Hi Everyone —

October 1st, 2008

 Traci is dictating this week’s blog as I am playing a golf scramble for Mr. Gary Player. He is raising money for a very worthy cause – childhood obesity. I’ve been here for the last two days playing golf in the Cliffs Communities by Greenville, S.C. Monday, I played with JoAnne Carner. She’s won 43 LPGA events and is a Hall of Fame member. I’m having a great deal of fun. Even Jack Nicholas is here to lend his support. It’s been a real privilege to be a part of this event. Before I give you the scoop on this past weekend at Kansas Speedway, I would like to talk about two men we lost this past weekend. Both contributed immensely to our sport. We lost Paul Newman and Dick Bahre to cancer. I always saw Paul Newman as such a strong character both on and off the track. He did so many wonderful things for so many people. On a more personal level, if I had to pick one guy who was the most important person to me when it came to being a race car driver at this level, it was Mr. Bahre. I am really saddened by his passing. My thoughts and prayers go out to both of their families. They will be missed.

Now on to racing — for MWR, our weekend got off to a disappointing start. Michael McDowell’s team missed the race. They were out of the top 35 by just eight points so they needed to make the race on speed. They showed some real solid runs at Richmond and Loudon. Unfortunately, they also came up short on a few and didn’t perform like they hoped at Dover. They left Dover being eight points out of the top 35. When it came to the team’s qualifying effort at Kansas, they ended up being six-thousands-of-a-second short from making Sunday’s show. Our sport is so competitive right now. It’s not just about what’s happening in The Chase. There’s a lot happening throughout the 43-car field. We’ve got drama!

Speaking of drama, MWR was battling in the top 20 for most of the race. Unfortunately, my NAPA AUTO PARTS team had a problem at the end that took us out of position for a good finish. I haven’t really seen the replay yet of what really happened to my NAPA Toyota. I was a little bit tight and was underneath Sam Hornish Jr. I think somebody behind me spun me out. Then we had a flat tire with a couple of laps to go and we lost a couple of laps pitting under green. We ended up 35th. It was so frustrating because when the race started, we lined up 29th. We raced all the way up to 15th place. We had a really solid car. With David, he got himself a lap down early. He battled back and made his lap up all on his own. He didn’t have to use the free “Lucky Dog” pass. He ended up with a top-20 finish. Despite the setback on the No. 00, and despite the fact the finishing order had the NAPA team in 35th, we had a really competitive and solid run with the No. 55 and No. 44 Toyota Camrys.

I am certainly looking forward to this weekend in Talladega. I believe the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry will be in the mix when they throw the white flag. That’s exactly where we were in April so I don’t expect it to be any different. It’s a real chance for us to post some special results on the scoring pylon.

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

Dover 2

September 24th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

How about Dover! Our NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry ran really well. I am so proud of our top-10 finish. MWR is really coming together. Reutimann has had a couple of top 10s going and almost had another one, but had a problem in the pits. Our results are showing that we are making progress. Last year, our NAPA team had a couple of top-10 finishes. We believed we were building on something special. But when the season started, we got off in a bad direction. Our cars just did not work right. But now, the team — Eric Warren and all his engineers, Bobby Kennedy, Ryan Pemberton, and Mike Clark — our entire organization has come together. We have new cars we are racing. We have been in them for about a month. We made a big deal about these Gen 3 cars and they really have helped our performance. It’s been a lot of fun to see all our hard work pay off in respectable finishes.

Overall, our practice and qualifying results really have not reflected how good my NAPA Camry has been. When you look back, at Richmond we unloaded fast. We were in the top 20 all through the race runs in practice. We put on tires and ended being 12th fastest. I was very happy when I left Richmond that Friday evening because I knew when I got back on Sunday; we were going to be good.

