It was a very busy offseason for me. Along with reacquainting myself with my old team and all the testing we did for the 2008 season, I got married to my beautiful bride Kim and went on an amazing honeymoon. It was absolutely gorgeous! Considering that I don’t ever get a chance to slow down, it was good to finally do that. As much as we would have loved to stay, we had to come back home and head to Daytona.
Before I talk about Daytona, you may notice a sticker on the b-post of our No. 11 Toyota Tundra this season. We will be honoring our teammate, co-hauler driver Cornell Speas, who passed away this month of a heart attack at age 46. I didn’t know him real well, but I talked to him some last year a couple of times and I visited with him for about an hour at New Hampshire, and he was an extremely pleasant guy. When I moved back over to Red Horse Racing, his best friend, who is the other truck driver, Willie Divel, told me how it was Cornell’s dream to be able to drive a hauler for a NASCAR team. It gives me a little peace to know that he got to live his dream before he passed. It’s sad because he was so young, and you realize how precious life is when things like that happen to people around you. It lets you know how fragile life is and how it can end at any minute. So we are honoring him this season with a memorial sticker and hopefully we’ll have a guardian angel looking over us.
Being back with Red Horse Racing, with all the success we had in 2006, I was very confident heading into the season and Daytona. We initially talked about riding in the back, seeing if we could avoid the possibility of a big wreck. However, when the race got going, we ended up changing our plans and decided we were going to try to get to the front and race there all night long.
The problem was, Daytona has a lot of dips on the low side, so you actually go down and fall into the dip, but when you come up it just unloads and pushes you up the track. When I was up there among all the other trucks, my Toyota Tundra would hit the racetrack on the low side and bottom out in the dips and then drift up a half-lane or even an entire lane. When it did that, it would get real loose and I was out of control. I had trucks all around me, so I figured I would get out of there. There was no sense wrecking on the first 10 or 20 laps, so I elected to go to the back. So we rode around and waited for the first caution so we could come in and work on our truck. I know Red Horse Racing is an exceptional team, but it really showed Friday night because our truck wasn’t very good to start. When we made that first pit stop, we came in and my crew chief, Jamie Jones, and all the guys made pretty substantial adjustments. We raised the hood and took three rounds in the left-front spring and three rounds in the right-front spring and lifted the truck up to keep it from hitting the racetrack. With all the other cautions that came out, we continued to adjust our Tundra and make it better. With 50 to 60 laps to go, I had an awesome truck. It took that long to get to that point, but it just shows that we came through a lot of adversity with the handling of the truck, and with every adjustment Jamie made, our truck was getting better and better. I tell you, with 50 laps to go, it just drove like a Lexus.
When I’m at Daytona and Talladega, it’s so much fun to draft. No matter if your truck is handful or driving well, you’re still enjoying yourself out there. Those last 50 laps when my truck was driving so good, I really thought I had a shot at winning. I knew if I worked the draft right, I’d put myself in the position to win. We got up there to third and I was following Kyle Busch, and I could see Johnny Benson getting tight off the corners. His truck wouldn’t stay on the bottom behind Todd Bodine, so coming off turn 2, I think Johnny lost the nose of his truck and it went up a little bit. Kyle and I took advantage of it and I moved up to third.
However, Johnny had some help on the outside, so he got a run up on me with two laps to go. I went down into turn 1, running wide-open on the throttle, and I turned down on the corner and with him on the outside of me. He squeezed me a little bit – it’s just a tactic that we use when we’re racing hard – but when he did, it sucked the air off the rear spoiler and made my truck almost spin out. I had to jump out of the throttle all the way and when I did that, Busch’s truck and my truck separated about a truck and half length. Johnny was then able to drop back down in front of me and take the position. We could have really destroyed our Toyota there and a lot of other trucks, too, because I was completely sideways and hit the apron. I was thanking God there for a second, for giving me the luck not to wreck – because it was definitely luck. In the end, we were able to hang on to a fourth-place finish and we are really excited about that.
We needed to have a good race to kick off our season and give us momentum as we head into California and the rest of the season. We want to put ourselves in a position to win every race and I think we can do that. When you can run in the top five week in and week out, you will win, and we are obviously off to a great start.
Red Horse Racing came through a lot of adversity as the race went on, but they never gave up and it actually worked out perfect, because we had an awesome truck at the end of the race. And now we head to the California Speedway…
I feel really good about our team and I’m so excited, working with Jamie Jones and driving this Toyota Tundra. With the success we had in 2006, I know we are capable of winning races and I’m looking forward to getting to California and getting started. A lot of the setups we’ll be running now are something new to me as a driver, but I know they work, and I’m excited to put forth the effort to go out there and win races. If everything works out right and we can get our Tundra to handle like we need it to, I think we’ll win at California and be a real threat this entire season.