Evergreen Speedway is one of the more unique tracks on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series. It's old, it's rough, and it's VERY hard to set up a truck for. If we don't go back to this track again, it'll be okay with me.
We flew in to Seattle on Thursday before the race, but this time, but this time I took my time getting there, and arrived in the early evening, instead of the afternoon. The crew arrived in town a day ahead of me, and spent the whole day practicing pit stops. By the time the race rolled around, they were on "Kill Mode"… More on that later.
After a good night's sleep, I got over to the track Friday morning where Jerry (our soon-to-be-famous crew chief) was getting the truck race-ready. I've written it in my diaries before, and I'm going to write it again… Jerry assured me that I was going to have a very fast truck this weekend. Well as it turned out, he was right. I did have a fast truck… but I didn't have a fast TRACK.
This speedway has a very course surface. It looks and feels like somebody dumped a bunch of asphalt on top of a pile of small rocks. Crew chiefs have a hard time here, because you need to get the chassis setup perfect, otherwise you're going to chew up your right front tire in a big hurry.
To prepare for this track, we changed a lot of stuff around. We changed springs, shocks, and we moved the track bar, and it still didn't seem to help much. No matter what we did, we (along with everybody else) skated the truck through the corners. We ended up with a top-15 time in the first practice, and knew we could squeeze a little more out of the truck for qualifying.
"Around lap 80, the crew had me on four fresh tires, and I found myself in 4th place. When the green came back out, I felt like I was on rails."
When qualifying time came, we were able to click off a pretty good lap, putting us 11th on the grid. While 11th doesn't seem impressive on paper, it was only about a half-second away from being in the top five. In happy hour, we seemed to get the truck dialed in even more, giving us the fifth fastest lap of the session.
We were ready.
The green flag flew, and we immediately picked off up a few positions. We knew we had to take it easy, be patient, and most importantly, save the tires. On a couple of laps, a guy would run up on my tailgate to pass, and I'd let him by. We'd end up passing him a few laps later, after he'd use up his tires a bit.
As the race progressed, we seemed to be in a pretty comfortable spot. The weather was clear and mild, I felt comfortable, and I felt like I was doing a good job of saving the truck. While I was doing "okay", the rest of the team was doing an awesome job. The guys on the pit crew practiced their butts of on Thursday, and now it was paying off. We would pick up two or three positions at each and every pit stop. That's what I meant when I said they were on "Kill Mode".
Around lap 80, the crew had me on four fresh tires, and I found myself in 4th place. When the green came back out, I felt like I was on rails. I had a truck that was as fast (or faster) than the leaders, and our pit stop put me in a position to fight for the top spot. After a few laps, Jack Sprague in the 24 truck had a tire go down, moving me into 3rd. Now all we needed was another caution with about 30 or 40 laps to go in the race.
As it turned out, we ended up having a very long green-flag period at the end of the race. Our tires were getting worse with every lap, and I was getting concerned about my right front. It got harder and harder to turn the truck in the corners.
With ten laps to go, I got on the radio and asked Jerry what he thought about a possible pit stop to get new right side tires. He told me to relax and to concentrate on finishing the race. A caution finally did come out, but not until there was only 1 or 2 laps left in the race. I brought the truck in and got tires, and was loaded for bear on the last laps of the race.
"Where we absolutely shined, was in our pit stops. This was the absolute best race for the pit crew all season...thanks, guys!"
A race or two ago, we got caught in a rule snafu while lining up after a caution flag. Well… It happened again here, but in a different way. NASCAR rules state that when a race goes back to green with less than ten laps left, the leaders are able to line up single-file up front, and the lapped trucks must remain behind them in running order. We were a lap down by this time, so when it came to go green, we lined up where we believed we belonged in the running order.
We ran the last few laps until the checkered flag finally waived. The scoring showed us in 11th (But actually, I thought I was in the top ten, because I was able to pass a boat load of trucks in the last two laps). After the race, NASCAR told us (and two other teams) that we didn't line up right, and therefore we were all penalized one lap, putting our truck in 13th instead of 11th.
Whether we were 11th or 13th it didn't make much difference in the points. We had a strong truck, but the tires didn't hold up. Where we absolutely shined, was in our pit stops. This was the absolute best race for the pit crew all season, and they deserve the credit for moving me towards the front. Thanks, guys!
Preparing for Texas:
Prior to my heading down to Texas, I'm going to be making a promotional appearance in Cincinnati with Jack Sprague and Joe Ruttman to promote the new Kentucky Speedway. The three of us are going to be involved with opening ceremonies for the Reds game, and then we're going to be scooted off to Texas to get ready for practice and qualifying on Thursday.