Another racing season is underway, and once again, I am excited about the year ahead. The offseason was a bit difficult, leaving Red Horse Racing after another year together, but in this business, change is inevitable. The way the economy is right now, it’s hard on everyone. We raced nearly two years together without a sponsor, and were very fortunate and grateful to have Zachry come on board at the end of last season. This season, they wanted to continue getting their feet wet as a sponsor in NASCAR, but only wanted to do primary sponsorship for about half of the 2009 season. Unfortunately, my owners and friends Tom DeLoach and Jeff Hammond couldn’t make it work again this year without a full-year commitment. So we talked about it and decided I had no choice but to try to find something full-time, so they let me out of my contract. Tom and Jeff, and everyone at Red Horse Racing are great friends and always have been. But a lot of times the business side of racing is just ugly. It’s just something we have to deal with.
When I got my release from RHR, I had a few different options, but after looking hard at other teams and studying my choices, I knew I had to go with HT Motorsports. Team owner Jim Harris has been involved in the sport for a long time and his passion for the Camping World Truck Series and for racing was a good fit for me. Plus, to able to work with a teammate like Terry Cook, who I am good friends with and who is a very hard competitor, helped to make the decision.
So far, everything is going good. I worked at the shop for seven or eight days prior to Daytona, just getting used to the people and the trucks. I’m really excited about working with these guys because there is a lot of chemistry with this team. They are such hard working, good people and they are just as excited about this season as I am. I definitely feel that we can be competitive this season. It’s really exciting and promising just looking at how they ran the last 10 or so races of the 2008 season.
I’m also really excited to work with my crew chief, Jason Miller, who I actually worked with at RHR when he was the truck chief. With everything that went on in the off-season, seeing how everyone is struggling, and looking at drivers that aren’t racing this year, I’m just excited to be part of the Camping World Truck Series. To have a great sponsor like Zachry and a great team owner like Jim Harris, I’m really looking forward to getting going and running strong.
As it always is, Daytona was exciting for the fans, and I believe part of that was because of NASCAR’s new rules. Because we are now limited to five team members over the wall, we can no longer take tires and gas in the same stop. That means we either have to make two stops or make the decision on which we feel is more important for the next run – fresh tires or a tank full of fuel. The fans got to watch the strategy play out and see who did what. My hat is off to NASCAR on this. Right now I think the rule is going to be very beneficial to the fans, because of how strategy will play into the race, and it will also save the teams some money. Right now it seems like a win-win situation, but of course, it remains to be seen if we all truly will benefit.
For our part, the Zachry Toyota Tundra we brought to Daytona was more of a downforce truck. We knew we probably wouldn’t qualify very well, but during the race, it sucked up real good in the draft. In the beginning, I held back a little to make sure I didn’t get caught up in anything while everyone was getting their trucks figured out. After about 25 laps, I made a run to the front and we were really strong, but I was loose on entry, meaning if someone was behind me when I turned in the corner, the truck wanted to spin out. I told my team I was going to drop out of lead pack for awhile until we could make an adjustment. During the caution we were able to work on the truck, and I made moves towards the front, but it was still loose. We made yet another adjustment on the next pit stop, but it ended up being too much and it made it too tight in the center and off the corner, and that was something we needed to fix. On our last pit stop, we made some major adjustments and when I went back out we fell back a little, but then my truck was flying through the field. However, at that time I had lost the lead draft because I was behind some trucks that weren’t running very well, so by the time I got past them the lead draft was ahead of me.
The thing about Daytona, as we all know, is that one wrong move or one wreck on the track by one or a few trucks/cars will usually take out the innocent. That’s what happened to us on Friday. But when we made our pit stop, my team was beating on the truck and were able to get us back out there, and surprisingly, I was still able to keep up with the draft. I was actually able to get past one more truck there on last lap for an extra position. While I’m disappointed we didn’t have a chance to try to win it at the end, all-in-all I’m very happy with the race, because the communication, teamwork and effort was phenomenal. We may have gotten caught up in someone else’s misfortune, but it still was not a bad night and I’m excited about how well truck performed.
So now we are heading to California Speedway and as always, I’m very excited about our chances. Our truck should be good and both my teammate, Cook, and I should have a strong race. Not only do I get to race my Zachry Toyota Tundra on Saturday in the Truck Series race, but I also have the opportunity to try to qualify for the Sprint Cup race on Sunday. I am very fortunate that Dexter Bean asked me to attempt to qualify the No. 51 BlackJack Racing Dodge. My first priority is being there with my truck team and trying to win the race. But it is an honor and dream come true to have the opportunity to try to qualify for the Sprint Cup Series race.
I’m just really looking forward to a great year with everyone at HT Motorsports and with my sponsor Zachry. Hopefully you will see us in victory lane soon!