Phoenix was actually a pretty good weekend from the start. Practice went good, qualifying was OK. I think we ended up qualifying 17th and within the first 20 laps I think we were up to ninth, so the car was just really good in the beginning. We took two tires on the first stop and that made it too tight. In the spring race, towards the end of the race we were really tight and so we just put on two left sides to free it up, and that’s really what brought the car to life and got us a top-10 finish that time but this time it just made it way way way too free.
Charlotte was actually a really interesting weekend. We were OK last time we were there, but we were definitely not as good as we’d like to be so we unloaded with a baseline deal. Charlotte is kind of tricky because they give us an hour to practice when the sun is out and the track is just hot and slick and completely different than race time conditions. We kind of used that first hour of practice in the sun just to work up some ideas we had, not real practice for that race on Friday night. We tried some things and put them in our notes and then we had 50 minutes in the evening when it was closer to race time conditions. We picked up right where we left off and weren’t real good, but we thought we were competitive, probably a top ten, just needed to tweak on it a little bit throughout the race.
We were in Richmond last week. After practice I thought we definitely had a top 5 car that was going to be competing for the win. Then the green flag dropped and our car just went completely the other way. It was really loose pretty much through the whole corner at both ends and it took us about two or three stops to really get the grip we needed. We kind of ran around in 12th to 15th for the first 150 lap, made some good changes and got the grip we needed and then the last 100 laps we really started to move forward.
Richmond is the type of track where you really can’t relax. You have to be really aggressive there, whether you run laps by yourself or your racing, you just have to be aggressive and make the car work there. We got the grip we need and we were able to be aggressive and move forward. After making it through a couple of late race restarts and brought home another top 5 for our team.
When you’re growing up, as a little kid the two racetracks you always hear about and think about are Daytona and Indianapolis, the Brickyard. Those are the two tracks you always dream about racing on. I was really looking forward to making my first laps at the Brickyard. You hear so many things about the track, so many characteristics and all the history. I’ve been to a couple of Indy 500s and been a part of it and the atmosphere of what the whole track brings. I was really looking forward to being there and making laps and being part of the inaugural race. It was a lot of fun. Different from any other track we go to. Probably one of the most difficult tracks I’ve been to, not only making laps by yourself but then when you add 42 other cars it gets really difficult. It’s fun because as a race car driver, that’s what we enjoy is challenges and learning something new and the Brickyard obviously was that.
I was looking forward to getting to Kentucky because some of my best finishes have been there in a bunch of different series between trucks, ARCA and Nationwide. I love Kentucky and was really looking forward to getting there. I kind of underestimated how rough the track was going to be and had the mindset going in that first practice that I was going to get my car to handle through the bumps. After the first run I realized it was going to take a while to work and go through this, so we just kind of just moved up a groove like the whole field did and as soon as we did we picked up a lot of time and were really happy with our lap times. I think we were a top ten car. Then we had some things that we’d been working on that we wanted to try in the afternoon practice and put that on the car and we were even better and handled a lot better through the bumps. We had options, which you always look for in racing. Between ourselves and the No. 6 team, we talked …
There weren’t too many highlights from our race at Charlotte last week. We had another issue with a spark plug wire coming off and it put us behind all day. We had to battle back from that. We got the Lucky Dog but the biggest problem really with the actual motor issue is when you run on seven cylinders for 100 laps, you really don’t know what kind of car you have. That just got us way behind. It seemed like all day we were a pit stop or a few changes behind on the whole car. We dealt with that all day. It was another one of those deals where we had a bunch of adversity. When we have days like that, to finish top 15, it should still help us for the rest of the season.
We raced most recently at Texas Motor Speedway. We enjoy getting top-10 finishes, but our car was better than ninth. At this point, we’re glad to have it. We were moving forward all day. I think it was about halfway through the race we restarted 14th, drove up to seventh, got into a lapped car and put a hole about the size of about the right front headlight, pretty much a hole through the right front headlight. Then we couldn’t get a caution to try to get a chance to work on it. I had to come in for a green flag stop and at that point, we didn’t really know how bad the hole was so we didn’t have the right stuff there to patch it. With it being a green flag stop, we didn’t want to spend too much time on damage.
I’m with a new team for this year. Obviously we put this deal together very quickly. With the way everything happened with me and my situation, we had about a month to put the team together. Three weeks before Daytona we didn’t even have the full team yet. Philippe Lopez was hired on as crew chief and he went from there and really built a great team around the No. 43 car.
I’m really comfortable with my crew already. It’s a great group of people and I think the start we’ve had to our season is just a true testament to how hard they work and how committed they are to this.