Hi Everyone –
We finally got to qualify at Texas after having a few weeks off because of rain. David Reutimann got 12th and I got 15th position in qualifying. There was a point during practice on Saturday that both cars were really good. Then on Sunday, David was able to take his from pretty good to really good. In regards to our NAPA Toyota, we never really could get a hold of our handling. It was so loose that I could not run the high groove. Another challenge was that my car would not go on new tires. It was loose. It was quite the opposite of Atlanta. So that speaks to the difficulty of getting the car to drive on tires that are cold or hot. We even saw Reutimann drive up to the front for a few laps, but on the restarts, he would fall back because his car was the same way.
In the end, the NAPA team pitted with five laps to go for gas and that was a stretch on fuel mileage for us. We were racing Ryan Newman and Dave Blaney. We were able to get past those guys through our pit stop and the work the guys did to get me off pit road in a hurry. My pit crew was awesome this past weekend. Beating Newman and Blaney was important to me.
I never got a chance to see a bunch of guys I was racing with, but what was real strange is I noticed for about 250 miles of the race, I was able to outrun the No. 24 car of Jeff Gordon. During one of the long, green-flag runs, I came off of Turn 4 and I could see Jeff going into Turn 1. We ran 40 or 50 laps and I passed him. I put him behind me and I ended up being two laps down. He gets the free pass, stays out on gas and finishes second. Crazy isn’t it?
It was great to see David get the lead and run the way he did. Something that I was very proud of is that all three of the MWR cars (55, 44, and 47) have three different drivers, crew chiefs and guys turning the wrenches — all three cars ran in the 28.9-second bracket. That just goes to show you that we were all good enough to be 24th or better. It shows me the kind of progress we are making and how we always dreamed of an organization that comprised of one team with three cars. I believe we are finally accomplishing that. With the new car that Bobby Kennedy, Mike Clark and all the boys at MWR are building, along with the engineering staff led by Nick Hughes, we are really beginning to see that we are gaining on it. That’s a great feeling. I certainly would have liked to see a better finish for the No. 55 team on Sunday night, but if you think back to Atlanta, we had the car that was the fastest of the three. We just couldn’t get it to the finish. David and Marcos (Ambrose) kind of slid around at Atlanta. The opposite was the case at Texas. David got a top-10 and Marcos got a top-25.
While there were some disappointments at Texas for the NAPA team, there was a lot of knowledge gathered and gained. We got a lot of things to be proud of with the race on Sunday. We head to Phoenix and Homestead for the last two races. With the way our car is running, I feel the NAPA team can establish itself as a top-20 contender in 2009. That’s what our goal is going to be for the NAPA team. We believe we can be a top-20 team. Let’s see what we can get accomplished in the last two races. I am looking forward to it!
Stay tuned. I’ll talk to you soon!