Hi Everyone —
This weekend basically drove me crazy because as soon as practice started on Thursday, my car caught fire. That’s very unusual for us at Michael Waltrip Racing. Rarely does anything fall off of our cars or go extremely wrong, as in this case. It was very surprising to me that it happened. Then couple it with me not liking how the car felt, it put us behind a little bit.
Friday, we fought through the entire day, but I ended up being happy with my car. It was one of the best practices we had all year leading into a race. Our times were good. Our NAPA Toyota was very drivable. I was really looking forward to the LifeLock.com 400.
When the race started, while I was able to maintain my position and run decent, the car was hitting the ground. Bobby Kennedy (crew chief) and the guys knew how to fix it so it was completed during the competition yellow. Everything was going to be OK. I was racing with Jeff Burton on the lead lap and when we were coming off Turn 4, Patrick Carpentier hit the wall. I had to dodge Patrick and Jeff wasn’t able to dodge me. As soon as I went into the infield with the splitter, it was like a bulldozer. It’s a blade on the front. With all the rain we had in Chicago, I felt it dig in. When the splitter digs in, it just takes the car that weighs 3500 pounds, and is running 150 miles per hour, and knocks it down 50 miles per hour. I knew we did heavy damage to the splitter. After that, it was a matter of survival. Not only survival, but we were trying our hardest to get all we could. We struggled. We worked on the splitter. We lost time versus patching it up. Whether I am in the car or Bobby on the pit box or the team in the pit, it is very hard to remain calm. It is very hard to think that every decision we make is correct. I think there was a time when Bobby thought the splitter would be OK and it wasn’t. It caused us to lose some time. There was a time when we came back to pit road to work on it, and ultimately, it ended up being a mistake.
The thing that is frustrating to me is if you zero in on the last five races, I have had a very competitive car. The first of those five was Michigan. We got absolutely the worst finish we could have gotten. We had a top-five car, but fuel mileage hurt us. We had to pit late when others didn’t. Then we got wrecked on the last lap. We ended up 23rd but should have been in the top five.
Next was Infineon Raceway. It was another fuel-mileage game and we were on the wrong side of it. We left there in 25th. It was the second race in a row where we had the worst finish we could get with the way we performed.
We went to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. We finally got a great finish. We performed well. I believe we deserved that finish. I was happy.
Then we went to Daytona. On the restart, with a chance to get a top-five finish, we got crashed. Again, we got the worst finish we could get.
In Chicago, we had a very competitive car on a 1.5-mile, banked track which has been a challenge for us all season. We had a good car. We ended up 36th. The reason why we ended up 36th is because we were racing hard with Jeff Burton who is right up front in the points. He ended up hitting me and it caused us to wreck. That is why it is hard to just say, ‘Everything is going to be OK. It will be fine.’ We just want everybody to know that our hearts and souls are into it. We were racing hard at Chicago and darn it, we didn’t get what we deserved. Regardless, I will take positives out of it. We ran better on this track than we have run at these types of tracks all year. That means good things.
We will definitely look at everything we did at Chicago. We know that we could have done a lot of things better as a team. We are going to have that when we slide through the grass and rip our splitter off. The whole splitter concept is new to us and to NASCAR. You know what to do when you knock in a fender, but when you knock in a splitter, you have to gain the experience to truly understand what you have to do. We think we were prepared. We thought we would be OK. In our situation, we thought we had it fixed enough, and unfortunately, we didn’t. It cost us valuable positions.
The cool thing about Chicago is David Reutimann ran in the top 15 all night. His run is going to help us tremendously. We know what he did. We know his set up. We’ll take all that information including what they did during the race and file it.
In retrospect of our entire weekend, on Friday, I had set up A and set up B. Set up A was what we went with because we were fast. Set up B was basically Reutimann’s set up. We elected to go with our set up. I knew it was a risk. It was a gamble to run the set up that I liked. I had a lot of confidence in it. I felt like if we went with it, we would be OK. I think I was wrong.
One of the biggest things I have learned about this new car is when you show up to the track, that’s pretty much what you’ve got. You can improve on it a little bit or you can mess it up a little bit. You need to stick with it and tweak it. The days of just getting up on Sunday morning and throwing an entirely new set up at it is over. The box that we are now operating in is dictated by the splitter in the front. We are essentially operating in a two inch box. That box will not allow us to easily change our set up. You just have to tweak it.
So what I am going to do during my off weekend? One thing I know for sure is I am really looking forward to it. It is going to be perfect and it pretty much sums up how much I love racing. I had a number of options of things to do but after weighing my options, I elected to go to Kentucky Speedway. I am going to be a commentator on the Truck race broadcast airing on SPEED. I just love doing the Trucks on television. It is near and dear to my heart so I hope everyone will be watching!