Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Las Vegas Preview

No. 43 Valvoline Ford Fusion

• This weekend’s event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will mark this first time this season for Valvoline as primary sponsor of the No. 43 Ford Fusion
• Sunday will be Allmendinger’s second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Las Vegas
• Allmendinger finished last week’s race in the 25th position

Allmendinger Ready For Vegas: “Last year was my first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas. I had to qualify my way in and that was nerve wracking, but we made it solidly into the field. We didn’t have the best run of the season there, but at least I can go in this weekend knowing I’m locked in to the field and having the knowledge of last year’s race under my belt.

“Valvoline is on board as primary sponsor of this No. 43 Ford Fusion for the first time this season. The company has such a rich history in NASCAR and with Richard Petty and I’m thankful and honored to have them on my Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. Everyone on this No. 43 team and at RPM as a whole has been working really hard. Daytona and California were a little rough and we didn’t have the finishes that I know we’re capable of, but we’re not worried. Vegas is a fun city, the track is great, and the fans are awesome, so this will be a great weekend to get ourselves back on track with a top-15 performance or even to return the No. 43 to Victory Lane.”

Crew Chief Mike Shiplett’s Thoughts On Vegas: “Vegas is a very fast 1.5-mile track. You can get very loose going into the turns so we’re going to focus on finding the balance between being loose in and tight in the middle of the corners. Then there are the bumps going into Turns 1 and 2 to deal with. We’ll have to make sure the No. 43 Ford’s shocks and springs are right for that situation and make sure the handling on the car is where AJ needs it to be.

“We had to fight pretty hard throughout the race in Fontana for the finish this No. 43 team came out of there with last Sunday, but Fontana is over and we’re looking ahead to this weekend. The No. 43 Valvoline Ford Fusion we’ve decided to take to Vegas is the same chassis we ran with AJ last November at Texas Motor Speedway. We had a really strong run there and finished 10th. Vegas and Texas are similar tracks, so I’m really optimistic this will be the weekend we can showcase what this Richard Petty Motorsports team can do.”

Chassis History: Chassis No. 289 has been prepared by crew chief Mike Shiplett and the No. 43 Valvoline Ford Fusion team for this weekend’s Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada. This Ford Fusion was run as the No. 44 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports last November at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. The No. 44 Ford finished 10th in that race.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fontana Race Recap

After being the fastest Ford driver in the first practice session at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, I had high hopes for how AJ’s weekend would go. Qualifying didn’t pan out quite as well as practice though, and when I watched my recording after the fact it looked to me like AJ’s car was pushing up the hill and killing his time through the corners.

With a new tire combination to try and figure out, the #43 Best Buy team fought throughout the two Saturday practice sessions to find some front grip. Rain off and on during the weekend and widely varying track conditions only increased the challenge for the team. And when the race started with AJ in 29th position, the car not only was tight in the front, but also had no rear grip.

The pushing condition made it tough to get through the corners, and when AJ tried to take advantage of that Ford horsepower coming out of the corner, the tires just wouldn’t hook up. He radioed in that the car was the worst it had been all weekend, and was forced to just hang on with what he had until the team could make adjustments.

Unfortunately, the first stop was made under green flag conditions, and the team didn’t have a lot of time on pit road to make any big swings. A track bar adjustment helped the rear grip, but it seemed to hurt the front. AJ searched for different lines to run that might help the car, but didn’t have much luck. With the leader looming in his mirror, there wasn’t much AJ could do but watch him drive by.

Thankfully there was a caution for debris before the race leader could lap any more drivers, and AJ was the lucky dog recipient. Since they had to start at the back of the field anyway, Mike Shiplett called for some major adjustments to try and improve balance. Tire falloff was a big problem, but AJ radioed in that the car was more in the track.

After receiving the lucky dog he took the green flag in 29th place and with the right adjustments he started working his way through the field. By the next caution on lap 92, AJ had moved up to within striking distance of the top 20. Speeding violations sent three cars to the back of the field, and after a wedge adjustment on a solid stop for the 43 team, AJ restarted in the 19th position.

The wedge adjustment seemed to help the front just a bit, but really hurt the rear grip on the next run. AJ was back to having to hang on and try not to wreck while the faster cars that had been sent to the back with speeding penalties drove back by him. More adjustments on the next green stop helped, but then a problem on pit road during the next yellow cost AJ some positions.

Running most of the middle part of the race in 20th to 25th place, the team struggled with finding a good balance on the car. In trying to help the front grip, they would hurt the rear grip and vice versa. They kept plugging away at it though, and AJ did the best he could by experimenting with different lines on the race track.

By lap 180, all the teams were watching the sky and trying to decide on a revised weather strategy. Black clouds loomed over turn 3, and sprinkles were reported as cars started coming in for green flag pit stops. Mike immediately called for AJ to start saving fuel, which are words that absolutely make my stomach clench up with dread. I don’t think AJ has ever come out on top when his crew chief gambles with fuel mileage.