A week later at Loudon, I couldn’t drive my car at all. The NAPA car did not feel like it had front tires on it. It felt like I was the slowest car out there. Bobby Kennedy spent Saturday after practice looking through all his notes. He looked at the notes from the older version of our car that we raced back in June that scored us a second-place finish. He incorporated all the things that were different between the old set-up and what was in the new car. He changed it all back to what was in the old car. When the race started at Loudon, the guys fixed it. The NAPA car was good.

Dover was another interesting story. On Friday, I just couldn’t get it. I pushed. When I qualified, my car was way too comfortable. It was tight. I didn’t think my car was going to be that slow. I ended up qualifying 40th. Saturday morning started and in the first practice, we ended up in the 30s. The second practice also saw us end up in the 30s. But in the last 10 minutes of Happy Hour, a lot of teams went out on fresh tires. They went out to see what they had. The best time I saw out of anyone was a 24.20 (seconds). We ran a 24.30 (seconds). I knew my car was right. I told the guys we were going to race on Sunday because I had the feel and the speed I needed.

One thing you need to remember is while the monitor tells a story, sometimes it tells different kinds of stories. Sometimes the story is straight up. The monitor reflects the kind of day you are going to have. Other times, it does not. I felt pretty confident when I went to bed on Saturday night that I did not have a 30th-place car.

Another story I would like to share with you is if you look back to Dover one year ago, we started last and raced up to 15th place. We had a pretty competitive car and we didn’t have power steering. We also had to share a pit. Then back in June, we had what seemed like the worst car there. We couldn’t pass a soul. We ended up finishing 28th.  On Sunday when we made our first lap, Kurt Busch crashed to bring out the first caution. In that one lap, I passed three cars. I called Bobby Kennedy on the radio and told him, ‘I passed more cars in the first lap of the race than the whole time we raced at Dover in June.’ I was pretty impressed with my car, my team, and all the adjustments made. We were ready to go when the green flag flew for the second time around. It was a lot of fun on Sunday and I am very proud of our top-10 finish.

Up next is Kansas. I can’t wait. I believe we will run well. I was terribly disappointed with our performance at the Auto Club Speedway, which is banked like Kansas. I took a brand new car out there and we ran horribly. Fortunately, we did learn a lot of things there. We took what we learned and applied it to Dover. It worked. Now we are going to another banked track out in Kansas and I believe we will keep this positive momentum going. It sure is a lot of fun!

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

NHMS 2

September 17th, 2008

Hi everyone—
One of the coolest things I got to do last week was race against my buddy Ron Capps at the zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. I know a lot has been said about our race as it was all over the radio the next day in Charlotte and the satellite radio networks. We also had a cool feature on ESPN 2’s “NASCAR Now” show and we made it on the NHRA broadcast on Saturday. All I can say is this — my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry is trained to turn left. It wants to turn left and that’s where I ended up. I should have gotten in the left lane because I was going down the right side. Generally when the speed gets up to 150 to 160 mph for a little stretch, there is a turn so my NAPA Camry tried to turn. I tried to put her back in line, but it was not meant to be. The good thing about all of it is I did make it through the lights at 100 mph and ran an 11-second time backwards. It was so much fun. I love racing. I love drag racing. I love my buddy Capps. I loved what we did over there. One thing I learned about my experience at the drag strip is they put glue on the track. They glue it down. When they got done putting the glue down, my shoes made sticky sounds when I walked on the track. When Capps and I raced, there was no glue on the track. I matted the gas and my NAPA Camry obviously didn’t stick. The way I see it, I am an amateur at drag racing. I didn’t know anything about the rules. I just hammered it. I ended up spinning out. That’s when they brought out the glue truck. I thought to myself, that’s not fair! Why didn’t I get to have it? All joking aside, it was a wonderful experience and I am so glad that I could have been a part of it. Bruton Smith (track owner) has himself a beautiful facility. I really think it is cool that drag racing was welcomed with open arms to NASCAR country. It was a sold out crowd for all three days and I wished I could have been there. Congrats to Capps as he moved up in the championship points standings. The NAPA Sprint Cup team is really pulling for him.

