Editor’s Note: This diary is part of a wrap-up series detailing the end of the season for Frontstretch‘s four driver diary participants.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I really want to look at the things I have to be thankful for. Two weeks before the Daytona 500, I didn’t have a ride. We pretty much stunned the nation with our big upset in qualifying for the 50th annual Daytona 500. That was a big feather in my cap. I was down in Daytona and pretty resigned that I was just going to run the Nationwide race, and we ended up starting eighth for the Daytona 500. I’m grateful for that.
Then early in the year, Armando Fitz went broke and I could have missed a lot of races – but I never missed a beat. I finished 11th at Bristol, and then Armando said we would not be able to make it to Nashville; but I was able to come to Jay Robinson Racing. So, I consider this a very fortunate year. I really see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, and we picked up right where we left off in the No. 28 Chevrolet.
You know, this Jay Robinson Racing team had always been thought of as a backmarker team. But now, we’re thought of as a lot more than that – we’re thought of as a 15th- to 20th-place team. I was grateful that we were able to take a 36th- to 43rd-place car that far ahead. So, that’s another feather in my cap – being able to not miss a race and just keep on going.
There were times that I was getting really bummed out – times when I was getting lapped twice. I really had to work on keeping a positive mental attitude – you know, Alan Kulwicki started that. You’ve got to keep a positive mental attitude. And I really had to work on keeping a positive attitude when we were running like crap. But then, I was thrown some bones.
The year started really turning around. Michael Waltrip called me up out of nowhere in October, and wanted me to replace Michael McDowell at Talladega. Michael really wanted me to gain maximum points for that car because it was outside the Top 35 in the points. We went to Talladega and finished 12th. That was really good for me and really good for Michael Waltrip.
And then, we just kept on coming toward the end of the year. A lot of pieces were just getting a lot better on my Nationwide team. We qualified 10th at Memphis, 16th at Texas and 14th at Phoenix. And then all of a sudden, my car owner, Jay Robinson, said we’re going to get a short-track car from James Finch, Mike Bliss’s car owner, and we’re going to go to Memphis with it. So, we go down there and we nearly win the race in the first start with it. If it were not for the last caution, I really feel like we had a shot at winning the race, but the green/white/checkered did not favor my car. So, we finished third. The year was shaky, but I’ll tell you what, that was our saving grace. I felt like I really saved myself. The end of the year could have gone really bad.
Early in the year, I did not expect to be racing in the Daytona 500. I really had to race my way into it. I remember crazy things, like thinking “Oh my God,” running in the Gatorade Duel 150. I was getting ready to pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. and I looked in my mirror and I had a big lead over the next guy and I was like, “Oh my God, no, all I have to do is finish in the top eight!” So that was a big surprise.
And I had no idea at Daytona that I’d be running for the U.S. Border Patrol and Jay Robinson. So, I can say that the moral of the story is never give up. It was a big year for me because it was filled full of surprises. I had no expectations – I didn’t know what to expect this year. But now that 2008 is over and I look back at it, there were some pretty neat things that happened. When I was in my early 20s or 30s, it would have been a disaster of a year. At the beginning of my career, this would have been the worst year of my career. But it ended up really good.
I’ll be at Jay Robinson next year with the U.S. Border Patrol. I’m focusing on the U.S. Border Patrol car, running the Nationwide Series. We continue to upgrade. We’re going to have more new cars, and we’re going to continue to run a lot better, because we have a plan. I’ve got my dirt car, and I’m really excited about starting next year out with that. I’m going to start that out early, at the end of January in Ocala, Fla.; and then I’m going to go and run the eight straight nights at Volusia. So I’ve got that, and I’ve got my TV for SPEED Channel again. I’ve got JEGS as a sponsor, and Bank of America as well. I’m very grateful for the way the year turned out. It could have been bad – but it turned out good!