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.
Matt’s stuck at home with a nasty case of the flu this week, so I’ve been pressed into service as a last-minute replacement for his column. Usually, I try my best to match his sarcasm when I sub in (although in reality, no one can even come close). But this week, in terms of Mouthing Off… I’ve pretty much already done it on a variety of subjects in my weekly version of Did You Notice? on Wednesday. So, I thought that instead of spewing more venom at the NASCAR powers that be this week, I’m going to play around with the term “Mouthing Off” in a different way.
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.
It only took three races for Tony Stewart to put a Chevrolet back in victory lane. After posting runner-up finishes in both the Budweiser Shootout and Gatorade Duels, Stewart’s first ride with Hendrick Motorsports landed Smoke back in the winner’s circle, collecting the eighth Nationwide Series victory of his career and his fourth in the last five years at Daytona. Unlike last year, though, which saw Stewart’s No. 20 Toyota all but untouchable, this one was far from a sure-fire thing. Though Stewart was a mainstay in the top 10 all day, it was not until late in the running that he got his No. 80 up front.
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.
Carl Edwards talked all week about how his No. 60 team had to be perfect the next two weekends if they had any shot of scoring a second consecutive Nationwide title. And while there were minor hiccups, the No. 60 group did everything they could, leading the most laps and dominating the second half of Saturday’s event to score Edwards his sixth win of the season.
Did You Notice? That under the old points system, the championship battle would be far from over? With three races left, Jimmie Johnson would lead Carl Edwards by just 98, with Kyle Busch hanging on by a thread at 203 points out. Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle would round out the top five, but neither would have a shot at the title. Should the 1-2 finish for Johnson and Edwards hold, it would be the second time in the last three years the old system would have “been better.” In 2006, Johnson won his first title over Matt Kenseth by 56 points in the Chase; but in the regular season, that margin would have been just four – the closest championship battle in NASCAR history.
On lap 29, a handful of drivers came in for fresh tires and adjustments at Memphis… and it turns out that made all the difference. A caution on lap 126 after over 90 laps of green flag racing left less than 10 cars on the lead lap, including Carl Edwards, whose No. 60 Ford was the class of the field. Edwards was never seriously challenged for the lead throughout the rest of the race despite multiple late-race cautions, and made coming from the back of the pack look easy, scoring a relatively easy victory. Defending race winner David Reutimann got his No. 99 Toyota to second with a few laps to go, but he refused to use the bump and run to move Edwards out of the way, a decision Reutimann later questioned himself for making.