On Sunday at Loudon, my car was really, really good. We had a crappy day on Saturday during the practices. I couldn’t get my NAPA Camry to drive remotely like it had only a month ago at Loudon. It didn’t even react like it did the previous weekend at Richmond. It just wouldn’t do anything right. I really want to tip my NAPA cap to my crew chief Bobby Kennedy and the boys. They changed the car around in preparations for Sunday’s race. We started 32nd which was where we were in points because qualifying was cancelled due to rain. We drove up into the top 20. When we made our first pit stop, we took only two tires. It helped us get into the mid-to-low teens in track position. We were not only able to hold on to the position but actually, improve it. After that, our day went to pieces. We came into the pits running in the teens for our second stop, but ended up going out in the 30s. Our green-flag pit stop did not go as planned. We also had a chance to get two tires but instead, we chose to take four tires. Things just did not work out for us on Sunday like it should have. It’s a shame. We had a good car and we were more than capable of bringing home a top-10 finish so scoring 25th was somewhat of a disappointment. Nevertheless, all three MWR cars are locked into the top 35 and we are capable of running up front. David Reutimann certainly has the best team right now. His group has gelled. They are finishing each others sentences so-to-speak. The NAPA team just keeps working hard and we have a great base to work from. We are getting close so we will keep working to improve upon things.

Dover is up next in The Chase. I loved how Greg Biffle established himself last weekend with the win at Loudon. No one really saw that coming. If you went by the practices, Clint Bowyer was a shoe-in for the win, especially since he won at Loudon last year. We didn’t really hear much from him. Biffle made The Chase. He locked himself in. He’s always seems as if he is on the edge of winning. Now all of a sudden, he is the talk of the town. Way to go Biff!

If you are paying any attention to the Internet, you are probably seeing the rumors about MWR merging with another team. That’s certainly refreshing because a couple of months back, there were rumors that my organization was closing. Got to love rumors, right? I think the best way to explain what is happening in our garage area is to examine the economy. There is going to be a lot of moving parts and pieces behind the scenes in the garage area. All of the merger talks are about the owners, such as myself, making sure that we are fiscally responsible. It’s our job to make sure our cars and the teams are as solid as possible. It’s all about racing in 2009 and beyond so there you have it.

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

Hi from Richmond!

September 16th, 2008

I hope everyone faired well from Tropical Storm Hanna. We made out fine. The NAPA team was expecting to have a day off on Sunday, but due to the postponement of the race, we weren’t able to have that day off. Instead, we fired up all our planes and went home to North Carolina on Friday night. The guys got to spend Saturday with their families and some even spent the day on Lake Norman because the weather was nice at home. We got up early on Sunday and returned to Richmond.

When I left Richmond on Friday night, I knew I had a car that I could be competitive with. I felt really good about Reutimann and McDowell, too. Everything translated well because Friday was a great forecast as to what to expect from the MWR teams on Sunday. All three cars ran good, and at one time, all of them were running in the top five with David as the leader. It was David’s second top-10 in a row. He also led the most laps of the event…a first for MWR. Our crew chiefs also made great calls during the race. Nowadays, it seems like you have to mix things up. Sometimes you have to take two tires or just stay out. Every now and then, calls like that can bite you in the butt. It about bit Reutimann. He almost went a lap down or maybe he did get a lap down, but got the Lucky Dog pass. He went on to lead all those laps. Track position is so important. These cars are so competitive and everyone runs the same speeds. But as a driver, you have to trust your crew chief when he makes those calls. You need guys like Bobby Kennedy, Ryan Pemberton and Peter Sospenzo on the box making calls that can gain you the track position. You have to go with their decisions and know that sometimes it doesn’t work out. Good or bad, it’s just part of it. Fortunately in our case, everything went right. I was very happy with the jobs all three teams did. It gave us a chance to be up there and be a part of the story. I am so happy and proud of the job they did.

