Martinsville 2

Hi Everyone –
For the ninth time this season, rain washed out practice and qualifying on Friday. That meant I started 31st – again. When the race got going on Sunday, it was amazing to me how Bobby Kennedy (crew chief) would come over the radio and tell me that the leaders were running 20.90 (seconds) and I was running 21-flat (seconds). I only needed a little bit, but there were 16 other drivers who were between me and Jimmie Johnson. It only takes a little bit on a track like Martinsville. We just couldn’t hit on the right adjustment for our NAPA Toyota. We got close a couple of times, but we could never get it perfect. It pushed all day long, but we fought it and got a top 20 so that’s alright.

Our biggest challenge of the day took place during the long, green-flag run that lasted over 90 laps. I came off of Turn 2 and the NAPA team had some sort of rear-end gear issue which may have been similar to the No. 00 team because they ended up breaking theirs. But my NAPA Toyota would just jump or pop. Something would skip a gear or do something in the back. At one point, I came off the corner and it popped so violently that I had to correct the car. When I did, I got into the outside wall. Martinsville is such a rhythm, timing track. The contact with the wall threw me off for two or three laps. When I finally looked up, the guys I was racing had gotten away. I had lost a lot of ground due to something going on in the back of the car. You have to work really, really hard to get into a groove. My crew chief and the team can see it when it happens. Bobby came over the radio to encourage me and tell me to get my rhythm back. It was easy for him to say, but it was very, very hard to do. It is especially hard to do when you have a variable like I did with the gear acting up. It all went down at a bad time for me because it was in the middle of such a long, green-flag run. We had passed a lot of cars and were running really well, but that contact set us back. Unfortunately for us, it caused us to eventually get lapped by Jimmie Johnson. That relegated us to an 18th-place finish. We were better than that at times and a little bit worse at times.

The No. 00 team had another rough weekend. The same thing happened the week before with AJ Allmendinger. At Martinsville, Mike Bliss drove the car. He had a good car, but never got to show it. His day ended when the rear-end gear broke. Reutimann had bad luck again. I am hoping he finally gets the finish he deserves.  Marcos Ambrose is joining us this week in Atlanta and will remain in the car for the final four races. We’ve got a little Australian influence coming into our mix at MWR.

All and all, the NAPA team’s finish at Martinsville allowed us to gain a few spots in the points so it was a good race for us. We continue to remain solidly in the top 35 so we should be able to race out the rest of this year without worrying about qualifying. Then, we hope to continue to grow and progress in the same direction we have seen over the last couple of months at MWR. I really like the direction we are going.

I am heading to Atlanta this weekend. It will be my 1,000th start of my NASCAR career. That’s pretty neat and I’ll elaborate on it next week when it all goes down. It hasn’t sunk in yet except for the fact that I am realizing I am old!

Stay tuned and I’ll talk to you next week!

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