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.
"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."
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.