What I love about the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is that we left Richmond and are now getting ready to go to Loudon. Everything that the teams learned this past weekend at Richmond is relevant. The tracks are similar so I expect to see teams be more prepared for the race this weekend, and with the Chase starting, it should be very interesting. Speaking of the Chase, I plan on racing those contenders the same way I always race them. I think the contenders appreciate that and expect it. I have only one thing on my mind and that is to win the race. I hope my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota will perform at the level we did back in June. I want my team to be a part of the story again. I know David Reutimann and Michael McDowell like their chances this weekend as well. MWR is very optimistic about where we are heading, our direction, our cars, our team, and what we are doing. It is a great feeling going up to Loudon and we look forward to the final 10 races of the season.

As I am putting this blog together on Tuesday (Sept. 9), I just got done playing in Dale Jarrett’s Shootout at Rock Barn Golf Club in Hickory, N.C. I just love the entire competition and comradery that took place. Drivers Elliott Sadler, Kyle Petty and Reed Sorenson were there along with pro golfers Jay Haas, Jeff Sluman and Jay Bilas. Everyone was just hanging out knowing that on Sunday afternoon whether you are golfing or racing, it’s a battle amongst great talent. It was so much fun!

I’m heading out now to race my NAPA buddy Ron Capps at the new ZMax Dragway in Charlotte. I am going to kick his butt in my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry! He’s in NASCAR country now so check out what happens as “NASCAR Now” covers our day at the new dragway. Our feature will air Thursday evening at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

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

California 2

September 4th, 2008

I really appreciate going out west. It’s great to see all the fans and I enjoy experiencing a totally different scene. Tinsel town is right down the road. All the stars show up. It’s just an electric atmosphere. I enjoy visiting all the NAPA folks out there. They don’t get to see us a whole lot. They are always enthusiastic about the opportunity to say hello. We certainly got to visit a bunch of folks in the NAPA suite and NAPA hospitality tent on Saturday and Sunday. I really enjoyed myself.

I also had a lot of fun leading up to the race. On Wednesday, I got to walk the red carpet for the big Pepsi 500 party in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. I drink Coke and I am a Coca-Cola driver, but also know the importance of helping promote the race for the track so I appreciate everyone working together. Then on Saturday, I went out to the Fan Zone to kick off the DVD launch of the Warner Brothers movie, Speed Racer. I signed autographs. I helped give away a Plasma flat-screen television for Panasonic. That was a lot of fun.

When it actually came to the race, we took basically a copy of the car we had a Michigan that ran so well. I was really optimistic about how it would run. The race ended up being a real struggle. We ended up finishing 33rd after starting 30th. That’s terrible. In the late running, we had to pass Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, who was on the lead lap, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch and a couple of DEI cars. That’s just tough. When you are a little bit off, and you are talking about the best drivers and the best teams in the whole world, we were only one lap off the pace. We did all that passing for just 33rd place. It certainly was a disappointing result, but the effort was there as a team. My team really made the car better all night long. At the end, it was the best it had been. We just ran out of time. Regardless, I am real proud of the effort. I am real proud of the team.

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day. Mine was pretty quiet in North Carolina. I got home at 7:30 a.m. in the morning from Fontana. I slept until I had to go to Charlotte to tape my “This Week in NASCAR” show on SPEED. I went back home and slept some more. I goofed off a little bit on Tuesday morning by playing golf. I did my XM Satellite Radio show. I had a famous guest on my show — Olympic icon, Dara Torres. I think she was one of the feel-good stories of the Beijing Olympics. She was kind enough to call in on her way to the “Oprah” show. You can hear it tonight (Thursday) on XM channel 144.  Rick Allen of SPEED also was a guest co-host. It was a real entertaining show so I hope you get to listen to it. It’s on every Thursday night. When that was all over, we came out to the house – Traci, Jennifer and Cindy – the girls from MWR was there to help me as I signed 2,000 NAPA AUTO PARTS die cast cars for Motorsports Authentics. The cars will go to the distributors to pass along to the fans. After I was done with that, I did a live shot with the folks at “NASCAR Now” on ESPN 2. Basically, we didn’t have much of a story to tell. We were just sort of catching up on the progress we are making at Michael Waltrip Racing. It was nice to explain that to everyone. I ended up turning a somewhat day off into a good day for MWR, NAPA and all my supporters. Yesterday, I went to Nashville, Tenn., to record some stuff at CMT for Best Western. They are doing a promotion. I guess you could say I was busy which is a very good thing. I hope to continue to get more and more face time so I’m happy about that. Today is back to the track. We go to Richmond this evening. I hope the hurricane will be kind to everyone. I am also looking forward to getting that NAPA Toyota back up front. I always run good at Richmond so I am looking forward to a good race.

