While it seems so long ago right now, it was so important for us to get off to a strong start this season. We had been strong at Las Vegas in the past couple of races. We got there, unloaded and was really happy with the race car and had a pretty decent race. At the end of the day, we were in contention to win that race, at least have a really good battle with Ryan (Blaney) until the caution came out. After that race I was like, ‘It would be so nice to have a win this early in the year and I feel like we let that one get away.’ I was pretty bummed out about it. Then, we really didn’t have a lot of confidence going to Fontana. We’ve struggled there the last couple of years. Greg (Ives, crew chief) didn’t seem all that confident in the set-up we were bringing. We were just kind of unsure. He warned me before the first run (in practice) and said he didn’t know if the car was going to be very good. We made that first run and the car was really, really good. I was like, ‘OK, last week wasn’t a fluke.’ It continued the whole weekend and we basically raced with what we unloaded with and ended up winning the race. It sure makes life a lot easier when you get in Victory Lane that early in the year and start with such strong cars that we know we can make even better over the course of the year.
The aftermath of my second career Cup series win was a lot different than my first. After my win at Chicagoland, I had a big party at my house, which was a lot of fun. I definitely enjoyed myself then. But after Fontana, we all got on the plane and flew to Phoenix. So I texted my two brothers and I texted the guys that help me on the Chili Bowl car – just a bunch of friends from Arizona. So, we all went out to a little bar next to the hotel we were staying at. My whole team was there and we all had a really great time. It was different in the sense that I got to celebrate with people that I normally would not get to celebrate with. It was a lot of fun. We had a little trip that we already had planned. We went to Lake Havasu, rented a houseboat and went and hung out all week. I had that planned for quite a while so it was pretty convenient that we ended up winning at Fontana and were able to celebrate the win on the lake.
When we actually got to racing at Phoenix, we were better than we were there last year, but we still weren’t really good by any means. In practice, I was pretty convinced we were going to race in the traction compound all day, which we did. But I felt like they would spray it again (the night before the race). So, I had us really loose because that was what I felt I needed to run in the traction compound if it was really sticky, which worked in the beginning of the race. But as the traction compound went away, especially on entry to Turn 3, we just got really bad. Our car fell off, it got super loose in (the corner) and we really struggled to get our car better. At the end, we got back up into the top-five and just got drove over in the last restarts and ended up 14th. It was a bummer. It’s still our weakest program, has been for about a year now. We’ve got to get our short track program figured out. One good thing, though, after Phoenix we were able to get into the simulator fairly soon to run through our car and our teammates’ cars and try to identify the things that made our teammates a little better and draw from their success. This was really the
first time that had shown up in the simulator and that we were able to learn from that, so hopefully that will help us when we go back there. In fact, I was scheduled to return to the simulator to do some more work about two hours after NASCAR announced its no testing policy last week.
The season on hold
It’s been interesting having started our season but now have it put on hold, while several motorsports series haven’t even been able to start their seasons yet. As drivers, we complain about our schedule quite a bit and want more off-weekends or more downtime. Well, we’ve got it now and I’m going crazy. I don’t know if it’s any better than not having started the season. I think because we’ve already got a win, it probably makes me feel a little better. At the same time, it’s just a really weird situation and I think we all know that when we do go back racing, our schedule is going to be more hectic than it’s ever been and we’re all going to be working harder than we ever have. So, I’m just trying to prepare ourselves for that. Literally, all I do is hang out, play with my dogs and practice or race on iRacing. I did watch ‘Tiger King.’ If you haven’t watched ‘Tiger King,’ you really need to. Joe Exotic is wild. My new building for my shop is supposed to be done by next week or the end of this week. My plan was to start moving into that but with the new rules on travel that may get put on hold. Finn and Roscoe are doing well. Finn has gotten a little chunky so we’ve been going on some runs. He makes it a little less than a mile and he’s done. Roscoe has been running and he can go about 2½ to 3 miles and then he’s good to go.
We’re now heading to the second week of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series and everyone knows that I’m a huge fan of iRacing – it’s my favorite thing on the planet! I was a secret iRacer and now I’m just letting the world know how great I am at iRacing. As long as we’re entertaining fans, that’s all that matters. It’s not the real thing by any means but just if we can bring some joy to people’s lives and give them something to watch and entertain them, at the end of the day we’re entertainers and that’s what we get paid to do. I think the first one was a lot of fun. I’m not on the side of taking it real serious like a lot of the other guys. I’m not afraid to put the time in, though. I’ve run a lot of laps to try to bridge the gap between myself and guys like William Byron, Ty Majeski and Timmy Hill. I’m going to have fun with it. I drove much of the race Sunday one-handed while tweeting. That’s probably frowned upon but I had more fun. I’m here to win the party, not to win the iRace. Sometimes when you crash the whole field, you need to find someone to blame and the closest the person was my dog Finn and he had to take the fall for that one.