I have a confession to make. I didn’t watch the first part of the race. My husband wanted to go for a 4-wheeler ride for Father’s Day, so we were off playing in the dirt when the green flag flew in Sonoma. I talked him into coming home a little bit early though, only to turn the TV on and see AJ scored in 41st place, one lap down. Apparently he locked up the brakes and flat spotted a tire, eventually causing it to blow out. That in itself wouldn’t have been so bad, but then AJ got a pit road speeding penalty to top off the bad luck.
It looked like it would be a repeat of the fast few weeks where the 44 team couldn’t even buy some good fortune. I wanted to cry, but then I turned on my TrackPass to see where the Best Buy Dodge was on the track and saw that AJ was right behind the leaders – and he was chasing them down! So I sat there at my computer cheering him on, still wearing my mud encrusted jeans with my sunscreen and dirt smeared face, and watched him race his way back onto the lead lap.
AJ only stayed there for a little while though, as the 11 car of Denny Hamlin punted him in the hairpin turn and spun him around. Thankfully the caution came out a short time later and the 44 car was in the lucky dog position. AJ restarted in the 39th position at the tail end of the field. He didn’t stay there for long though, and was passing sometimes four or five cars a lap.
As other teams began to reach their fuel window to make it to the end of the race, cars started coming down pit road and AJ cycled clear up to the 5th position on the race track before coming in himself. Then the Best Buy Dodge team finally had luck turn their way when the caution flew just as they were pulling off of pit road. Now they were good to go to the end on fuel, and had fresher tires than any car in front of them on the track.
From then on AJ was able to do what he does best – wheel the heck out of a race car. If there was any question in my mind if my upgrade from Pit Command to Race View last month was worth the extra money, it was answered on Sunday. Hell yes, it was worth it! I don’t think I even watched the television, keeping my eyes trained instead on the digital images on my computer screen. Watching AJ set up the car in front of him and then make the pass time and again was amazing!
I think that the only thing that kept AJ from getting a top five this weekend, or possibly even a top three finish was the frequent cautions that plagued the end of the race. Double file restarts made it exciting, but as we’ve seen the last couple of weeks, if you are in the line that doesn’t move, you are screwed. It seemed like on every restart AJ would lose three positions. Then he would pass five cars before the yellow flew again, netting him only a two position gain. It happened time and again, and was very frustrating.
A seventh place finish was very gratifying after what happened early in the race, but it almost brings out more what ifs than a bad finish would have. AJ was in 39th position at the halfway point of the race. How good could he have done if not for those problems in the beginning? I think he could have won it, but I guess we’ll never know and have to settle for his second best finish of the season. I can live with that.
In addition to AJ’s great run into the top 10, Richard Petty Motorsports as a whole had a fantastic day in Sonoma. Elliott Sadler overcame some early problems of his own and scored a 10th place finish, and teammate Kasey Kahne held off road racer extraordinaire Tony Stewart to win the race.
How great was it to see Richard Petty in Victory Lane? He hasn’t been there since 1999, which was before I even started watching NASCAR. Of course I had dreams of AJ being the one to get him back into the winner’s circle, but I certainly didn’t mind when I saw that trademark Petty grin. Long Live The King!!!