Nashville was a race that I was really proud of because that kind of started our better qualifying. We learned some stuff with the shocks and that got me qualifying better. We qualified eleventh, which was our best qualifying effort of the year. So that was a big moral victory for me and the team to start getting more speed out of the cars and start qualifying better.
I was happy with the qualifying effort and they dropped the green flag and I was really, really loose. We just kept running the race and we actually went a lap down. We stayed patient and got the car handling better and got our lap back; we got a lucky dog and we were the last car on the lead lap. Once we got our lap back, I was able to get aggressive with the car. I ended up passing some really good cars toward the end of the race. We passed David Reutimann and Elliott Sadler and finished twelfth. That was a tough race, but it was the start of our learning process. We were kind of feeling our way through the first handful of races and Nashville was a pivotal race for us, because we learned about qualifying, learned about adjusting the car, and we were able to overcome adversity during the race when we went down a lap and then coming back and passing some really good cars to finish 12th.
Richmond was a heartbreaker. We learned a lot at Nashville and then we took what we learned at Nashville and went to Richmond. I know that I like that racetrack and that I have a lot of experience there, but the reality is, they gave me a really good racecar. It showed up right away. We were ninth quick in practice, and ended up qualifying seventh. They dropped that green flag and we moved right up into second about 75 laps into the race. I think that was the race that kind of sent a message that we’ve arrived. Out team, RAB Racing with Brack Maggard, has really arrived. We had a couple of top tens early in the year at Vegas and Phoenix. We were able to apply everything we’ve learned to Richmond. We were sitting there running fifth with three laps to go and had a real bummer of a time. We pitted at the wrong time and ended up with a 13th place finish because we pitted wrong. But it was that race when we got a lot of TV time, and when I got out of the car every team owner and crew was telling me I had a good race. Even though I was devastated, my wife had to calm me down and she said, ‘Kenny, look. You’ve got to remember what this year’s about.’ This year is about my comeback and the comeback was in full swing and it was successful. We had a bad pit sequence and didn’t get the finish we needed but it wasn’t because we didn’t run good.
Darlington was disappointing. First of all, qualifying got rained out, so we lined up by the way we practiced. We were 19th quick in practice; we really couldn’t get the balance right. I love that racetrack. We started 19th and ran about fourteenth or fifteenth all day long. There was a big wreck and we missed it. It was just karma; it was like we were getting paid back for our time at Richmond. We were collectively deciding whether to pit or stay out, and thank God we decided to stay out, or I’d have been right in the middle of the big one. So we wound up finishing eleventh. I wished that we’d have had a better finish, but it was okay because we were probably a 14th or 15th place car. We didn’t deserve eleventh, but we got eleventh.
We deserved the seventh place finish at Dover. We had a green-white-checkered that we tried for a couple of times. Well, first of all, we unloaded and that particular car is the one we call the war horse. That was our sixth race on that car. We could never quite get it to handle the way I’ve wanted it to all year long. That was the best it handled all year. We ended up lined up 14th because qualifying once again, for the second week on a row, got rained out. We ran around tenth to thirteenth all day and then we got the car a little better toward the end, so we were battling David Reutimann for tenth spot on the white flag lap and Joey Logano lost his car and got sideways and hit the wall. I was lucky; I made it through the wreck. I tore the left front up a little, but not much. I got in the wreck a little bit, but I was able to keep going and went from tenth to seventh. That was a good points day for us. There was a lot of rain in Dover. Qualifying got rained out, then with 50 laps to go we had a rain delay. But it was a good week for us because I think we’ve got that car handling better. We had a seventh-place finish, and it seemed like we kind of slowed the bleeding down in points. We’re seventh comfortably in driver points and we’ve kind of solidified ourselves in fifteenth in car owner points. So that was a good week for us, instead of everybody being one or two points around each other we kind of opened up our margin on the people behind us and are closing in on the people in front of us.
My 500th start is this week at Iowa. I talked to NASCAR about it, they were excited about it. I talked to a lot of people about it, and I said ‘why do you think 500 starts is such a big deal?” Well, it’s because of longevity. It’s really, really hard to stay in this series that long. And the 500th start in the Nationwide Series I’m proud of, but I’ve told people that the number I’m really proud of is between Nationwide, Sprint Cup, and trucks, I’ve got 855 starts. The 855 number is the one I’m really proud of. There are a lot of good racecar drivers who I started racing with and they’re retired, or they couldn’t find sponsorship. I feel good that I’ve been able to do this for so long. I’m going to be 48 years old in August, and I’m really proud of myself. I never toot my horn, but I’m going to because I realize now what a big deal 855 NASCAR starts is. The other thing is, I have ten full-time years in Sprint Cup with 344 Cup starts. I might not have been a Jeff Gordon or a Tony Stewart, and I may only have nine Nationwide wins, but I’m happy with my career now that I look back on it. What’s exciting for me is that this is kind of a resurgent year for me. It’s been one of the best starts of my Nationwide career and you mix that in with my longevity, and it’s a good start to the year for me!
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