One thing I was really focused in on this was making sure that when we go back to a track the second time, that my team would be better. I am happy to report that we are 100% on. We went back to Daytona and we didn’t wreck and finished seventh. We came back to Nashville for the second time and we improved our results and we improved how competitive we were. This Nashville race, we finished tenth and ran real good. I was happy with the results. That was a big race because our sponsor was Federated Auto Parts and the race was the Federated Auto Parts 300. We stayed over until the next day on Sunday with Federated and I gave lots of rides in the racecar. It all went really well.
Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway) is a legendary short track that we’ve been going to for years. I’ve been racing there since 1986 and I went there with my brother Rusty in the early 80’s. I was really sad to hear the report that it doesn’t look good for us to go back there again. I am not convinced that we’re not going to back, I think NASCAR is going to find it somewhere in their heart to go back there. It’s what our sport is all about-short track racing. The big tracks are an afterthought and we’ve got to get back to our roots and that’s short track racing.
I went into the Indianapolis race with high hopes and a good Federated Auto Parts car, and we just struggled the whole time we were there. We missed the setup and the thing bounced up and down all day and all night. I pinpointed and knew what was wrong with it, but we never could get it fixed. We rallied. It was an incredible race for us. We were two laps down with 24 to go and we took a drive-around and then I raced David Stremme for the lucky dog and I got it. That was a first in my career, to be two laps down with 24 to go-I remember 24 because I looked up at the board and counted it and thought, ‘Oh my God, there’s 24 to go and we’re two down’- and we got back on the lead with four or five laps to go and came from like 19th to 12th. It was chaos at the end. They had three green-white-checkereds and I was in the middle of it all. We got beat up a little bit, but it was a race to remember because we ended up rallying with an ill-handling racecar to finish 12th.
What I really liked about Iowa was we kept on with our same thing and improved second time around. We didn’t improve on our finish, but we improved on the quality. We look at Iowa as our new home racetrack, Gateway was our home track, but Gateway has been shut down. My brother Rusty owns part of Iowa Speedway. Kim went up with her sister to sell t-shirts. They had a lot of fun and sold a lot of No. 09 Family Farmers and American Ethanol t-shirts. We qualified eighth and finished seventh. It was the most complete race we’ve had, and it was the race I’m most proud of. We started eighth, we finished seventh, the car was really loose and I drove it with the maximum ability I had. When the race was over, I was worn out-I gave it everything I had. It was fun. Out of five races, we had four top 10’s and a 12th-place finish. That was a pretty good summer stretch for us to cap it off at Iowa.
At Watkins Glen it all came crashing down. We’d hoped to have six good races in a row. I felt like it was okay in practice, but I did not do a good job of getting the car any faster than it was. We qualified 17th or 18th. We were running around 16th and made a pit stop under caution, and one of my crewmen jumped over the wall too soon, and NASCAR told us we had to go all the way to the back of the field, which was devastating because you just don’t pass that many on a road course. So we went back to probably 28th or 30th spot and started making our way back up to the front. There was a lot of grass getting up in the grille because I was in the back with all the debris. The motor started getting hot. It got to 260 degrees and by the time I made one lap and made it to pit road it was up to 280 and the water started pushing out of the radiator. We never could get it cooled back down and we ended up blowing the motor up and finishing 32nd.
It was very disheartening. You don’t want to make a kneejerk reaction to one bad race, but my knee was halfway up, let’s put it that way. It was devastating. We’ll head up to Montreal, and we haven’t finished a road course race this year. Well, we finished at Elkhart Lake, but we were broken up. So we’re off to Montreal, and I think we’ll approach this race a little differently.
I’ve been giving speeches all over the United States. I was in Georgia giving a speech to a biotechnology conference. I was speaking on behalf of American Ethanol and farmers. I just gave a speech to John Deere on behalf of their crop insurance and financing department. I’ve been really busy making a living. We’re trying to find money to keep this Nationwide car going. I find myself working a little bit harder because I drive the Nationwide car for free, so I’ve been traveling around the United states giving speeches and making appearances at local short tracks to make up for driving for free.
By November we should have everything wrapped up and know if we’ll be able to make another go of it next year. We’re good this year. We’ve solidified what we need. We’re short on money every day, but my car owner Robby Benton has become very innovative and we’ve been able to gather the money up and put together the most amazing year I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve been able to make a comeback. I’ve been getting what I want out of the racecars, but it’s been very stressful for us trying to find the money.
With some open dates on the schedule next year, I’d really like to see us go back to Indianapolis Raceway Park. We definitely need to go back to Milwaukee. We were selling out there every race. That’s a crazy thing, because we sold out there, had a hell of a crowd, yet the promoter couldn’t pay his bills because he was a bad businessman. Going back to Rockingham would be a dream come true. We need to get back to tracks where the racing means something. These big tracks don’t mean anything to the fans like the short tracks do. You know, history repeats itself. The sport was built on short tracks and we need to make a right from wrong.
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