasn’t easy. Pat was kind enough to buy my way back in one time and then I gambled by going all in a few more times. It was awesome that I got to play for the win. My tournament was the most fun I have ever had out in Las Vegas besides racing.
We ran a new paint scheme over the weekend. We had NAPAGold Filters on the car to launch the Buy It. Install It. promotion that’s happening this month. I hope the coverage we got helps the campaign. I’m also appearing this Friday on SPEED’s Trackside at 8 p.m. I’m taking the SPEED guys our NAPA cap giveaway and I’ll be tossing a few out to the fans in the audience. There are a lot of good things happening on the promotional front for you guys and I am glad to help by telling fans about it.
As for the actual race, we started 35th. I was really disappointed with qualifying. We had a mechanical issue. My ignition switch cut off when I was coming to the green. I lost a lot of time, but our car was fast. I was really happy with my NAPAGold Filters Toyota on Saturday. It remained fast especially during the long runs. I expected my car to be like it was last week at Fontana. Last week we were 11th by the first pit stop. This time it seemed OK, but I chose to take it easy during the start. I didn’t push it quite as hard. For me, Las Vegas is a really tough track. It’s harder to pass on than the Auto Club Speedway. I knew it was going to take a little bit longer to get up through the field, but we made it up to 23rd position by the first pit stop.
For the third week in a row, my pit crew did an awesome job. They’re getting the job done and are consistently helping me gain spots on the track. They did such a good job for me at Las Vegas that they won the Tissot “Pit Road Precision” Award. It’s a weekly award that’s given to the team who spends the least amount of time on pit road and finishes the event on the lead lap. We won $5,000 and a Tissot watch. The team with the most Tissot “Pit Road Precision” Award wins at the end of the season gets a $100,000 bonus plus Tissot watches for the crew and driver. That’s a pretty big deal.
Overall, the biggest challenge for us on Sunday was we just didn’t have a lot of grip. We were loose. Then we were tight. It was a tough day for us to find the balance I needed to really go and contend for a top-10. Our NAPA car wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. Pat did a good job and we continue to build on our experiences as a new team.
This week is Atlanta and in case you haven’t heard – it is one of my favorite tracks. I expect only good things when I get to NAPA’s home track. I hope to not only defend my pole, but win the race for you guys!