We have a ton to talk about this month. Going back to Bristol Motor Speedway, we ran pretty well. We weren’t as fast as we wanted, so we took a couple of risks. That’s the fun with Shane and I – we’ve never been afraid to take some risks. We saved a set of tires and we were one of the few teams who came in late and were able to use that saved set. We were able to come from 18th all the way to sixth in 20 or 25 laps because we were so fast on those tires. It was typical Bristol; we had to avoid a few wrecks and I had to drive the heck out of the car. I love racing at Bristol. It’s so much fun, especially the night race.
I also got to go to the Tennessee Aquarium to do some media for them a couple of weeks before the race. I got to dive in one of their shark tanks and do one of those things that I love to do. I got in the tank and the media come in along with some school kids were outside on the other side of the glass. I got to talk about shark conservation as well as the race coming up at Bristol. It was fun, and then to go to the race and run well was what makes Bristol one of my favorites.
Atlanta Motor Speedway was a place we expected to do a whole lot better at. We wound up 13th, but we spent all night super loose, fighting to get a handle on it. We just missed it a little bit there, which was a little bit of a bummer because I feel like it’s a place where I’m really good. It’s a big, fast mile and a half so it was kind of a bummer for us because we expected to be better. At the end we did get better. We always try to be positive, and we did get better. It was just too little, too late, so to speak. We were already down a bunch of laps and we had to battle for track position and hope for wave-arounds here and there. That’s never a fun way to race.
Next, we went to Richmond International Raceway. One thing I liked about Richmond was that we had a really bad to the bone paint scheme. We ran a United States Air Force Combat Control paint scheme. I’m an honorary Combat Controller and I got to spend some time with them. We had a bunch of guys come down, some from the Pentagon, including two controllers who came down and hadn’t seen each other in 34 years and came just because the race car had their stuff on it. It was really cool to see two old brothers who spent time in some pretty bad areas in life and they hadn’t seen each other since those times. We had a little reunion for them, so it was very special to have them on the racecar.
Richmond International Raceway is just one of those tracks. I used to say I hate Martinsville, and (Martinsville PR Director) Mike Smith actually liked me to say that because I actually like racing at Martinsville. I’m not bad at Martinsville; my last finish there was second. I really do stink at Richmond. I don’t know any other way to put it except I am just awful there. I don’t know how to make it better; I don’t know what I need to do to make the race car right. When we qualified seventh, I was like “holy crap.” That was like 25 positions better than my average. In the race, we just progressively got worse. We weren’t bad at the start. The first adjustment seemed like it went the wrong way, so we tried to adjust it back, and each adjustment didn’t work to make it better, which in the end made it a long night.
At Chicagoland Speedway, we were great. The thing that hurt us was, right off the start, we were really loose. Fortunately we had a competition caution, so we were able to try to fix it before it got too long of a green-flag run. We fell back but were able to get back moving forward. We were charging forward through most of it, and I had what was probably one of the top five saves of my career. I got hit in the left rear right in the middle of turns 1 and 2 and we were probably doing about 170, 175 mph right there. Dylan Kwasniewski just lost it, he got a little loose and nosed into me. That sucker went sideways and there’s this feeling that anyone who has raced cars knows, it’s kind of like a teeter-totter. You feel like the race car goes over center, and it’s going to spin. I felt it go over center but I kept my foot on the gas, kept driving and grabbed a gear. My ECR engine was on the valves and I was thinking, ‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to catch this one, and the whole field is right there. It’s going to be big. I’m going to take somebody with me and they’re going to be ticked off.’ But I kept my foot on the gas and somehow, I felt the teeter-totter start to come back. As it came back, I thought, ‘No way… I think I might save this.’ I chased it and chased it, and brought it back straight. I think we lost like five or six positions, but that was it. In the race car, I was thinking, ‘Wow! Holy crap, that was cool!’ But it burned the rear tires and we fell back to fifteenth or so and were feeling pretty crummy. But Shane had saved a set of stickers and we were able to put those on it with about 15 to go. We had to come back from about 23rd place, and we got back to 13th. If we had had another caution, we were in the catbird seat, but we didn’t get one, and that was all the track position we could make up. I was catching the guys in front of me for a top 10, but we just ran out of laps.
The main goal for us this year was to win some races. We won at Road America, and we’d like to get another one to cap the year off. As far as the point battle goes, it looks like it’s between Chris Buescher and me for seventh. To get sixth, we’d have to rattle off some Kyle Busch-style stats. For us, the point battle is seventh or eighth. We have to work hard to stay in eighth, but at the same time, we’re trying to catch seventh. You go for every position you can get, and that’s one more spot. We’ll be driving for it. The great thing about the end of the season is it ends with phenomenal racetracks for me. Looking down the stretch, we’re battling for points, and these last ten races, I could put a Kyle Busch-style stretch together at some of these places. We’re heading to Kentucky, which is statistically one of my best tracks in NASCAR (Editor’s note: Brendan won at Kentucky the day after this diary), we have Dover, where I’ve always been good. We still have Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. My average finish at those is single digits. I have four wins at Texas. We have a lot to look forward to; we can definitely battle for some great finishes. We just have to do what we need to do. My RCR guys are working hard, the ECR guys are doing a great job. We’ve got great equipment. We just have to keep the momentum, keep everyone positive, and we’ll get there.
