Hello. The last time I checked in at ESPN.com we were still in the afterglow of the Las Vegas win. That week, my wife Crystal’s mom and dad visited us, along with her aunt and uncle. It was an enjoyable week of family time, which included a fish fry and me taking advantage of having some help to take on a couple of large jobs in the garage.
During that week, I was in the midst of a post-victory whirlwind of media that included stops at “Wind Tunnel,” “NASCAR Race Hub” and “NASCAR Now” as well as a few radio interviews. It was a busy week of juggling responsibilities with my family and work, doing my best to give all that I can to my personal and professional lives.
Bristol is a place that traditionally has been a bit daunting for me. That track is busy, and if your car is not working right, it makes for a particularly difficult day at the office. It was good to start the weekend on the heels of the great race at Vegas, as it gave me and the whole No. 12 Penske Ford team a confidence boost. We qualified better than I ever had at Bristol. I was a bit too aggressive on my second lap and the car had a wiggle through Turns 3 and 4 that cost us a shot at the pole, but starting third was good for us.
The race itself was typical Bristol — mayhem. I narrowly avoided at least three wrecks, any of which could have easily ruined our day. The car was loose for much of the first half of the race, but we hung in there and kept our nose clean. By the last 50 laps, we had the car handling pretty well. On the last restart, I was third, but I spun the wheels, which cost us the opportunity to fight for the lead. We held on to finish fourth, which is my best finish there by a long shot. We were able to gain a few points in the series standings, leaving a place that was one of our biggest challenges with a 22-point lead over the second-place driver, Justin Allgaier. Not too shabby.
After the race, I went back to the motor coach lot to pick up Crystal and the girls. Motor Racing Outreach put on a neat little Easter egg hunt for the kids in the play area of the coach lot, and we were able to have some much-appreciated family time. It’s times like that that help me realize how fortunate I am to have the job I do, as it was literally about 60 minutes from the time I climbed out of the race car to the time I was with my family having fun.
We drove back to Mooresville, N.C., later that night so I could go to work at Speed the next day. I usually spend around eight hours at the Speed studios, so I will often bring fan mail to read or hero cards to sign during the downtime. It is also one of the times during the week that I will take the time to tweet or answer a couple of tweets. I’m still working on getting better on Twitter — thanks for your patience if you follow me.
During the week between Bristol and Fontana, my daughter Addison and I made a fairy garden, which was a fun daddy-daughter project that worked out great. We flew to California on Thursday, which ended up being an unusually long flight. We had a full load of passengers on the team plane and an unusually strong headwind, which meant we had to stop for fuel in Tulsa, Okla. It ended up being six hours from Concord, N.C., to Ontario, Calif. (To give you an idea of how strong that headwind was, on the way back home the same trip took three hours and 50 minutes with no stop.)
After we landed in California, I stumbled across a junkyard of sorts that caught my eye, and I ended up wandering through that place for a while. I saw an Old Lady in the Shoe slide that I briefly considered picking up for the girls. It was big and pretty rusty, which made me think of tetanus shots and expensive shipping — so I moved on without it.
On Friday, our track time at Fontana was unusual in that instead of two practices we had one long one. We were pretty good in practice. We tried a few things and found some speed.
After practice, both of the Penske Racing Nationwide Series teams get together to debrief and compare notes. It’s a good thing for the crew chiefs as well as for Brad [Keselowski] and me. After that, there was a Nationwide Series autograph session that had a fantastic turnout. If you were one of the many people who attended, thanks.
That night we had an impromptu dinner with the president of Wurth — one of our team sponsors — some of his staff and the No. 12 Penske crew. We went to a good steakhouse that had a laid-back atmosphere, and it turned out to be a really fun evening.
Saturday when we qualified, I was a little conservative during our run, as our Ford Mustang was just a little too loose in the corners. Since we had the points lead and I knew we had a strong race car, there was no sense going out there trying to be a hero to win the pole and end up in the fence. So we started the race from the seventh spot on the grid.
The race was fun. Our Wurth Mustang was fast as I was able to work my way up to second place by Lap 6. We ran in the top three most of the day. We led quite a few laps and battled Kyle Busch most of the afternoon. We gave it our best, but we just didn’t have enough to get the win, though a second-place finish was good. The strong finish resulted in us expanding our lead in the series standings. It felt good to have a 28-point lead going into the two-weekend break.
Crystal, the girls and I went home to Ohio over the Easter weekend. It is always enjoyable to go back there to catch up with friends and family.
Our Easter was nice, though Crystal wasn’t feeling well, so it turned out that I played Mr. Mom, toting the girls to church, my parents’ place and Crystal’s folks’ house after that. We had a busy day.
The highlight of the trip was a toss-up between going to the dentist and taking care of my taxes. Those two activities can be less than pleasant, but I always feel better when they are done.
When we got back to Mooresville, it was back to work — working out, team meetings, interviews, photo shoots and family time. I take Addie to dance class and school when I am in town — the girls and I always manage to sneak a little fun and adventure into the day. We found some four-leaf clovers the other day. For me, those activities are relaxing and rewarding — truly good stuff.
The Texas race started out good for us. We qualified fourth in the Alliance Truck Parts Ford and were working a strategy of saving tires for the end of the race. We had a fast Mustang and led four times for 29 laps before we were involved in a crash and finished a disappointing 34th. It was a tough night. We lost a few points, but we are still leading the series standings.
This week, we test at Mid-Ohio and then I have a SKF/Lincoln Lubrication visit in St. Louis before it’s on to Kansas for the Cup race. I’m looking forward to my first Cup start this season. I’ll tell you all about it next time.
Thanks for reading.