For a second there I was thinking Charlotte might become one of my favorite tracks. After Sunday, my feelings haven’t really changed much …
Thursday we unloaded the NAPA Batteries Toyota and I must say, I loved the paint scheme. It pretty much reflected all the positive energy that’s been happening with the NAPA race team. A lot of people asked if we took the same car we ran last weekend. We actually brought a new car for two reasons. One, NASCAR had our All-Star car until Tuesday night because we won the Showdown, so they wanted to take it, just like they do with the winner. So it would’ve been hard to wrap it with the NAPA Batteries scheme let alone get it race ready. The guys at MWR build all the cars the same so it wasn’t a big deal. It pretty much felt the same. We started with the same setup basically that we ended the All-Star Race with. We had a few things we wanted to try and pretty much ended right back where we were. It was really hard to judge today because the track was so hot. It was a half-second slower right off the truck than it was last week and that was the same for everybody. Going through the motions, trying things, just trying to get a little bit different feel of what we’re looking for, but it was really hard when it was that slick out there. Everything went well for us in practice. Obviously, conditions were a whole lot different than what we faced last weekend and definitely different from what we’d face on Sunday night. Track temps were up in the 130s (degrees), so it was real slick out there making it hard to really judge what we’d be up against Sunday night. We were at a disadvantage when it came to qualifying. We had an early draw which meant a lot of good cars behind us would take to the track under cooler temperatures. Regardless, we were able to go out there and lay down a good lap. I didn’t think it would hold up for the pole, but I thought it had a shot at a top-10 starting spot. It was great to only have two cars beat us. To start third — I was proud of the NAPA team and all their work.
Saturday was more of the same. The NAPA Batteries Toyota was on top of the board at the end of final practice. I felt pretty good about our chances for the Coca-Cola 600. I felt we needed to get a little bit better because it was tight in the center and free off the corners. Our focus was to get the center fixed because the NAPA Batteries Toyota had really good speed in it. Surprisingly, our car drove tight regardless of the temperatures over the last two weeks so I thought it would make it easy for us to work on it during the actual race.
At the start of the Coca-Cola 600, the tight condition remained and after 600 miles it still was tight. Our setup was very similar to David’s so it was tough to understand why we weren’t up there running for a top-five finish. We would have flashes of brilliance and then after an adjustment, the handling would go drastically away and it would be terrible. Pat and I are hoping after tearing down the car, the NAPA guys will find something that makes sense. We’re just baffled as to what happened out there Sunday night because we should have been up there running with our teammate.
Our 23rd-place finish dropped us to 14th in points from 12th. There are only 14 points separating us from being a Chase team. The NAPA guys and NAPA Know How Pit Crew continue to do a great job for me so we’ll keep plugging away. We’ve had good race cars and it’s great to see David back up there and running well. I know that if we do all the little things right and throughout the weekend, we’ll get back up there and have a chance to win races. It’s all just a matter of putting all the pieces together because it all adds up to a victory.
This weekend is Pocono. I’ll be nice and relaxed after going to two Philadelphia Flyers games. I’m pretty stoked. I like Pocono and have run well there. And Pat’s been to victory lane there so between the two of us and the NAPA Know How guys – we hope to be there with the trophy at the end of the race.