The Auto Club 500 Post

February 25th, 2009

Hi Everyone –

I have to tell you that this past race weekend was bigger than Daytona. I expect to win at Daytona and I expect to be up front. And when it comes to the Auto Club Speedway, I have had top-10 finishes and I have run well there, but with these new cars, our team up until this point, really hasn’t been able to hit on it at a place like California. To start last and finish 15th is an accomplishment. I am really proud of my NAPA team.

After practice on Saturday, I was fairly confident that we would be competitive. On about lap five or six of the race, we had passed more cars than we did in all together in 2007 and 2008. I was really optimistic from the start because I liked the way the tires felt under me. I knew how to press it and when to press it. To start last, and make our way up to 15th makes me proud. I am real proud of Bootie. He is just on his game. He thinks about everything. He is always preparing and getting himself in a position to know what he has to do next. If the caution flag falls or not, I can just hear it in his voice that he is getting ready for what might be two or three steps down the line. It was real fun for me to listen to him call the race on Sunday. It gives me a lot of confidence as we race forward. I believe we can have continued success. Don’t get me wrong, 15th is a long way from where we expect to be, but there were times on Sunday where we had a car that was top-five material. We just didn’t hit it right with adjustments. We’ll just keep working because this was a huge test. If we would have left with a 27th or 28th-place finish, and that’s very easy to do because there were some good cars that left California in that very same situation, I believe we needed to be better than that. We needed to step up and be better than we have been in the past. David’s team over the course of last season was able to step up and run in the top 10 and top 15. In my opinion, they have passed a test or two. My team hadn’t. With Bootie’s direction, leadership, and preparation, I feel good about what’s happening. I am really proud of Bootie.

I think California is a good gauge as to how we should run at Las Vegas. These 1.5-mile tracks are pretty much the same. It’s a track that has been a struggle for us with this new car and California is certainly a track where we have struggled in the past. To be able to put a solid run in the books is good so we can now look forward to going to Las Vegas and doing it again.

Before I go, I just want to talk about my buddy Ron Capps and his two-race winning streak he has going. He’s a really fast learner. I have taught him a lot about parts. He didn’t really get it at first. I mean, the first race I ran for NAPA, I won. It took him a year to win. That’s pretty good to be honest with you. I think I’m just an over achiever by nature. For him to be able to spend a little bit of time under my wing and understand how the parts work and what the parts do and then spend the winter thinking about all that I taught him – it’s just rewarding for me to watch him apply it now. It just says wonders about how he pays attention.

He’s also a great partner to play games with …

I’m getting ready to head to Vegas now so have a great week and enjoy the race on Sunday!

Talk to you soon!
 

Daytona 500

February 18th, 2009

Hi Everyone –

Daytona Speedweeks are finally done and despite the race being shortened by rain, I can’t complain. What a spectacle and a phenomenal event. The Daytona 500 is like no other race. There were so many famous people there. Macy got to have her picture made with Tom Cruise and Keith Urban! Gene Hackman was also there. The stars were everywhere. It’s amazing how all of it leads up to the green flag. When the green flag waves, for me as a driver, it sets me off on this journey. You suspect that it is going to be a 500-mile journey. Sometimes it isn’t, but you think, ‘This is a big day and if I can get my car to victory lane, it will define my career.’ I can certainly attest to that with my two Daytona 500 victories. I think for a driver like Matt Kenseth who already has a championship under his belt, he obviously is an awesome race car driver; he still needed that Daytona 500 victory. Now, he’s got everything. I know he’s got to be very content right now. He was at the front when the race ended. I was in the same place back in 2003. I actually think it is harder to win a race that’s got rain coming because you just can’t anticipate when you should go to the front. Obviously, you better be in the front a lot! Matt got the lead at the right time and it was a well-deserved win for him and he’s a tremendous race car driver.

