Saturday's Nationwide race in Talladega felt like the Good Ol' Days - running up front, contending for the win - the way it's supposed to be.
The race didn't start out that great, as we went a lap down early as we tried to find the best drafting partner. We kept working at it, got the lucky dog, and partnered with Mike Wallace. Our cars seemed to work pretty well together, but only if I was pushing. We worked that for a while, and found ourselves moving up through the field.
As the race progressed, Mike and I were working pretty well together, although I wish I could have been pumping oil from the cooler onto my front bumper so that it slid across Mike's bumper better. We had to anticipate each other's movements, and anytime we were off by just a bit, Mike would go almost sideways and would have to do a great job to save it. I had to peek out and get air once in a while, and sometimes that would mess Mike up. But he did a great job hanging onto that thing.
As the race went on, we kept moving towards the front, and I started thinking "we might win this thing!" So Mike and I started talking about our last lap strategies. But then as the cautions came out, our plans to work together were spoiled, as on two restarts we were on the front row next to each other - one time I had the inside, the other time Mike had the inside. We tried to work together, but it was too much to try to pair up with the whole field coming, but I was fortunate enough to have Brad Keselowski behind us on two restarts. Brad and I worked together pretty well; he had a strong car, and said that he'd just keep pushing us to the front. That he did.
When we took the white flag, I thought we were in pretty good shape. I knew someone would get a run on us, but that we had a good shot of getting back if we were passed early enough. As Kyle and Joey came up to us, I could feel our cars getting a bit upset, and they were able to pass us pretty quickly. That worked out well, as we were able to get a bit of a side draft off of them and had a good run on them going down the backstretch. We were gaining on them coming into turn three, and I was looking forward to what would happen down the frontstretch.
The 3rd place finish was great and a great boost for the team, but I wish that Mike didn't end up on his lid. We've gotten a great amount of coverage both during the race and afterward. This includes a trip to the Media Center after the race with a whole bunch of questions, and an appearance on NASCAR Now this week. And we received 2 contingency awards for the race: Featherlite Most Improved Driver and Mobil 1 Oil Driver of the Race.
I am just thankful that as an underfunded team, we were able to put a run like this together. My guys have been working really hard on these cars, and even though we can't afford to do testing or even simulations, we've had fast cars. The car we used was actually the first Nationwide car that we built, and the same one that Kevin Conway raced in Fontana a couple of weeks ago, and the same one that I raced in Daytona. The Toyota power plant in it is very strong, and I was jealous of Kevin when he got to race it in Fontana. We tore up the nose piece a bit this week, but we'll be able to fix that and use that car again.
I'm just proud of my team, everyone at the shop and behind the scenes to keep all of this going on the limited budget that we have. And our fans are the best, always supportive and sending me messages showing their support. We just know that with a sponsor in place, we can step things up and be able to compete like this every week. It felt good to be running up front and battling for the win, and we want to continue that with a new sponsor on board.