Subway Fresh Fit 500 – Phoenix International Raceway

Hi Everybody –

This week I would like to start off by saying how much I love to go to Phoenix. I actually went out last Tuesday evening via US Airways because I had to do a Toyota appearance on Wednesday morning. There’s nothing like waking up in Phoenix. It’s so pretty there, and even better, they have great golf courses. I got to play against Jamie McMurray and Mike Skinner. Skinner was better than us. He shot 80. I shot 85. We played from the shorter tees and there is no way to get a bad lie where we played. The grass was that perfect. Obviously from my score, you can tell I wasn’t very good that day, but I was able to make one birdie. I like birdies.

Thursday it was off to the track and we qualified. It was a decent run for all three cars. We all ran the same which was weird. We ran within a hundredth of each other. We all three had different set-ups, and we are three different drivers so it just goes to show you that it is a testament to the car. The cars are just so equal. You can go about it three different ways and still end up in the same place.

Overall, I was proud of Michael McDowell. He did a nice job on Thursday qualifying. He was really good in Happy Hour. We felt like he had a good car on Sunday. Sometimes you tend to forget he is a rookie because he is so predictable. I appreciate that out of him. He can log laps, give you good feedback, learn, and go through the process of getting up to speed. He’s doing such a great job. I really am proud of him.

David Reutimann was solid and steady as always — from the time practice started and until the checkered flag was flown at Phoenix. He just did a great job. I was real happy with him too. He got his car back into the top 35 in owner points. There is still no room for error, but it’s great to know we head to a track like Talladega where we all feel very confident with what we have, especially considering how we qualified at Daytona and at Talladega last fall.

As far as my race went, we started out a little free, but I was able to make some good moves. We were able to move up to 21st. I felt pretty comfortable that after an adjustment, I would be good. Unfortunately the first adjustment didn’t fix my NAPA Camry. It really didn’t affect it. It felt like we didn’t do anything. Then we lost a bunch of spots on pit road. Ultimately, we had to pit under green when some other cars were able to stay out and catch a caution to get their pit road service. I ended up being two laps down after just being on the lead lap running right on the edge of a top 20. So when they said go on the next restart, I was able to run third in line and out in front of the leaders. I was able to get one of my laps back. Then the next adjustment, the NAPA Camry got better. We raced hard to get the free pass, but we weren’t able to get in contention to get it. Late in the going, while running 21st, which is about where we should have finished, we had to stop and get gas again. That set us back to
a 24th-place finish.

Looking back at the last two weeks, Texas was as bad as we have ever run for two thirds of the race. We really worked hard to adjust. The last third of that race, we were actually a top-20 car. Unfortunately, we started so far behind that we were not able to show that. Then if you take how we ran on Saturday night, and how we tuned and made it better, I think it shows the confidence I have in my crew chief Bobby Kennedy, and my team, is justified. I am proud of my team. I am proud of the organization.

Wrapping up Phoenix, we flew home on the team plane. It’s quite a commitment for the organization to get close to 100 people back home. We got home to Statesville at about 6 a.m. on Sunday. I spent most of the day in bed watching the Masters. Then I went and had a pizza party at my mom’s house for my sister who turned 59. That was pretty cool. My sister has been a very important part of my career. When I first started racing, she worked for Darrell doing his books, and then she would help me do mine. She handled my books for a long time. It was great to spend time with her and my mom.

I am looking forward to Talladega. I am not only looking forward to Talladega, but Richmond and on down the road. We have some tracks coming up where we need to make some good headway in points. Richmond has always been a strong track for me. Unfortunately I did not get to race there last year, but when I drove for DEI, we always ran up front. I have won and set on the pole five times in the Nationwide car so I hope for another strong showing.

Monday it was back to the same old thing even though we are off this weekend. I did my television show for SPEED. Then Tuesday, I did my radio show for XM. I also spent a lot of time around the shop trying to get the pulse of the place since I was gone for almost a week. I like to ask the guys how it’s going. I also like to ask them what they see and what they need. If I can help, I can.

Thursday’s going to be a big day at MWR. NAPA is coming to visit. I get to see Mr. Susor and other key NAPA folks. I am really looking forward to hosting them.

For the first time in my life of 44 years, I am going to play in what is called a “Member-Member” golf tournament. It’s at my local country club. I’ve been a member there for about a year. I really have never lived the country club life until now, so it should be interesting. It’s definitely a new chapter in my life. So that’s my big plans for the weekend.

Thanks for reading my blog this week and hope to have a lot to share with you after Talladega!


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