As for me, I am pleased with my team’s seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500. Our NAPA Toyota really handled well during the race. Actually, it was perfect. We just didn’t have the speed we needed. As the cars were getting strung out after a few laps on the restarts, I could march up through the field pretty well. I told my new crew chief Bootie Barker that we were close to having the winning car, but we were just missing power. I felt it a lot during the restarts. I’m not sure if 20 pounds less drag or 50 more horsepower would have made a difference. I will tell you, I wish we hadn’t lost that primary car in practice. I really loved that NAPA Camry and it was a blast to drive while I had it. It felt like the old No. 15 NAPA car that found its way to victory lane three times at Daytona. What could have been? Nope, I’m not going there. I am proud of what we were able to accomplish in Daytona.

One of my favorite drafting partners, Jimmie Johnson, really wasn’t up to making a run with me. His car just wasn’t right. He couldn’t go where he wanted to so I know how frustrating that was for him because that was me last year. If your car doesn’t handle well at Daytona, it’s pretty much junk!

At the end, I knew the rain was coming so I just had to make the charge. We were real fortunate to get in a couple of holes and make it all work out. I am really proud of the NAPA team. It was my first race with new crew chief Bootie Barker. I really enjoyed working with him. It was a lot of fun. I really look forward to going to California and see what we can get accomplished out there.
I am also really proud that all three MWR cars did well and finished in the top 20 at Daytona. We were the top-three finishers out of the Toyota camp. Marcos Ambrose did a great job especially considering it was his first Daytona 500. Reutimann got 12th. It was a day that MWR needed and now we are going to hopefully build on that and continue the momentum with more good runs.
Wish me luck in California. I am running both the Nationwide and Cup races. Talk to you soon!

MICHAEL WALTRIP BLOG: Feb. 10

February 10th, 2009

Hi Everyone –

Daytona Speedweeks are finally underway.

When I first set foot on the grounds of the Daytona International Speedway, it was in the mid-70s. I stood on pit road and it all looked pretty cool. When I came down in 1983, I was driving a Dash car. I felt all kinds of anxiety, ignorance and even a little bit of bliss. I never will forget when I pulled onto pit road and then made it onto the back straightaway in my little four-cylinder car. I thought, ‘Wow, it’s a long way down there.’ It was pretty intimidating since I basically drove on quarter-mile tracks up until that point. Then move forward almost 20 years and I will never forget the feeling I had when I won my very first Daytona 500 in 2001. It was the first points race in my NAPA AUTO PARTS car. The following year, we came close to duplicating the win and then we got the victory again in 2003. I will never forget the feeling I had and where I was mentally. The same could be said about 2004 and 2005. My physical and mental state matched the competitiveness of the NAPA AUTO PARTS car. It’s been a tough couple of years since then, and probably the toughest of my entire career. Entering this season, I feel like my NAPA AUTO PARTS car is back and I am right there with it.

How about that wild Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night? It was wild for me because at one point on lap four, I saw the UPS car wreck right in front of me and I had to think to myself, ‘Do I still own that car?’ Then I saw the Aaron’s Dream Machine slide in front of my lap and I said, ‘I know I own that one.’ I called Bootie on the radio and said, “Are there any more cars out here that I own or have anything to do with because they are all trying to get me.” Eventually, we were able to make our way up to the top five. I got in another little skirmish with Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon. I got some damage and had to come to pit road for some minor repairs. It was great after all of that to still be able to climb back up through the field. Unfortunately, I got into another bind with 35 laps to go. I tried to get in a hole that I thought was there. When I got in it, it was there, but then I wasn’t able to close the deal. It got me into the outside wall and our race was over.