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

Bristol

August 28th, 2008

Bristol is a track that the NAPA team should have no problems when it comes to being competitive. When I unloaded my car on Friday afternoon, it was off. It took us all the way until the race started to finally feel like we had our arms around it. When the race started, we started 42nd and made it all the way to 26th. We thought we were going to be competitive all night long. Unfortunately, it got away from us when we got wrecked.

A lot of people have been asking about what happened between me and Casey Mears. To be honest, I did not expect Casey to take a right on the front straightaway, which wasn’t too far off from what happened at Richmond a few months ago. I thought he would have learned from past history and I thought I made it clear not to do that again. We saw a lot of racing side by side all night at Bristol. People tried to crowd up and get into line and you just can’t do it. We were all the way to the start-finish line when Casey decided to take a right to get ready for the corner. If I would have known what he was getting ready to do, I would have tried to let off. I don’t want to wreck and I got wrecked. I had no idea. I just thought we were going into the corner like normal. Unfortunately, he made a right and caused a big wreck. The wreck was just part of racing at Bristol. I am not mad at Casey. I really appreciated what I saw from the guys who were forced to climb out of their wrecked race cars. Jeff Burton is the perfect example. A couple of cars got together in front of him. He slowed down to miss them. Another car hit Burton and wrecked him. I mean, Jeff Burton did absolutely nothing wrong and ended up finishing 42nd. He had a terrible night. When he got out of the car, he said it was just racing at Bristol. Kasey Kahne said the same thing. When I got home, I studied the video and I should have gotten out of there quicker. I slowed down because they were wrecking all around me. Drivers always second guess what they should do. We try and figure out how to do it better. It probably would have been smarter to just run wide open through there. Heck, I had to slow down to miss those guys as they started to get together.

Racing at Bristol is just a lot of fun. The difference in the track now is you can actually race on it. You used to just have to hit somebody and then go on. Hitting someone is still an option, but there is also a way to find another groove so you can pass a guy. If you looked at Happy Hour practice times, the fastest guy on his average lap ran a 16.20 (seconds). The 35th-place guy ran a 16.36 (seconds). That’s 35 cars that are a tenth and a half off each other. So when you go to pass a guy, if you are a tenth better than him, you have your work cut out. That’s what happens at Bristol. You have to figure out a way to pass and then race him to get the position.

The race to the finish and the antics after the race made for really good TV. Carl lurked right there with Kyle Busch all night long. When he got the chance to jump on Kyle, he took it. I don’t see anything wrong with what Carl did to Kyle when it came to the little bump and run. People move each other around a little bit. That’s acceptable. When a driver is the aggressor, and he goes to hit a guy ahead of him, you better be ready to get out of town real quick in order to keep from being hit back. I think Carl was real fortunate that Denny Hamlin was right there. Denny tried to get the spot away from his teammate so he could get back up to second. It chopped Kyle’s line down and allowed Carl to get three or four car lengths away. That’s the break Carl needed to go off and win the race. 

