Here we go again! This season is turning out to be more of a challenge than originally anticipated. What makes it weird, is the fact that we've had the best equipment this season than in all prior seasons to date. I guess that when the bad luck bug decides to bite, it bites HARD.
As usual, we arrived at the track on the Thursday before the race. NASCAR once again gave the truck teams an "optional test day", which means you have an entire day to run on the track, in advance of the normally scheduled practice and qualifying sessions.
We unloaded from the truck pretty good. Milwaukee is a very flat track, so you need a complete package to do well. What that means, is that you need a stout motor, good brakes, and a setup that allows you to make it through the corners with consistent times. By the end of the optional practice session, we were 5th or 6th fastest on the speed chart… and that was with a practice motor. Jerry (our soon-to-be-famous crew chief) had the team put a good engine under the hood for the official practice sessions and qualifying, and while he was at it, he made some final adjustments on the setup.
"For the entire first half of the race, the top six trucks (me included) pulled away from the rest of the pack."
Qualifying was a tough go of it, due to the fact that the field was made up of a lot of evenly-matched trucks. We ran a great lap that got us 7th on the starting grid. A half-second quicker and we could have been close to the pole… it was THAT close. After qualifying, we went into happy hour and worked on a setup that was going to make us run well for long green-flag runs. We were ready to race.
On Friday night before the race, I, along with all the other Craftsman Truck and Busch Grand National drivers headed over to the "All-Star" McDonalds in Milwaukee. Ronald McDonald Children's Charities held an autograph session that attracted at LEAST 500 spectators, and everybody there had a great time. Thanks McDonalds!
Race Day: The green flag fell, and we immediately jumped up a spot to 6th. The truck felt comfortable, so we decided to hold the spot, be patient, and let the race come to us. For the entire first half of the race, the top six trucks (me included) pulled away from the rest of the pack. The fuel window at this track is about 65 laps… so with that in mind, Jerry decided to use some strategy and pit "short", which means we come in a few laps early, and hopefully gain some positions on the leaders in the process. Well it seemed that a few other teams had the same idea (or were monitoring our radios) and pitted when we did.
We made it into the pits, and seemed to have a pretty good pit stop… until I got back onto the track and up to speed. Apparently a lug nut was left off a wheel, and I had to go back into the pits under green to get it fixed, while trying not to spin the truck in the process. That error caused us to lose a lap to the field, (which seems to be par for the course of late). We still had a strong truck, and were the first truck to be one-lap down for quite a while, until we were snake bit once again. With about 50 laps to go we were going through a corner and got caught-up with Rick Carelli's truck, backing the truck into the wall. From that point on all I could do was ride out the race and get the best possible finish.
To the readers out there… You have to understand how difficult and frustrating it is to have a good team, great equipment, and fantastic sponsors, which is EVERYTHING you need to be successful at this level. Despite having all that we can't seem to catch a break. I speak for everybody on the team when I say that we still believe we can win, and that we will do everything and anything possible (within the rules, of course) to win every single race. Just wait… we still have something to prove to the rest of the guys on the track… Yes indeed!