As for Sunday’s qualifying session, it was somewhat of a disappointment for the NAPA team especially when you compare it to last year’s outside-pole effort. Last year, my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was bouncing all over the track, but it was fast so I didn’t say a word. This year, I could tell we weren’t as fast and it still wasn’t quite driving well. I was thinking that we should get it handling better for qualifying in order to see if it would help get more speed out of the car. Bootie was able to get it driving well, but  when we made our qualifying lap, it was still slow. I was disappointed with our result because we have more power than we had a year ago. We have less drag in our car than we had a year ago. We didn’t have a rule change since the last time we were here and somehow, we still ran slower. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Good news is qualifying at Daytona is not an indication as to how the car will race. We proved that in the Budweiser Shootout.

So now my NAPA team is shifting into race mode in preparations for the Daytona 500. It is like running a marathon. I have to prepare mentally. My experience at Daytona has given me a good idea about what has to happen in order for me to get to victory lane for a third time. I have a plan and I am going to think about it all the time until the green flag drops on Sunday. All I am focusing on right now is how am I going to get my NAPA Toyota to victory lane. This requires mental toughness and that toughness is needed all the way up to 20 laps to go. I will concentrate on being smart so I can put myself in the right position and then I will go for it. I really feel like I am in a great place, mentally. My team is in a good place. I believe the opportunity to run well is there so I can’t wait to seize it and hopefully, win my third Daytona 500.

Wish me luck!

MICHAEL WALTRIP BLOG: Jan. 21

January 21st, 2009

Hi Everyone –

It’s hard to believe that our season starts in just a few weeks! I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to driving through the tunnel at Daytona. I am approaching this year’s Daytona 500 with the mindset that I can win the race. It’s a great feeling, and as you know, I have had the good fortune to go down there a few times knowing that a win was a very distinct possibility. The Daytona 500 is a wonderful event and it has pretty much defined my career.

This year, I have a new crew chief, Bootie Barker. He comes with a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience. I especially like his matter-of-fact attitude. Things are pretty much black and white to him. He understands that if we get more grip in the car, it will go around the corners faster. He and I talk every day about how to accomplish that. We also talk about past races. We look at what Reutimann had on occasions that made him fast and then compare it to what I had. We also look at the things I really like in my car. I think Bootie is trying to scientifically prove exactly what has been good and what was has been bad with my car so that when we get to the race track in Daytona, I will like my NAPA car even better. I really like his attitude and work ethic with the challenges he is faced with. He inspires me.

I am enjoying this off season since there is no mandated NASCAR testing. I like the ban to be honest with you. I have always been a little different in my approach to things in comparison to some drivers, but as an owner, the ban on testing is a very good thing. It is saving our team a tremendous amount of money. We are able to take those dollars and apply it to things we have to do in order to race. We can buy tires. We can buy hotel rooms. Those are things we have to have. As a driver, I have learned a lot about these new cars as we all have in this sport. We set these cars up by using a computer and utilizing pull-down rigs. Very rarely after we leave the shop, can we make the car a whole lot better. We have already scienced it out for three or four days in the shop. When it gets to the track, we only have 90 minutes of practice. Realistically, we are not going to reinvent the wheel. As time moves forward, we’ll just get smarter on how to set these cars up. In my opinion, testing in the future will not be necessary. The reason why I say it is in regards to the templates we use. Our cars are exactly alike. When you get one set up properly, then the others will be set up properly as well. I just see testing as a colossal waste of time, energy and money. Plus, testing does not make the product that the fans sit in the stands to watch any better. Hopefully, we can take this temporary ban on testing and make it permanent.

My NAPA team and the entire Michael Waltrip Racing organization have come a long way since 2007. We were pretty beaten up back then. We missed races. We didn’t run well. Fast forward to the middle of 2008 and I saw that we were getting where we needed to be. We were building a foundation as well as building the much-needed confidence about who we were and how we could run against the other top teams in our sport. Now, we are racing into 2009 with new, talented people as well as the dedicated folks we already have at Michael Waltrip Racing. I am very optimistic about this season and all signs point to us being very competitive.

