Charlotte was actually a really interesting weekend. We were OK last time we were there, but we were definitely not as good as we’d like to be so we unloaded with a baseline deal. Charlotte is kind of tricky because they give us an hour to practice when the sun is out and the track is just hot and slick and completely different than race time conditions. We kind of used that first hour of practice in the sun just to work up some ideas we had, not real practice for that race on Friday night. We tried some things and put them in our notes and then we had 50 minutes in the evening when it was closer to race time conditions. We picked up right where we left off and weren’t real good, but we thought we were competitive, probably a top ten, just needed to tweak on it a little bit throughout the race.
We qualified 13th, and went into the race and we never really got a handle on the car like we needed to. The track had a ton of grip and was really fast so if you were off just a little bit to the other guys, it seemed like you were off by a lot. We battled with it all night and really couldn’t get past the 12th place spot. We went down a lap, raced our way to the Lucky Dog and got back on the lead lap and still just kind of struggled and realized we were in a situation where we could save fuel and improve and get out of that 12th spot. We could either stop for fuel and finish 12th to 15th or risk it and get a top 10, so with about 30 to go we just started saving fuel and ended up coming home 10th.
That’s a mature team. As bad as we ran all night and as unhappy as we were with the car, it just showed how we can take a bad night like that and still come out with a top ten. It was definitely a big points night for us with the 31 having the struggles they did. It bumped us up to fifth in points. As bad as the night was, we salvaged it and managed to get a top ten and move up a spot in point standings.
We’re actually right where I thought we’d be, as far as expectations. We had the DNF at Daytona in the very first race, bounced back and had a top 10 at Phoenix. I got really excited thinking we’re just going to keep doing this all year, and then we got stuck and it seemed like we finished 11th every week. We lost a lot of points to those top three guys during this time. Then the first race at Kentucky, we ran top five all night, got our first top 5 finish, and since then we’ve been rattling off top 10s and top 5s and I kind of wish we could go back to Daytona and start over with where we are at now. It’s not exceeding expectations though. When you start a season, you want to be in the championship race, but we put ourselves in a position where we had to fight back. Then we set a goal and realized the championship was out of reach but that we want a top 5 in points.
Now we’re there and we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing and hold that position and if the No. 12 car struggles a little bit we can maybe even get up to fourth in points.
Concussions and head injuries and whether drivers are honest about them are the big topic in the sport right now. The biggest thing I think you have to look at, I know what it takes to compete at a competitive level and give my guys the finish they deserve and give Pilot/Flying J the finish they deserve, and obviously Dale Jr. felt like he wasn’t able to give 100% effort and be able to compete at full ability. I think at that point you’ve got to pull yourself out. A team is not just one guy. It’s a bunch of people that work on the cars each week and they deserve somebody sitting in that driver’s seat that is going to give 110% effort, and can do that.
You have to be capable first, and he obviously felt he wasn’t capable to do that and pulled himself, and put in a guy that can. We saw the engine issues the No. 88 team had and that had nothing to do with Regan Smith, but they put somebody in there that was going to give the team and sponsor everything he had. Dale obviously felt like he couldn’t do that; you’ve got to know your own body, know what you’re capable of and what your limit is. Growing up playing hockey there were times when the coach would ask are you hurt or are you injured? If you’re hurt you can keep playing, if you’re injured you can’t. Dale felt like he was injured obviously.
Halloween is coming up soon. The craziest costume I ever put together was probably…I don’t know if any of you ever watched wrestling, but when I was a little kid I loved wrestling. There was a guy called X-Pac. He had long black hair and I ended up wearing one of my sister’s dance tutus, the black thing, and I had spandex pants and boots and had a little wrestling outfit on. I was probably eight or nine then.
I still like Halloween. Every year, Charlotte does this thing that’s kind of like a concert. It’s outside in downtown Charlotte and everybody goes to it. It’s called the Gravediggers Ball and it’s a lot of fun. If you’re in the area, be sure to come down and check it out.
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