As drivers, there is always something to do in between races and this week was no different. On Tuesday, we were at Pikes Peak for testing. Overall, I thought things went pretty well. Some stuff worked, some didn’t. Any time we get to test, it serves as a good opportunity to gather information that we can apply anywhere. If I had to pick a specific track where I expect what we learned to especially benefit us, I would say Richmond more than anywhere else; Pikes Peak is just a little bit rougher. We’re also hoping some of the things we found could work at Bristol.
We used to get to Pikes Peak a lot but this is actually the first time since the end of last year that we were able to test there. I enjoy going there and if they got rid of some of the bumps, I think you would see a lot more teams crossing the country to test there. From a short track perspective, I think it’s one of the best venues in the nation to collect data and knowledge at. I think it’s a great facility and I have a lot of fond memories from when we used to race there.
Things were really starting to come together for the Furniture Row Racing Team until Michigan where I feel we got robbed of a top 10 or even a top 5 finish. I thought Marcos Ambrose had been going too hard on the restarts up until that point, as it was obvious that he was really loose on new tires and I think most drivers would have backed off a bit in the corners if faced with that situation. I felt I gave him plenty of room on the top and he still got up into the side of me. I’m definitely not happy with the situation, as I thought it could have been avoided on his end and it is something I won’t forget. The positive thing is that we had a really fast race car once again, and we will continue to build off of that momentum.
That momentum has been a result of the addition of our new crew chief, Todd Berrier, who has made an immediate positive impact on our team. First off, we have made a habit this year of making our own bad luck with the way we’ve been running until a few weeks ago. Todd has come in and the cars have changed 180 degrees from where we have been. He’s been able to get me the feel in the car that I have been looking for. I have not changed what I’ve been doing in the race car, we have more speed and we’re getting better results because of the knowledge that Todd brings to our team.
I think there are several factors that contribute to our quick success together. Todd has worked with RCR in the past and that is where we get our chassis from so he is used to the equipment. At the same time, our chemistry has jelled quickly. Our cars are now so close setup wise when we unload, it makes it a lot easier for me to give feedback to help us go faster. It makes our communication go more smoothly. There will be bad days, we know that. Fortunately we haven’t had that situation yet and things have come easy. Now that we have established our communication style, I feel confident that when we do have that bad day, it’s going to be very easy for us to work through it.
You can tell that Todd and I were able to strike instant chemistry by the way we ran in his first race with us at Indy. In fact, at one point, we were fighting for the lead with Brad Keselowski before the two of us made contact. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t anticipate still being on the outside of him going into turn two the way the restarts were going to that point. I thought I’d be trying to settle in somewhere towards the front. When I got the run on the outside, I was pretty committed and short of backing off and giving up the position, my hand was forced, I had to go for it. Had we cleared him, that would have meant clean air for us and who knows what would have happened.
We were close going through the turn, he got loose and we made contact. It was just hard racing. I can understand his frustration that he displayed after the race. Since then, we have been able to talk and things are fine. We have a lot of mutual respect out there on the race track. Brad is one of the hardest racers out there so I think he was able to understand where I was coming from. So it was just a racing deal and it’s behind us.
Going back to Watkins Glen is always special to me, returning to my roots in central New York. This year, I got to visit the microd track at the New York State Fairgrounds where I used to race. A microd is very similar to a quarter midget. It has a little bit of a different body design in terms of size and weight, which keeps the driver inside the car more than a quarter midget does. From the standpoint of the suspension and how it drives however, it is very similar to a quart midget.
I try to return to the fairgrounds whenever I can to see what is happening and meet the new faces. I wasn’t able to get there last year so it was good to go back and talk to the racers and sign some autographs. It’s tough for me to look at from this perspective, but I know there are a lot of kids that look up to me as someone who started in the microd series and made it to the Cup level. I think some of them look up to me the way I looked up to Cup drivers when I was coming up. I think that’s a cool thing and I want to give back.
What I told the kids at the track and the biggest piece of advice I would give any young racer is do not take no for an answer. In this sport and in life in general, you’re going to hear “no” a lot more than “yes.” I know in racing, I have had more than one door slammed in my face and I had to go right back to the next one and hope the same thing doesn’t happen again. If I had given up after one of those negative responses, I would not be where I am today.
I think the next couple of races coming up will all be good events for us. From here on out ,my attitude is that anything outside the top 10 will be a disappointing day for us. In fact, I’m all for getting greedy by the end of the season where I expect anything outside of a top 5 to be considered a bad day for us. The track I was most worried about was Watkins Glen and we made it through just fine. Of course the race I was most anticipating was Michigan and that didn’t turn out so well. So I won’t say that there are any tracks where we will be particularly good or will be especially challenged. I do feel that we’re going to turn some heads here down the final stretch.
Thanks as always for your support. I look forward to continuing to give all of the Furniture Row Racing fans something to get excited about during the remainder of 2012!
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