Before I go, be on the lookout for the new NAPA commercials with me and Ron Capps. We shot four commercials in two days in Charlotte. It was a lot of fun and as always, the commercials are very funny. The first one is scheduled to air during the Daytona 500 so stay tuned!

November 13th, 2008

Hi Everyone –

The desert saw some crazy things this past weekend. First of all, let’s talk about my NAPA AUTO PARTS team at Phoenix. My race was disappointing. On Saturday, we had a car that I felt could run in the top 10. We were 12th on the lap tracker. Our times were solid. We just felt really good about our NAPA Toyota. But when the race started, it felt like I was in someone else’s car. We just couldn’t seem to find the adjustments or do the things from Saturday to Sunday that other teams were able to do that ran well. My car was junk, plain and simple. But hats off to Bobby Kennedy and the guys for the hard work they did during the race. They made adjustments and thought outside the box. At the end, we once again had one of the fastest cars on the track. I am happy with the team’s performance during the race. I am not happy with how we started the race because we really felt like we were going to be good on Sunday. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but we ended up with a respectable top-25 finish.

Now on to the crazy stuff …

The Truck Series race was wild. I talked to Bill Davis on Sunday morning and he thought the Truck Series has two of the silliest drivers in the history of NASCAR that are racing for the championship. What happened to Ron Hornaday was something you could understand and see happening. He just over anticipated how much grip he was going to have. He dove in there and spun out. It happens. Ron was on the gas. Then there was Johnny Benson. He started 13th and somehow drove into the wreck. It happens, but he was able to continue on the lead lap. Perhaps the most surprising thing ever was when he went into Turn 1 and wrecked with TJ Bell. I did not see that coming. It’s no secret. I am a Toyota guy. I want to see Johnny Benson win the title. I love Ron, but I’ve raced with Johnny my whole life. I like that cat. He needed those points. He needed to go to Miami with 30 or 40 extra points because I don’t expect him to outrun Ron. I think Ron will beat him at Miami. If Ron does that, he will win the championship. I guess I’ll have more to say AFTER the race is over to really understand how important the race at Phoenix was for these two drivers. I hate to say it but I think Toyota has lost the championship.

How about Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus? I knew the 48 team would outrun the 99 team and head into Miami with the championship all but won. I looked at the lap tracker after Saturday’s practice and I didn’t see any reason for the 48 team to have any concerns. They weren’t dominant by any stretch, but they certainly were as good as anybody out there over the long run. When I say that, please understand that we have heard Chad go out after practice and make changes to their car. And I have to give them credit, when they make changes so far, they have made the car better. I saw the 48 team be in the ballpark after final practice. I felt pretty good that they would have a good day on Sunday and they did.

How about David Gilliland ending up on the hood of Scott Speed? Scott is one of the funniest drivers out there. He is priceless in his interviews. He has such energy. I wasn’t able to hear his interview when he was talking about what happened but a buddy of mine told me what he said and in my mind, I could hear him say, “Wow, Dave. You are throwing rubber in my face!” Poor David tried to put the car in gear to try and get off Speed’s car and he couldn’t get off his hood. He was stuck! He had absolutely no traction. That whole deal was crazy and that’s when your spotter says, “You got one below you.” He literally had a car below him. It was a crazy, crazy race. There was a lot of action, especially when I was coming to the checkered flag. I saw a crash between AJ Allmendinger and Juan Pablo Montoya. They hit the inside wall hard. I was busy dodging it and was able to come out on the other side of it. Bobby Kennedy called over the radio to see if I had made it through OK. I wasn’t sure what happened, but it looked like some sort of retaliation by Matt Kenseth. It was either that or his steering wheel came off. I saw the replay on my TWIN show on SPEED. Sure enough, Kenseth got into Allmendinger. That’s the one thing that’s bad about our sport. You see the aftermath, but you never really get to see what led up to it. More of the same could be coming this weekend as we enter “Championship Weekend” at Homestead.

Stay tuned!