As for this coming weekend, the car we are taking to Fontana is the same car we had at Michigan two weeks ago. When that race ended, our car was right. Toyota sends out a race recap and they take every lap in the race and split it into quarters. In the fourth quarter at MIS, we had the third-fastest car during that sequence of over 70 laps. Our car was one of the best out there. We know what we did to tune up to that point, so we are looking to unload fast at the Auto Club Speedway. So enjoy the race and most importantly, enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Michigan 2

August 21st, 2008

Hi Everyone —

We started off on Friday at Michigan International Speedway and I knew that my car was pretty good. I would go out one time in practice and my car would be loose. The next run it would push. It was back and forth. Regardless, I thought I had a pretty good car. When I went to qualify, the NAPA Toyota did it again. I went down into Turn 3 and got really sideways. I thought to myself, “What do I do now?” I went into Turn 1 and got sideways again. The one thing I knew was I could not risk wrecking my car. I needed to race it. It’s new. It’s a car that I am really proud of. I wanted to see what it was like because the last Gen-3 car I had; it was wrecked on the third lap at Indy. I got back into Turn 3 and I wasn’t very good. I felt like I did not run hard enough. I might have been a little amped up when I went to qualify. I may have driven in too hard a couple of times. I was a little frustrated with myself because I have been doing this a long time. You would think that I would have it figured out by now as to where I needed to let off. Looking back, we just did not have a good combination for qualifying.

On Saturday when practice was over, I knew we were going to be good in the race. We really were competitive with our times. I felt really good about our car. Truly, we were good when it came to race time. We just had one segment where our car got a little bit off and Kyle Busch was really good. He was six seconds ahead of the field. He slipped up there and got me lapped. That was unfortunate because I think we could have ended up with a top-10 finish. Regardless, I was certainly proud of our team’s effort. They made great adjustments all day. When we started, I was so loose the first 30 to 40 laps. I felt like it was as loose as I have ever been in my whole career. The team got that adjusted and it really made my day better. Then we got it on the other side. It got too tight so it just showed us how sensitive these new cars continue to be. We lived it a little bit on Sunday, but we made a good solid showing. We may not have gotten the result we wanted, but it was a respectable result and we needed it after three tough weeks that included two wrecks and a blown motor.

Before I go, I would like to give a shout out to a very nice lady in the NAPA suite. On Saturday, she was tending to our NAPA guests. She gave me a little stuffed monkey. She said the last couple of weeks I had a monkey on my back and if I took the monkey and put it in my NAPA Toyota, it would get off my back. I did. I made it all the way to the end and got a much needed top-20 finish. I appreciate her kind gesture and I appreciate the fans that read this blog. Thanks so much and I’ll catch up with you later.

– Michael

Pocono 2

August 14th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

I’m back from Watkins Glen. Did you know that four of the last five years, qualifying at The Glen has been rained out? When I was in my motorcoach getting ready to walk over to the garage for the first practice, I looked out and thought to myself, “Come on! Work with me!” Sure enough, as soon as I got into my NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota it rained, so we didn’t do much on Friday. The field was set by the rulebook. Marcos Ambrose, who won the Nationwide race on Saturday, lined up last on Sunday and was able to race his way to a third-place finish. That was awesome!

Looking back, Saturday during practice I expected to be fast, at least faster than I was. I had gone to Infineon Raceway, and while I finished 25th, I really felt it was a top-10 car. We were just stuck in the back because of poor gas mileage. I loved my car. So when we went up to Watkins Glen, I thought we could do the same and run in the top 10. I felt like we were going to have a good race on Sunday, but then the car ended up not cooperating. Bobby Kennedy and the guys worked hard. They made some great changes after practice so heading into Sunday, the car was better. I was competitive. I passed some guys. I think we ran around 25th for most of the day. Unfortunately, I got into that big crash. That deal was pretty interesting. I never knew what was happening. Never in my career has anything like that happened. I have always been able to see what I am fixing to hit. At Watkins Glen, I didn’t see anything. Bam! It happened. It really wasn’t a huge hit on the NAPA Toyota. I think the guys wrecked hard in front of me and bounced mostly out of my way. I think if I had been a car length back, I would have been OK. The wreck didn’t have anything to do with me. I was just blindsided. My spotter couldn’t even see it. He never mentioned it. Then all of a sudden, I am on fire. Cars are flying up behind me and I am thinking, “Well, this is not the way I envisioned the race ending.” I felt like we could get a top-20 finish. I think it was still realistic at that point, but I had to go to the garage area.

