What’s funny is, when you look at it, people know when you’re running good. Then when you run bad, people want to know why you’re running bad, so a lot of people in the media have been talking to me and everybody says, ‘man, you’re really running good this year.’
I think the reason we’ve been so much better is that first of all, last year was our first year in the Nationwide Series with a brand-new car. It was also my crew chief and crew’s first year with a brand-new car and my first year driving a whole new car.
So I think that this year, my whole team completely, with me as a driver and them as the crew, has a better handle on this car. I think my crew chief, Scott Zipadelli, is doing a really good job. My cars are good-as you’ve noticed, we qualified third at Phoenix and sixth at Fontana, 11th at Bristol. When you look at our stats, we’re really running good. Of course, we’ve had a lot of bad luck, but we’re running really good and I think that’s why; we’re just better this year.
We want it all. We want to be fastest in practice. We want to be the fastest in qualifying. We want to be the fastest in the race. But somewhere in between there, the bottom line is, when they drop the green flag for the race, nobody remembers anything about qualifying.
So our job, me and my crew chief and my team, is to make it to where when we get done qualifying, the car will be really good for the race. We’ve been doing a pretty good job of it. The only place where we’ve really missed it was Phoenix. Each car only gets six sets of tires, so we use one set in practice, then qualifying is another set; so when tires are at a premium, it makes it hard on you.
The way I approach it is that qualifying good and racing good is a delicate balance, but what’s most important is to make sure you’ve got a good racecar for the race.
This is actually a lot like racing back in the mid-1990s for me. Years ago in the Nationwide Series, we used to go to Myrtle Beach and we used to go to Hickory and South Boston and they were all one-day shows. You qualified what you had for the race, so I like this a lot.
When we qualify right now, they impound our cars. So when I come off the racetrack from qualifying, they impound the cars, they won’t let us touch them; what you qualified is what you have to race. That’s just back to old school for me.
But the difference now is we run a lot of the big mile-and-a-half tracks as to where in the past we were always on short tracks. With aerodynamics and horsepower coming into play, it’s a lot more to do with the car than it is the driver anymore.
Anything good that comes my way, I’ll never turn it down. We qualified sixth and finished seventh at California and now we’ve got two weeks off. I’ll take the happiness for two weeks. Now our next battle is for me to be in the car as the driver at Texas.
After that race at Fontana is over, my job is to make sure that my butt is in my seat as the driver. Everybody knows the drama surrounding our team. We don’t have the money it takes right now to go from track to track. That means that any driver any time can come with $100,000 and buy my ride, and I have to support that driver because it’s most important for the team employees to be paid.
My job is to support my team, so that’s a roundabout way of explaining that momentum is big and it came at the right time because of all these things. I need the momentum to keep my team in the hunt for sponsorship, to make sure I’m in the car at Texas, because somebody else could be in the car.
The biggest thing about a team like ours (as opposed to the big, Cup-affiliated teams) is that we don’t build our own motors; we lease our motors, where Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush build their own motors, so they have everything at their fingertips. We lease our motors, so that’s a disadvantage.
Even though TRD builds us great motors, it’s hard to go against teams that have their own motor company. My Lord, guys like Jack Roush have their own engine shops and Penske does. Of course when you say Hendrick Motorsports, that’s Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s cars and that’s also Turner Motorsports; Turner runs all Hendrick stuff, so that’s the biggest thing.
The other big thing is, even though I’ve got great pit stops, a lot of these big teams use their Cup tire changers, they use their Cup teams to make their pit stops. They’re hand selected as the best in the world and we are competing against them. The last big difference is that we worry about money every minute of every hour. If they worry about it, nobody knows about it, because they’re set for the year.
All those things are a challenge for the smaller teams. That’s why I’m so happy about my comeback last year because I know that we overachieved and I know that we’re overachieving right now. I know when you look at the top 10 from last year, we stick out like a sore thumb. I know that we should not be where we’re at, but we’re there because of overachieving and because of heart, all by my crew chief and my car owner and my crew.
Saturday at Fontana (March 24) was one of my highlights of the last five years. I thought it was funny last year when Jeff Gordon outran Kyle Busch at Phoenix, he got out of the car and he said, ‘I outran Kyle Busch!” So I figured if four-time champion Gordon could say that, it’s OK for me to say it.
I think I got more fun out of passing Busch five-wide on the apron down the front straightaway than I did finishing seventh. That was quite a feather in my cap. I really was happy that everybody was excited about how aggressive I drove. I didn’t know I was driving that aggressive, but I guess it showed up like that on TV.
If we could bring back one of the tracks that we don’t race anymore, that would be easy: Rockingham! Rockingham is a track they should bring back because the infrastructure is there. They wouldn’t have to add any seats. It’s down near the epicenter of golf, it’s not far from Pinehurst. That track right there is where Nationwide and Trucks should be, and the fans should support that because it’s such a great destination; it just makes all the sense in the world.
Martinsville has shown that the only thing that can draw a crowd there is Cup. It’s sad that North Wilkesboro is dilapidated now, things are falling apart. But Rockingham has been well kept. It has soft walls, it looks good, it has a good media center, so it’s ready to roll!
This is one of my favorite times of the year with the boys of summer, my St. Louis Cardinals. Of course I think that we’re going to win the National League Central Division, we have the best team and the deepest team. It’s hard to make a lot of predictions before the trade deadline in the middle of the summer, after the All-Star Game.
That’s when teams make changes and even trade some big players, so that’s when you really see what everybody’s got. I love going to the games all summer long. Of course, what I’d really love to see is the Cardinals in the World Series against the Anaheim Angels and Albert Pujols. I’d love that, but I think I’d throw up it would be so exciting. I really love the game and this time of year when it starts.
About the author
Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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