Hi Everyone –

The desert saw some crazy things this past weekend. First of all, let’s talk about my NAPA AUTO PARTS team at Phoenix. My race was disappointing. On Saturday, we had a car that I felt could run in the top 10. We were 12th on the lap tracker. Our times were solid. We just felt really good about our NAPA Toyota. But when the race started, it felt like I was in someone else’s car. We just couldn’t seem to find the adjustments or do the things from Saturday to Sunday that other teams were able to do that ran well. My car was junk, plain and simple. But hats off to Bobby Kennedy and the guys for the hard work they did during the race. They made adjustments and thought outside the box. At the end, we once again had one of the fastest cars on the track. I am happy with the team’s performance during the race. I am not happy with how we started the race because we really felt like we were going to be good on Sunday. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but we ended up with a respectable top-25 finish.

Now on to the crazy stuff …

The Truck Series race was wild. I talked to Bill Davis on Sunday morning and he thought the Truck Series has two of the silliest drivers in the history of NASCAR that are racing for the championship. What happened to Ron Hornaday was something you could understand and see happening. He just over anticipated how much grip he was going to have. He dove in there and spun out. It happens. Ron was on the gas. Then there was Johnny Benson. He started 13th and somehow drove into the wreck. It happens, but he was able to continue on the lead lap. Perhaps the most surprising thing ever was when he went into Turn 1 and wrecked with TJ Bell. I did not see that coming. It’s no secret. I am a Toyota guy. I want to see Johnny Benson win the title. I love Ron, but I’ve raced with Johnny my whole life. I like that cat. He needed those points. He needed to go to Miami with 30 or 40 extra points because I don’t expect him to outrun Ron. I think Ron will beat him at Miami. If Ron does that, he will win the championship. I guess I’ll have more to say AFTER the race is over to really understand how important the race at Phoenix was for these two drivers. I hate to say it but I think Toyota has lost the championship.

How about Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus? I knew the 48 team would outrun the 99 team and head into Miami with the championship all but won. I looked at the lap tracker after Saturday’s practice and I didn’t see any reason for the 48 team to have any concerns. They weren’t dominant by any stretch, but they certainly were as good as anybody out there over the long run. When I say that, please understand that we have heard Chad go out after practice and make changes to their car. And I have to give them credit, when they make changes so far, they have made the car better. I saw the 48 team be in the ballpark after final practice. I felt pretty good that they would have a good day on Sunday and they did.

How about David Gilliland ending up on the hood of Scott Speed? Scott is one of the funniest drivers out there. He is priceless in his interviews. He has such energy. I wasn’t able to hear his interview when he was talking about what happened but a buddy of mine told me what he said and in my mind, I could hear him say, “Wow, Dave. You are throwing rubber in my face!” Poor David tried to put the car in gear to try and get off Speed’s car and he couldn’t get off his hood. He was stuck! He had absolutely no traction. That whole deal was crazy and that’s when your spotter says, “You got one below you.” He literally had a car below him. It was a crazy, crazy race. There was a lot of action, especially when I was coming to the checkered flag. I saw a crash between AJ Allmendinger and Juan Pablo Montoya. They hit the inside wall hard. I was busy dodging it and was able to come out on the other side of it. Bobby Kennedy called over the radio to see if I had made it through OK. I wasn’t sure what happened, but it looked like some sort of retaliation by Matt Kenseth. It was either that or his steering wheel came off. I saw the replay on my TWIN show on SPEED. Sure enough, Kenseth got into Allmendinger. That’s the one thing that’s bad about our sport. You see the aftermath, but you never really get to see what led up to it. More of the same could be coming this weekend as we enter “Championship Weekend” at Homestead.

Stay tuned!

Texas 2!

November 4th, 2008

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!

