Race 9, Grainger.com
200 / Pike's Peak
When it came time to
head off to Pike's Peak, we thought all of our "rough days" were going
to be in the past. We, as a team, know we're good, we know we're fast
and gosh darn it, people like us!
Pike's Peak is a beautiful
track, with wide turns, and a lot of room to race. Races here tend to
have very few yellow flags, with very fast track speeds. This track has
bit us in the past, so when NASCAR announced an extra day of testing prior
to the scheduled practice sessions, we were pleased.
At the very beginning
of the weekend, all the teams unloaded their trucks and were issued their
initial allotment of tires. NASCAR and Goodyear then informed us that
they had run out of the tires that were initially issued the teams, and
that a slightly different tire would be used in the second half of the
weekend. What did that mean? Well, we practiced and ran fairly well on
the first set of tires. When the second set was given, we (and many other
teams) found out that the chassis setup did not match the tires, which
meant one thing… excessive tire wear and/or slow trucks.
Well anyway, the early
practices went well for us, then we struggled a bit in qualifying. We
ended up starting in the middle of the field, but thought we still had
a chance to do well. In happy hour (the last practice session before the
actual race) we had the 8th fastest time, boosting our confidence heading
toward the green flag.
pit stop caused us to lose a lap to the field, but I'd take that over
smacking a wall at 160 mph any day."
Once the race started,
our strategy was to be patient, get into a rhythm, and pick off positions
as opportunities arose. Things went okay at first, but then around lap
30, we (and many other trucks in the field) started to experience severe
tire wear. By lap 60, we had worn out our right front down to the core.
Jerry (our soon-to-be-famous crew chief) and I discussed the situation
on the radio, and decided to be safe and come in for fresh tires. After
all, if we wanted to actually finish the race, we needed to make sure
we didn't hit the wall, other trucks, or any other unwanted obstacle.
When our right front was pulled off, it only had about 6 pounds of pressure
in it. If we had waited any longer, it would have blown for sure, probably
sending us into a wall. The pit stop caused us to lose a lap to the field,
but I'd take that over smacking a wall at 160 mph any day. We got back
out onto the track, when Mike Wallace blew a tire, nicked the wall, a
brought out a caution.
Now… NASCAR rules allow
lapped trucks to line up next to the leaders when the green flag comes
out. So… when people were shuffling around to get ready for the re-start,
I inadvertently passed a truck or two on the left, which NASCAR says is
a no-no. You're only allowed to pass people on the right. As a result,
I got black flagged by NASCAR, and had to go back into the pits for a
stop-and-go penalty. Well needless to say, we lost another lap. From that
point on, it became simply a matter of surviving the severe tire wear,
and finishing the race in one piece.
The ironic thing about
this race, is that for the first time ever, Jerry kept telling me to conserve
the tires, and actually slow down. How weird is that? How often are NASCAR
drivers actually told to slow down? By the time the checkered flag flew,
we were 17th in the field, and very happy to not have a damaged truck.
In fact, the truck was in surprisingly good condition! No major sheet
metal damage, and except for bad tires, the truck ran flawlessly.
Preparing for Seattle:
We're going to take
the Pike's Peak truck to Seattle, but first, Jerry wants to pull the entire
suspension off and get it ready for Seattle. The track up there is a 5/8
mile bull ring, but it's not like other short tracks. The turns are banked
and tight, but they're wide, with a lot of room to race. The down side
about this track is its' very rough surface. It feels like rocks in the
asphalt are coming right up through the track surface, making it very
hard to get traction. Again, it's going to be very important to get the
right suspension setup, so that the truck can turn well in the corners.
We've had tough luck here in the past two seasons, but (as I've said in
previous diaries) we now have a team that knows we can win. Now's the
time to prove it.