What’s important to me about all of this is the NAPA AUTO PARTS car needs to finish the race. NAPA sells quality parts. They don’t break down. I don’t want to see DNFs (did not finish) beside my name and the NAPA Toyota. What was great was my NAPA boys. Bobby Kennedy, Ron Otto, Chris Hall … all the guys that work so hard on the NAPA car feel the same way too. There were only five laps to go and I didn’t have a radiator or oil cooler. The front end was tore all to pieces. Those boys cut the front end away. They changed the radiator. They bypassed the oil cooler and got me back on the track when the white flag was flying. I drove down pit road; I came around and took the checkered flag. That shows what kind of guys I have on my NAPA team. It really means a lot to me what they were able to get done on Sunday.

Now for the big news! NAPA and I will be back together in 2009. I am very happy. I believe we are moving in the right direction at Michael Waltrip Racing. NAPA has been a huge part of building the foundation for my race team. I think sometimes people lose sight of the fact that we are a year-and-a-half old. We are racing against organizations that have been doing this for 20-plus years. We are gaining on it. We are getting a foot hold in the garage area. I really appreciate NAPA’s support in order for us to continue to grow and improve performance. Thanks, NAPA.

With that said, I am looking forward to going back to Michigan to turn things around for us. Three bad weeks in a row is enough! Enjoy the race and I’ll write to you soon!

Pocono

August 9th, 2008

Hi Everyone —

Last week heading into Pocono, I had a very typical week in my life as a NASCAR driver. Monday, I taped my television show, “This Week in NASCAR.” Tuesday, I did my radio show and played a little golf. Then Wednesday morning, I woke up and flew to Canada to do an appearance at a NAPA store. It is so hard to figure and predict what kind of crowd you are going to have. Usually, we get a couple hundred people. I sit there, talk to the folks, cruise through autographs, and then I am on my merry way. For some reason, and I think it is because I consider myself as being one-eighth Canadian, when I got to Kingston, Ontario, there was probably over 500 people waiting at the NAPA store in the rain! The line was all the way around the building. I was shocked. I have never even heard of Kingston, Ontario, but they know me. It was so much fun to see all the people who showed up. I saw lots and lots of Dale Earnhardt fans. I signed more pictures of me, Dale and Dale Jr., racing at Daytona in 2001 than I have seen in a long time. It was really cool to see somebody walk up with that 2001 picture and have me sign it. Then, they would follow it up with a brand new NAPA diecast. It was just really, really fun. I want to thank all the folks in Kingston for coming out. I also want to thank all the people at NAPA in Canada for organizing such a well-planned and well-attended event.

When I left Canada, I went to Pocono on Wednesday evening. I got prepared for the running of the race. When practice started on Friday, I really liked the way the car drove. It just didn’t have any power on the straightaway. We discussed it. When I qualified, I felt like I made pretty good turns, but yet, I was 42nd. In Cup racing, it is so close. I was only three or four tenths off of being in the middle of the field instead of the back. I wasn’t all that concerned. To be honest, Pocono is a track where you can start a half a lap down and still be able to have a great day. It doesn’t matter where you start because the track is so big that you can work your way to the front. So when the race started, something just wasn’t right. It wasn’t long until the motor broke. I don’t think I have ever finished last for two weeks in a row. I don’t think anybody has. It’s so disappointing. Toyota has assured me that they are all over it to try and figure out exactly what went wrong. They spend a lot of money and take a lot of pride in what they put under the hood of our cars. I have no doubt that they will get to the bottom of it to make sure it does not happen again. The crazy thing is, the most disappointing engine failure I have had in my whole career came earlier this year at Talladega. You’ve heard me tell the story several times in my blog, but we had Talladega won on the final lap until the engine broke. The Pocono failure may have topped the Talladega failure because I really wanted to race at Pocono. I wanted to work on my car. I wanted to go fast, but I didn’t get the opportunity. We just didn’t get a chance last Sunday.