Atlanta 2

October 30th, 2008

Hi Everyone -

What do you know? Qualifying was rained out at Atlanta Motor Speedway. That’s the tenth time this season and second-straight week in a row. Since I moved up in the points at Martinsville, I started 29th at Atlanta. On Sunday, my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota did everything it was supposed to do. We got up to ninth but then finished 37th. There were a bunch of circumstances that messed us up because at the start of the race, my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota sure looked like it was a top-five car. But before the halfway point, we lost our radio communication. In the middle of that problem, I was trying to ask for an adjustment to the car. The adjustment I got didn’t work out. But it was a mistake that I made that hurt us. I just got up high and into the wall. We blew a tire and tore the car up. A lot of stuff went down prior to me making the mistake.

It’s a real shame because so many Sundays since starting Michael Waltrip Racing, my NAPA team had to fight to the finish and that’s all we could do. To have a car on Sunday that I could go up there and have illusions of running in the top five and maybe even getting a win, it’s a great feeling to have. It’s just so tough to have it spoiled. It’s hard to take. Now we are leaving Atlanta knowing we can run well at Texas. We will just sharpen up. We are going to try to make sure we dot our “I’s” and cross our “T’s” a little bit closer. We are going to try and make something good happen this weekend in Texas.

As for my other two teams at Atlanta, I was real proud of Marcos Ambrose. I like him more and more every day as we get to talk and I hear his philosophy about driving the car. I like how he goes about doing his job. I was very impressed with him. David and his UPS team felt like they had a very, very good car on Saturday afternoon. They were fast. Unfortunately, it didn’t relate to Sunday. They are working to find out what happened. That just goes to show you how tough these cars are to predict. David had a car that did not cooperate with him on Sunday.

Regardless, I think all three of our Cup teams and both Nationwide teams that will be running at Texas are confident as to where our cars will be when it comes time to race. We will be competitive!

Stay tuned. Don’t forget to vote next Tuesday and I’ll talk to you soon!

Michael Waltrip - Signature

Martinsville 2

October 27th, 2008

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!

Charlotte 2

October 14th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

Charlotte was a crazy race. My NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry was fast and I loved it. As the race went along, something changed. The car started handling funny. We got a little bit off in the middle of the race. We got in a crash because there was some oil on the track, and then Bobby Kennedy and the boys made a couple of great adjustments to get the NAPA Camry tuned up for the finish. We ran strong at the end to finish in 24th place.

I’ve said this before, but these cars are really temperamental. Looking at the springs, we are looking at tolerances of an eighth-of-an inch. If the metal in your springs give up a little bit, or your bump stops wear some, it changes the whole dynamic of your race car. The splitter is another issue. If it hits the track, your car does not act right. The challenges we face are so interesting. We are trying to keep the splitter right on the road without hitting the road. There are bumps in the road so that dictates exactly what your car is doing when it goes over the bumps. Shocks, springs, the splitter and a balance of other parts and pieces are so crucial with this new car. Please understand, I am not complaining about the new car. I am just stating the facts that you can get your car set up properly, it’s just very difficult. That’s why some teams are winning and others are still figuring it out.

What I thought was interesting was what happened if you got out front.  Vickers got the lead and he drove off. Jeff Gordon got the lead and he drove off. Tony Stewart got the lead and he drove off. Jeff Burton got the lead and he drove off and won the race. We saw a lot of guys get to the front and be dominant during different stages of the race.

It was also great to see David Reutimann continue his run up front. That team felt like when the race was over, they could have won it. That’s a great feeling for our young organization to have. The NAPA team had a steady, strong car for most of the night. It’s unfortunate that we got in some trouble because we would have been right up there with Reutimann. Then David had brake problems. Who would have ever thought of that? Either one of us could have won that race if circumstances would have been different. David’s car was definitely fast enough to do it. Mine was too at the beginning and very end. AJ Allmendinger drove the No. 00 car and got into a crash early. We never really will know how well he could have done.  However, if you rewind back to May at Charlotte, David ran top 10. The No. 00 team and the NAPA team were terrible. All three of our cars this time were competitive. David was extra competitive. That means progress and that’s what we are all about. I really believe and see where we are gaining on it. We’ll be a part of the story every week – sooner rather than later.

