Hi Everyone —
On Thursday I hopped on my plane to head to Talladega. But first, I made a stop in Atlanta to visit NAPA’s Headquarters to attend the annual Employee Appreciation Day. I absolutely love doing it every year as I feel so much a part of the organization. I feel like a valued employee. We had a nice barbeque and gave away some fun prizes. I talked to some great people and signed autographs. It was just the perfect day.
Then it was off to Talladega. On Friday in the first practice, I was not all that happy with my car. We were slow. I couldn’t keep up. I wasn’t happy so Bobby Kennedy and the guys who work so hard on the NAPA AUTO PARTS Camry dove in there and started to change gears and shocks. They really tried to work the car over to get it to where it needed to be. In general, specifically at restrictor-plate races, there is not a whole lot of room that NASCAR allows you to work on the cars. To be able to show up with one that I didn’t like, and then have the team tune it up to where I could be actually competitive was impressive. At the end of practice I had the fastest time on the board which is not all that really important. What was important to me is we had the fastest five-lap average and I knew I had a car that I could race and win with. So I went to bed Friday night after practice feeling pretty good. I didn’t realistically see how we could qualify very well. We just did not have the fast speed that we had in Daytona in February. Indeed, I was correct. I woke up on Saturday morning and qualified. I got 27th. All three cars were locked in the show so we were just trying to find us a place to start. We were able to accomplish that. Again, I was still confident. I didn’t feel like I was going to qualify well, but I knew that it really wasn’t going to matter. I knew that I had a good race car.
When qualifying was over in Talladega, I jumped on Elliott Sadler’s jet and flew over to Kansas. I did the Truck race on SPEED. I am a real big fan of the Truck Series and especially SPEED. When I was a kid, if they would have had SPEED and showed all the races, I probably would not have graduated from school because I would have never left home. I love the fact that you can tune in and find out about everything that is going on in my world which is racing. I flew over there with Eddie and Jon Wood. Jon went over there and raced. I did the TV part of it. I came back home. I got home around 10, 11 o’clock on Saturday night.
Sunday was the typical race day. I had appearances for NAPA and Aaron’s. Mr. Susor and his wife Lin came over. I got to spend some time with those folks for awhile. I had a new sponsor for Michael McDowell – Microsoft Small Businesses. It was on his car and there were some folks from that company at the track. Race morning is typically the same. It’s just meeting a lot of fine folks and getting people jazzed up about what they are getting ready to do. This race day was no different. After the driver’s meeting, Macy and Caitlin came with me to Talladega so we ate some lunch. I hung out with them. Then it was time for the race to start.
The Aaron’s 499 went about the way I figured. When they said “go”, I made a half-hearted attempt to go from 27th up towards the front. I didn’t really buy into that at that point because I knew there was a lot of racing to go. While it really would have been cool to charge up there. There were still 180 laps to go. My goal was to be around at the finish and be in a position to win it. Fortunately, our plan worked. I kind of laid back and hung out with Jimmie Johnson for awhile. I charged into the top 10 before halfway. I felt pretty good about my race car and how I needed to position it to run fast and be competitive. I learned a lot during the first half of the race by the strategy I elected to use to get the win and I’ll be darn, with five to go, we were leading the race. Jimmie Johnson was second. We followed about the same line to get there. He was a real key in allowing me to get to the front and get the lead. I was able to block him off and put him behind the NAPA car. By doing so, he had to push me. His pushes were crucial to getting me to the front. We were all lined up to do it again coming to the white flag. Jimmie and I were on the outside getting ready to drive around them and the motor let go on the NAPA car. It’s a shame. Just a couple of days before my 45th birthday, we were so close to have winning the race. We just had a car break down with one lap to go. One more lap and we would have had the race won. It’s a little hard to take for a day or two. But we’ll put it behind us and head off to Richmond, Virginia.
But before I will leave for Richmond, today (Monday) I did our XM radio show. I taped that for Thursday night. Our guest on the show was Ron Capps. Ron is NAPA’s Funny Car driver and he was over in Atlanta. He had a really good car too. He raced all the way to the semifinals. He got beat by the eventual winner Ashley Force. NAPA does such a great job using motorsports to sell there products. Ron and I were talking on Monday about how much of an honor it is to be associated with a company like NAPA. NAPA not only sponsors our cars but they do a great job using us in TV commercials and hospitality. They do it all and understand the value of activation. We are really proud that they are our sponsor. I got the show done with Ron and then headed down to Charlotte to tape This Week in NASCAR on SPEED.
Tuesday it’s off to Detroit to do a shareholders meeting for Dow Automotive. Then Wednesday (on my birthday), I go to Louisville, Kentucky to do some stuff for UPS at Churchill Downs.
As you can see, my week is pretty busy. It’s not always like that but it will be over the next couple of weeks. I am proud to have the sponsors I have and the opportunity to represent them.
Thursday, it’s off to Richmond where the NAPA team will continue the momentum of a great run we had at Talladega. It’s really sad just looking at the end result – 27th. You look at that and think I am 27th again, but I certainly need to remember that we almost won. We will try to keep the good momentum going and look forward at the chance to do it at Richmond.