This time was no different, either. Even as the rain started coming a bit harder, NASCAR left the green flag out and almost the entire rest of the field pitted. AJ was in fourth position when he radioed in that the rain was starting to die off. Knowing that he wasn’t going to get the caution he was hoping for, Mike called out to pit next time by. But it was too late. AJ ran out of gas on the back stretch and had to slowly coast to pit lane, costing him valuable time on the track.

With AJ now nearly two laps down, the caution fell for rain just a couple laps later. Frustrated on the radio, AJ told Mike that they couldn’t risk those kinds of chances right now. Mike agreed and the two strategized on how to try and get the lap back that they had lost. With other cars having similar bad luck and mechanical problems, AJ restarted the race in 26th position once the track was dried off.

AJ was in the lucky dog spot several times throughout the last 50 laps of the race, but someone else would go a lap down right before the caution flew. The Best Buy team would never manage to get that lap back, but did make big gains in their adjustments over that final stretch. By the time the race ended, AJ was running times that would have easily put him in the top 15 if it wasn’t for being a lap down. When the checkers flew, he was in 25th place.

While it certainly wasn’t the finish that they were looking for, there were still some positives to be taken out of Fontana. For one thing, the team kept at it and finally hit on some changes that improved the handling of the car. That will be helpful throughout the next couple of races at Vegas and Atlanta. Another positive is that the RPM organization as a whole seems to have better cars than at this time last year. They really don’t have the results to show it, but the merger so far seems to be working in their favor.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I was not happy with how things went at Auto Club Speedway. I am not down about how the season is going so far, though. It is just two races, and there is a long ways left to go. The cars have been fast, the driver is excellent, the sponsor is a match made in heaven for AJ, and the future still looks very bright.

So now it is on to Las Vegas where AJ just has one race under his belt, and a not so great race at that. Handling will be key there, and track position more important than ever. Hopefully the #43 pit crew has all the bugs shaken out and they don’t cost him any spots on pit road. Mike needs to make good adjustment, and AJ has to take care of his equipment on the track and not make any mistakes. Not just this weekend, but every one after this, too. It’s time to show the results, boys.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fontana Post-race Quotes

PAUL MENARD -- No. 98 Energizer/Menards Ford Fusion
Finished 18th

“We just kept chipping away at it, really. We couldn’t seem to get going on restarts and that hurt us in the end. We were really good on long runs and just kept working on it. Our Menards Ford Fusion bounced between tight and loose and the car was close enough where we could take little changes and go either way, so it was really finicky, but we had really good speed on old tires.”

ELLIOTT SADLER -- No. 19 Stanley Ford Fusion
Finished 24th

“We thought we had the No. 19 Stanley Ford Fusion right where it needed to be after final practice but as the race got underway, it wasn’t exactly where we would have liked. The crew kept digging at it and I’m proud of how hard they worked. It wasn’t the day we were hoping for though. I know this team will be back in the shop bright and early tomorrow morning and we’ll show back up in Las Vegas next weekend ready to go.”

AJ ALLMENDINGER -- No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion
Finished 25th
“We struggled a bit this weekend, but I’m proud of my Best Buy crew for working so hard during the race. The Best Buy Ford Fusion started the day off really loose and I know the guys made a ton of changes to the car, which eventually helped it. The track conditions seemed to change a bit during the course of the event and during the mid-stages of the race, we were actually pretty good. We got behind the eight ball when we stayed out just a little too long waiting out the rain and we were never able to make up that lap. Nonetheless, the guys never gave up and I’m proud of them. I think we’ve got a good baseline now and we should be a little better right off the truck next week in Las Vegas.”

KASEY KAHNE -- No. 9 Budweiser/Team USA Ford Fusion
Finished 34th

“I just didn’t catch it. I got loose and I didn’t catch it. I did a bad job, but we had a pretty good car. You never really know where we would have finished because everybody was going back and forth in the top 10, so I think we had a great shot at running up front and I just made a mistake. Now we’re in a big hole, but I think we still have a pretty good opportunity to get back to where we need to be.”

Fontana Results

Auto Club 500 Finishing Order
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Jeff Burton
4. Mark Martin
5. Joey Logano
6. Kurt Busch
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Clint Bowyer
9. Tony Stewart
10. Greg Biffle
11. Scott Speed
12. Brian Vickers
13. Carl Edwards
14. Kyle Busch
15. David Reutimann
16. Sam Hornish, Jr.
17. Jamie McMurray
18. Paul Menard
19. Regan Smith
20. Jeff Gordon
21. Brad Keselowski
22. Mike Bliss
23. David Ragan
24. Elliott Sadler
25. AJ Allmendinger
26. David Gilliland
27. Bobby Labonte
28. Max Papis
29. Denny Hamlin
30. Travis Kvapil
31. Kevin Conway
32. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
33. Robby Gordon
34. Kasey Kahne
35. Marcos Ambrose
36. Ryan Newman
37. Juan Pablo Montoya
38. Boris Said
39. Martin Truex, Jr.
40. Joe Nemechek
41. Dave Blaney
42. Michael McDowell
43. Aric Almirola

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fontana Qualifying Quotes

KASEY KAHNE -- No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion
Qualified 4th
"We got a cloud and had a really good Budweiser Ford. We had been off in practice and tried a lot of things, but Kenny and the guys took a nice shot at it right there. I came to the green and felt like I got through three and four really good, so I overdrove one because I felt good. I drove too hard into turn one and gave a little bit away there just getting back to the throttle and didn't probably get down the backstretch as good as I need to to beat Clint, but it was still a good run. We came from a long ways back, but still have a pretty decent shot at it for Sunday."