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

Hi from Michael!

October 8th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

 

What a race at Talladega! We sure saw some big crashes and a crazy finish! All in all, everyone I talked to loved the race. They thought it was very entertaining. That’s what I like about Talladega.

 

I had a really good car. My NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry was fast. A strange thing happened to us. Tire debris from Mike Wallace’s car ended up hitting my roof. The deal probably lasted about two seconds, but from where I was sitting, it felt like a half hour. Here’s what happened. I was driving on the back straightaway and Mike’s tire blew out. The first thing I was focused on was where are all the cars going to go? No cars really went anywhere. Then, all of a sudden, there was a lot of debris flying around. I had to dodge all of that. I looked up and out of the corner of my eye; I saw a large piece of tire. I thought, “There is no darn way that big piece of rubber is gonna hit me!” BOOM! It clobbered my roof. I thought it was coming in there with me. It kind of scared me. It’s not like I can duck out of the way. I actually flinched. My guys did a great job repairing the car. I even did some hammering. It was going to be a great day. Despite my damage, I put myself in a position to go win the race. I went up through the field, led the race and then got caught up in the big crash at the end. It sure was fun and I really like being a part of the story.

 

The finish was crazy. Coming to the checkered flag, Tony Stewart was leading and rookie Regan Smith made a bold move. He dove down and went below the yellow line. He passed Stewart and for a few seconds, he was the winner according to the media. NASCAR quickly disallowed Smith’s move and Stewart was declared the winner. In my opinion, NASCAR made the correct call. Regan was going to run second so I actually wished NASCAR would have awarded him with second place, but since he went below the yellow line, which is illegal, he got put at the tail of the longest line – 18th place.

 

Over the course of the weekend, there was some discussion and a rumor floating around that on the last lap, if you could see the flag stand, anything goes. I’ve never been told that. However, I thought that you could go below the yellow line if the flag stand was in sight and if that situation is indeed the rule, NASCAR really didn’t change anything. From where Regan was, from that angle, he didn’t need to be down on the racetrack yet. I don’t believe the flag stand was in sight. I think if a driver was coming out of the tri-oval, diving for that start-finish line, it would be a different story. At Daytona during the Truck race, Johnny Benson went under the yellow line and NASCAR did not black flag him. His move was in clear view of the start-finish line. They were right there on it. Benson won the race. I would hope after Sunday, the scenario will get more black and white. I bet when we go to Daytona in February, the drivers meeting will be full of questions. On Sunday, NASCAR asked the drivers if they had any questions and no one asked a question. The drivers believed they knew the rules. After what happened at Talladega, I think there will be a lot of questions when we go back restrictor-place racing at Daytona and Talladega.

 

Congratulations to Kenny Wallace. He did a great job in the No. 00 Champion Mortgage car. He got us a 12th-place finish. It was the best finish of the year for that team. Coming up in Charlotte, AJ Allmendinger will be in the car. It should be great to see what he can accomplish for them.

 

In case you have not heard, last week at Michael Waltrip Racing we made a lot of announcements. JTG-Daugherty Racing with driver Marcos Ambrose has signed up to join our organization in a technical alliance. We will field Toyotas for them out of the MWR shop. The alliance keeps us at three teams. It will really help us in moving forward. It is important for our young organization to be able to continue and at least maintain in these tough economic times. Maintaining three cars will allow MWR to grow.

 

I will have a new crew chief next year. Robert “Bootie” Barker will be joining my team. He’s currently with the No. 66 team. Bobby Kennedy will be moving on to a managerial role. Bobby is such a quality individual. He really understands the DNA – the direction that MWR is trying to build. I am really proud that Bobby is going to take on a new role. We’ve got a lot of good things happening.

 

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