I’m definitely feeling a lot better about our performance in the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine so far in 2008, especially compared to where we were at this time last year. Michael Waltrip Racing as a whole has made a lot of changes in the offseason and we are a different team this year, and it shows. I can’t begin to tell you how much easier it is for me to be locked in the Top 35 in points, it makes for a much calmer Friday afternoon.
We currently sit 26th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings, and while that’s not exactly where you want to be, it illustrates the progress this team has made since last season. You need to learn to crawl before you walk and that is exactly what we have been doing with our top-20 finishing positions to date. I don’t go necessarily go out there and say “It would be great if we got a top 20 today” because I want to do better than that. However, for now it is what we need to accomplish to stay high in points.
One of the many changes at MWR included bringing Ryan Pemberton on board to serve as my crew chief. I loved Frankie Kerr and he did a great job considering the position he was put into last year. Ryan has been in the business a long time though, and I’ve learned a lot from him already. He and I are still in the process of trying to get to know each other, but I think he is doing a great job so far and our results show it.
Of course the biggest change for our race team will take place at Martinsville, and I can’t wait to take over the No. 44 Camry and drive for UPS which is an awesome organization to be involved with. The down side to this arrangement is that I’m not thrilled with losing Dale Jarrett as a full-time teammate. He’s such a good guy and has helped me tremendously in my career. Not only is he a talented racer, but he is a great individual and a class act as well. I think that fans will really benefit from the knowledge he will bring to the broadcast booth this year. As for me, I am thankful for the opportunity to be associated with a great sponsor, and I look forward to getting behind the wheel of the UPS machine and continuing to move up in the points.
I’m pretty sure that UPS will not have me driving the truck, although that sure would be helpful at Martinsville! In all seriousness, that was D.J.’s deal and it was cool for him to be able to do that promotion for so many years. I’ve always loved the UPS commercials and how they approached them, especially the last one that they did with Dale, a little serious, but funny at the same time. It was certainly a great send off for him.
The second component of the driver transition will be bringing Michael McDowell on board to take my place in the No. 00. I haven’t really had many conversations with Michael yet. He is finding his own way and doing his own thing and that’s really cool to have a guy that wants to learn and have his own deal and I respect that. I’m sure he knows that I will be there in any way I possibly can. In fact, I think I am better qualified to tell him what not to do as opposed to what he should be doing because I have definitely made a lot of mistakes.
As for this weekend, well, I won’t have the weekend off because I will be racing the No. 99 Aaron’s Dream Machine in the Pepsi 300 at Nashville. I really don’t have any free weekends until after the season finale at Homestead. I do enjoy it, and I love driving and look forward to it every week. Sure, it gets a little tiresome at times, but I signed on to drive and I’m grateful for that opportunity.