My pit crew has been phenomenal. I choose a Nationwide-only pit crew; I don’t take an RCR Cup crew and use them on a conjunction weekend. I have my own group of guys on the 62 team. It honestly amazes me this year that Richard has not stolen my pit crew and moved them to one of the cup teams – they have been performing that well. It’s been unbelievable how these guys do week in and week out, competing against the Joe Gibbs Racing crews and the Hendrick crews at JR Motorsports. My guys consistently gain me spots on pit road every stop. There was one stop at Chicago where I gained seven positions. It’s a lot of fun to come down pit road. Some of these guys are green. We have a couple of experienced guys, but a lot of them are really green, so it’s so much fun to come down pit road and to feel that confidence in the guys when they rip off another great stop. I don’t get to see them right after, but I have friends on the crew that have been with me a long time, and they tell me the guys’ eyes just light up when I come on the radio and start screaming about what a great job they do. They thrive on that, and it’s awesome to have that happening every week. We’ll have a bad stop sometimes and that happens, but right now, they are killing it, and beating Cup teams. They’re one of the few Nationwide-only teams to be that good.
During a race, most of what I’m thinking about is how good or bad the car is handling. When the race car is handling good and I’m running up front, I’m trying to go forward, I’m in kill mode, thinking about where I am on the track, how many spots can I get, whether I’m pulling away with a lead. It’s awesome, especially since I have a great pit crew, so I know I’m going to have a good stop. I feel like I’m good at getting on and off pit road, so I’m like, ‘give me a green flag stop; I know we can make up some time.’
If you’re in one of those situations when an adjustment sends you backwards, you hope that there’s not a long green-flag run. All you want to do isget back in, put new tires on, and readjust everything. When I have a bad day, I’m still trying to move forward, but it gets frustrating and it’s tough. It just depends on what the race car is doing as to how aggressive a mindset I have or what that mindset is completely. It all depends on what the race car is doing that week.
Off the track, we’ve had a bunch of cool stuff going on. My oldest son, Michael, is going to preschool two days a week. That’s been difficult on Mommy, because when we drop him off, he doesn’t do well with Mommy and Daddy leaving,but he goes to school with his cousin Bella and she’s my sister’s baby girl; they’re 15 days apart and they are like brother and sister. They do everything together. So, Bella is right there with him and she grabs him and says, “Come on, Michael, let’s go play.” That makes it easier on us. We did spend some time at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We were supposed to do some SCUBA diving, but the weather kind of blew us out. It’s kind of a bummer we didn’t get to SCUBA dive, but we were out at the beach with the kids. They loved playing in the ocean—what kid doesn’t? We spent some great family time. Right now everything is revolving around getting ready for next year and spending time with my family. I’ve spent a lot of time in Las Vegas, which is unusual for me not being around the team on a regular basis. It’s kind of odd, but the guys are ok with it. They know hard it is to be apart from their kids. I’m trying to be there with the kids, pick them up from school. I don’t want to be the famous race car driver who never sees their kids. I don’t want to be that guy, so I’m working hard to balance both.
Story of the Month
Which one can we tell? How about the one where Grandpa basically told Steve Wynn what to do when he ran the Golden Nugget? As the story goes, Steve Wynn was a young casino guy in town at the time. He was running the Golden Nugget, and he was kind of new in the business. Grandpa was one of the main shareholders of the Nugget, and being who he was, was pretty aggressive at the time. He was Jackie Gaughan, one of the main guys in town, and Steve was new. So Grandpa walled into Steve’s office one day and told him, “Steve, you don’t have the dollar slots in the right spot. You need to move the slots around, optimize where the people are,” basically telling Steve how to lay out his slot floor. Steve said, “Well, Jackie, I’ll take that into consideration and talk to the slot guys about moving some things around. I always appreciate the help.” And Grandpa went, “No, Steve, don’t’ worry about it. I already talked to your slot guy on the way in and they’re doing it this afternoon.” Steve to this day still talks about those stories. Even though it was Steve’s property and he was running the place, it didn’t matter—if Jackie Gaughan walked in and told him what to do, Mr. Wynn said, “yes, Sir.” It’s pretty cool to hear stories of Steve Wynn now, and who he has become and that Jackie Gaughan used to basically just say, “no, do it this way and we’ll get it done.” It worked well for Grandpa and for Steve Wynn.
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