I’ve had the pleasure of running new colors and a new number for the past couple of weeks, but outside of those things nothing else is different. We sure have been super busy trying to get the team headed in the right direction, keeping up with testing sessions and running in both series. Unfortunately, one of the other things we’ve been busy at was trying to stay in the Top 35 in owner points. Our team had asked NASCAR if we could swap the points of the No. 00 and the No. 44, but our request was denied. I didn’t think that was a fair decision, but that’s NASCAR’s ruling and you don’t have to agree with everything they say, you just have to abide by it.
So with that being said, when I took over the UPS ride, we were sitting just inside the Top 35 in owner points and really needed some good results to build up a cushion. Unfortunately, what followed were two real heartbreaking races, not because we ran bad, but because of equipment failure. It certainly wasn’t because people weren’t doing their job, or anything like that; we just couldn’t seem to catch a break. At Martinsville, we broke a rear-end gear, but so did several other teams. The gear we run there isn’t quite as bulletproof as some other places, which increases the risk of part failure. At Texas the following week, we had another part failure. Sometimes things fail, even when you are running the best parts and have the best people working on them. The encouraging thing is that the cars had good speed and I felt that we were going to be competitive in both of those events; it just didn’t quite work out for us.
I’m sure many of you noticed we got some time in the limelight while leading at Martinsville before having our problems. It was one of those deals where we gambled on pit strategy to gain our five bonus points. Obviously you want to lead for multiple laps or be up front towards the end, but when you are in the position we were in at the time, you just simply need to get creative to gain some ground in the owners points.
After the disappointments in Martinsville and Texas, running well in Phoenix and returning to the Top 35 sure came as a huge relief. Obviously, it wasn’t the finish we wanted, but it was a decent finish and we will try to build on that. At the end of the race, I was almost too afraid to say anything about the points, in fact I didn’t even want to know. The result was a good one though and I give credit to all the guys who are working hard at the shop.
Our team certainly wasn’t the only Michael Waltrip Racing entry to endure an eventful couple of weeks. My teammate Michael McDowell was involved in a frightening crash and boy was I overjoyed when he got out of that car. With such a violent wreck, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be; you simply hope for the best, but expect the worst. Having Michael be able to walk away from that scene was not only a tribute to the great cars built by MWR, but more importantly, to the SAFER barriers, HANS device and the overall design of the car. It makes me feel good though that I am driving cars that are built by a really good group of people. Every component to the car needs to work correctly and if one of those pieces of the puzzle is missing, there will be trouble.
I would like to thank everyone at MWR for the vital role they are playing in making Toyota competitive in the Sprint Cup Series. Some have been attributing the success of the Camry to the addition of Joe Gibbs Racing to the manufacturer’s stable. I agree that they are doing a tremendous job over there, but I hope it doesn’t overshadow those at MWR who have been instrumental to the success and improvement of our team. It’s not like we go over to Gibbs and they give us a motor, they have their own separate deal. Everyone at our shop has really stepped it up this year and has built great cars. I have been learning more about Ryan Pemberton and he knows more about me and we are working together well. These are the components that are necessary for a successful season and I remain very positive about the remainder of 2008.