I arrived in Daytona on Thursday afternoon in time for practice. The way our NAPA Toyota was running, I felt really good about our chances for repeating our top-10 result from earlier this year at Daytona. We brought the same car we ran in the 500 because it was in really good shape. In February it was a really good handling car, but this time, I thought our NAPA Toyota was even better. Bottom line … we just need to get a little bit of luck on our side.
Over the course of the weekend, it drove about the same. It was really good. Our two practices were interesting especially with the new spoiler and restrictor plate. We were faster and had more horsepower. The track was a lot hotter, slicker and bumpier. It made the cars a handful to drive later in a run and in traffic. If you were put in the middle, it made things very difficult and we saw several teams having to go to back-up cars because of wrecks. I felt handling was going to be a huge issue for everyone when it came down to the race and it was. The guys that could handle well on the longer runs were going to be the ones to watch and they were for awhile.
Track position turned out to be critical for us during the race. Riding out in the clean air was a huge benefit. Our car ran really well in the bottom groove, but it seemed as if most cars preferred the high line. Our NAPA Toyota was really loose up there so Pat worked on getting the NAPA Toyota to handle better on top. We stayed out of trouble the first half of the race and were running in the top 10 pretty comfortably. Then the caution came out when Kyle Busch wrecked. We were in sixth place at the time and a piece of Kyle’s crush panel hit the front of our car. We were going to be OK. It didn’t do much damage. We just needed to fix the splitter braces. The repair put us in the back of the field, but we had to make the fix. The splitter would have just drug off the car. We were working our way back up to the front and got caught up in the wreck. It was unfortunate, but there really isn’t a lot we can do about that. It’s just the way it’s been going for us lately. We’ve had fast cars and just can’t seem to get to the end. For whatever reason, we can’t seem to catch any breaks. It’s just a shame for all of these NAPA Know How guys. They’ve been working so hard. Our car was really, really good and we were really just biding our time all night and running in the top 10. We were just cruising. We definitely had something for them. All we could get out of it was a 35th-place finish.
Moving forward, Daytona is going to repave the track. I really have mixed feelings about it. It’s almost one of those things where you need to be careful about what you wish for. It is already a fun track to race on. With that said, it is also very difficult. I think when they repave it; we are going to wish that they hadn’t done it. In a couple of years, it will weather back in and it will get bumpy. It will be like it was before. But right now it is so rough. The cars are hitting the ground so hard that it is breaking up the racetrack like it did during the Daytona 500. They have to patch it up. We can’t have delays because we are knocking holes in the track. I think repaving will be good for everyone involved.
Now it is off to Chicago. I am looking forward to having a great run there. We know that we have some things to work on. I enjoy the track. It’s been a good one for me. I have had some really strong cars there in the past few years. Pat and the NAPA Know How crew continue to work hard so I look forward to seeing what we can do.
Before I go, if you have not taken advantage of NAPA’s Track Pass offer – you need to do it. I think it’s a great way to follow our team during the race. Just go to www.nascar.com/napatruexscanner or visit NAPAonline.com and link from there. All you will have to do is register as a new user and you will have access to the in-race scanner between me and the No. 56 team. You never know, you might hear me sing the NAPA Know How jingle. Stay tuned!