Despite the disappointments, I really feel good about where we are heading as a team. I believe we will be solid at Watkins Glen this weekend. At Michigan, we had a top-five car back in June and got crashed on the last lap. We didn’t get to show it, but we had a really good car. We had a run of four races that included a second-place finish and other solid runs. Running up front at Daytona on the last lap before getting wrecked showed some promise. We had four or five runs in a row where I felt like we were heading in the right direction. As soon as I started to feel that way, we got wiped out at Chicago. Indy, I got loose and spun out. Then this past weekend, the engine broke. We had some momentum going. We were proud of our results and now, we have had some problems. We have to just tune up and go to Watkins Glen and get it headed in the right direction. I hope, and I believe in my heart, we can go to Bristol with a chance to win. We ran well there in the spring, but our cars have come a long way since then. That’s a track that I love and a place where I think we can have some fun. So stay tuned, and thanks for your support during our ups and downs. Rest assured we are making a lot of progress with our cars. We are doing a lot of fun things on our competition side so I am really looking forward to getting back on track at Watkins Glen.
– Michael

Indy Race

July 31st, 2008

Hi Everyone —

Indy was disappointing for a multitude of reasons. The most obvious was the tire problem. It was unfortunate. Hindsight is 20/20. More testing would have helped. I think they got fooled by the new car, somewhat. Last year, the tires wore a lot.  As the race went on, the track rubbered-in with the old car. It didn’t do that with the new car. If you think about the new car, it has a higher CG (center of gravity). That means the right side tires just take more abuse. The car leans over in the corner and wears the right side tires. We didn’t see any problems with the left side tires. I think that is the reason why last year everything worked out. The old car shared the load amongst all four tires. This year, it used the right sides more and therefore, we had a problem.

I want to commend NASCAR, and really hope that the fans will line up behind me on this. You have to thank NASCAR. They managed and controlled the crisis as well as they possibly could. We ended up having a finish at the Brickyard that was one of the closest finishes ever. Carl Edwards had a real chance at beating Jimmie Johnson. When they started the race on Sunday, after watching practice and knowing all that was going on, I didn’t think anyone would get within a straightaway of Jimmie Johnson. He was that strong!

I hate that the NAPA team had problems on Sunday. The car started off loose. Sam Hornish Jr. pinched me a little more than I expected. It was my fault because I am responsible for taking care of my car. I should have taken him into consideration and not assumed that he would have given me the room I was expecting when making a pass. I spun. Every now and again, a driver should be able to spin out and not get penalized. I didn’t hit the wall. I had my NAPA Toyota under control. I thought we were going to be OK, and then Paul Menard ran over me.

I feel terrible that we lost one of our new gen-three cars. We had a really good practice on Saturday. We were 30th on the speed chart, but when you averaged all of the times, which is what the teams like to analyze, we ended up being 18th-fastest overall. I believe we could have improved on the car and I think we did improve on the NAPA Toyota. We should have had a competitive run. It was my fault for messing that up, so I will suck it up and learn from it. I hate that it happened, but I feel like we have taken another step forward at Michael Waltrip Racing with our new car. We will continue to get better.

I am really looking forward to this weekend. Last night I took Macy to the Jonas Brothers concert. Today, I am going up to Kingsport, Ontario, Canada for a NAPA appearance from 3 to 5 p.m. We are going up to the NAPA AUTO PARTS store to sign autographs and help promote the Nationwide race that is happening in Montreal, Canada on Saturday afternoon. The race is the NAPA AUTO PARTS 200. We are excited to have David Reutimann sporting the NAPA colors. He’s in the No. 99 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry, but it looks a little different since the words are in French. Last year the race was interesting with Robby Gordon and Marcos Ambrose. Hopefully, we can add Reutimann into that mix this year and have it be an all NAPA race weekend.

Enjoy this weekend’s races! I sure will.

Michael