Milwaukee was just incredibly disappointing. We had such a great racecar. We never qualify very well because we don’t put any effort into it. We’re locked in, sitting 19th in owner points, so we don’t put any effort into qualifying. It costs a lot of money to qualify because you have to put on new …
Charlotte was one of the luckiest races I’ve ever run. I’ve never, ever been lucky-ever, but at Charlotte, I was playing the fuel mileage game and got down a lap, then got the lap back when the caution came out at the right time. Then I was sitting there running 16th on lap 125 of …
Our team put a lot of effort into a new short track car. We went to Phoenix with it, and I really thought we were going to have a good run. We had an unexpected motor change before the race, and when they dropped the green flag, we made one lap and a darn coil …
Nashville was a huge disappointment for me personally. I’ve finished second there twice – had back-to-back second-place finishes there. When I go to Nashville, I feel like that’s a Bristol type of track for me, and I feel like I know what I’m doing there, I know what I need. I think what threw me the curveball was that we bought a used car from James Finch, we had high hopes for it, and it caught us off guard. The car had no speed and it pushed really bad. Every time we came in for a pit stop, the right-front tire was blistered. We won’t run that car again anytime soon. There are times when you can finish 24th and go, ‘Wow, that was a hard fought 24th.’ Well, that was a hard-fought 24th for me. It sure was disappointing, though.
Here’s what I want to make sure everybody knows. I’m a racecar driver. All of this started with the weekends at the racetrack. I have 100 people come up and tell me how good I did, but there were always that one or two people who asked me if I was still racing. I said to myself, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It bothered me a little bit. I tried hard not to let things bother me that are negative. I work really hard at staying positive, although I will admit it’s a lot of work.
I had a really good time in Daytona. It was fun for me, driving the motorhome down to Ocala. We won some races in Ocala and then we went over to Volusia. We were like a traveling dirt team – like the old days – setting the motorhome up and just feeling normal again. Then we started 2009 off with a really competitive run and finished 16th in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona.
This was definitely the strangest offseason for me and a lot of my racecar driver friends. I’ve talked to a lot of great racecar drivers – I’ve talked to Jeff Burton, I’ve talked to Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – and we all agree that this was the strangest offseason we’ve ever had. Usually by the end of December, we’re all getting tensed up and getting ready to get in the cars for January testing. Without the testing, it means another month that we get to ourselves, for all of the crew members and their families, and that’s a good thing.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I really want to look at the things I have to be thankful for. Two weeks before the Daytona 500, I didn’t have a ride. We pretty much stunned the nation with our big upset in qualifying for the 50th annual Daytona 500. That was a big feather in my cap. I was down in Daytona and pretty resigned that I was just going to run the Nationwide race, and we ended up starting eighth for the Daytona 500. I’m grateful for that. Then early in the year, Armando Fitz went broke and I could have missed a lot of races – but I never missed a beat.
I got a surprise. I’ve kind of been down and out lately, not running the way I want to on the racetrack, and then Michael Waltrip called me out of the clear blue to see if I would race (the No. 00 Sprint Cup car) at Talladega. I really needed that–an old dog needs a bone–and I was able to go to Talladega and qualify 14th and finish 12th. In the meanwhile, people talked good about me, and that lifted my spirits up. I really had to run that race on defense. There was a lot of pressure to make sure I got the maximum points for Michael Waltrip Racing. So I raced the way I had to run, and we finished 12th. I felt I got the very best finish I could have possibly got. I was fighting for 10th spot with Elliott Sadler and Aric Almirola as we came off turn 4 to the checkered flag. So we finished 12th.
After Bristol, we went to California where the team was dealt a severe blow. We thought that our crew chief, Kenneth Campbell, was on the mend (from an infection), that he was going to get better. The whole team, we all got out to California, and then around 9:00, I got a phone call from Jay Robinson telling me that Kenneth had passed away. It was devastating to all of us, but especially Jay. Jay and Kenneth got along real well–Kenneth had been with the team for six years. I got the call around 9:00, 9:40 local time, and I went over to the hotel. The team was in shock.
For the first time in my career, we ran back-to back road-course races. They were both very interesting. Being able to race in Montreal in the rain was a feather in my cap. You know, years from now, the stats will show that I was one of the 43 drivers who raced in the first-ever points race (in the Nationwide Series) run on rain tires. From that standpoint, it was really nice. But, it was a really dangerous race near the end. I could see for maybe 35 laps, then all of a sudden, I just couldn’t see anything. I had no windshield wipers; we weren’t prepared for it. Thank God they cancelled the race (when they did), and we were past halfway.
My last month of racing has not been stellar by any means. We feel like we should be achieving a little bit more. At our race team, we have every right to make excuses about why we don’t run real good, because we probably have, oh, maybe 25% of the budget that most people have. Anyway, we could have made excuses as to why we don’t run good, but I really feel that my team is talented enough that we can overachieve and become better than what we are. From that viewpoint, we feel like we can take equipment and motors and things that we have and be respectful. Our goal is to always finish in the top 20.