AJ ALLMENDINGER -- No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion
Qualified 29th
"On race runs we were pretty good in practice, and I thought we were decent in qualifying trim, but I was just too tight there. I think the car is pretty good in race trim and I think we have to keep trying to free it up a little bit and get the car turning better. The rear is in the race track a lot, but we'll go fight another day tomorrow."

Credit: Ford Racing

Fontana Qualifying Results

Auto Club 500 Lineup
1. Jamie McMurray
2. Juan Pablo Montoya
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Kasey Kahne
5. Dave Blaney
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Jimmie Johnson
8. Sam Hornish, Jr.
9. Kyle Busch
10. Mark Martin
11. David Reutimann
12. Kurt Busch
13. Scott Speed
14. Jeff Burton
15. David Ragan
16. Tony Stewart
17. Mike Bliss
18. Ryan Newman
19. Joey Logana
20. Matt Kenseth
21. Brad Keselowski
22. Regan Smith
23. Brian Vickers
24. Aric Almirola
25. Denny Hamlin
26. Marcos Ambrose
27. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
28. Jeff Gordon
29. AJ Allmendinger
30. Michael McDowell
31. Carl Edwards
32. Joe Nemechek
33. Bobby Labonte
34. Martin Truex, Jr.
35. Greg Biffle
36. Paul Menard
37. Elliott Sadler
38. Kevin Conway
39. Travis Kvapil
40. Robby Gordon
41. David Gilliland
42. Boris Said
43. Max Papis
DNQ Casey Mears
DNQ Johnny Sauter
DNQ Terry Cook

New Look for AJ's Website

AJ Goes Live

Fontana, CA--NASCAR Sprint Cup racer AJ Allmendinger has launched a new website,, and the site has gone live ahead of the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway.

The site features a new look and feel, some significant new features that provide live up to the moment content from drivers accross the full NASCAR spectrum, as well as copious content that is focused purely on AJ. Check it out!


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fontana Preview

No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion

• Los Gatos, Calif. native AJ Allmendinger will make his fifth start at Auto Club Speedway this Sunday
• Allmendinger marked his best start and finish at the southern California track in 2008 when he started from the outside pole before ending the 500-mile race in the 14th position
• Allmendinger was among 21 different race leaders in last week’s season-opening Daytona 500, leading three different times for a total of 11 laps

Allmendinger Heads To Home State: “Even though I’m from about 400 miles north of Fontana, I’m always happy to be back in California. I’m looking forward to racing in front of family and friends but it definitely adds some more pressure to perform well. I really want to get this No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion to Victory Lane and if I could make it happen this Sunday in my home state, that would be icing on the cake.

“We didn’t have the end to the Daytona 500 that we wanted so myself and this No. 43 Best Buy team are taking what we can from the last two weeks and looking ahead to this weekend. I’ve qualified decent at this track and we ran well last fall before we got caught up in an accident. With four Sprint Cup races under my belt at this track now, I know the lay of the land and know what I need to do and be prepared for. I’m confident Mike and the guys at the shop have built an awesome Best Buy Ford Fusion that will be competitive and I am just ready to get back on track and really show what this Richard Petty Motorsports team can do.”

Crew Chief Mike Shiplett On Track: “I’m really looking forward to heading to California. This two-mile track is a big horsepower track. With Roush-Yates Engines, we know this No. 43 team and all of the Richard Petty Motorsports teams will have the best horsepower in the garage. We had a good run with AJ (Allmendinger) at Auto Club Speedway last fall. We had a good handling car but it was tough because we ran into trouble and our day didn’t end like we wanted.

“Coming out of Daytona, which is so different from the next few tracks we will visit, you focus on the downforce, handling, and balance. I know this No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion will be strong this weekend if we keep the handling right and find the right balance.”

Chassis History: Crew chief Mike Shiplett and the No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion team have prepared chassis No. 277 for this weekend’s Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. This Ford Fusion was run as the No. 44 car with Richard Petty Motorsports last October at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.

Support the Paralyzed Veterans of America: Be sure to stop by the PVA’s display located on the front stretch Midway at Auto Club Speedway this weekend and enter a raffle to win a Jeep CJ-2A Willys restored by Petty's Garage. Visit

Credit: Richard Petty Motorsports PR

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday Ramble - Daytona Edition

Racing is back!!! So far the 2010 NASCAR season has had a few surprises. The biggest of which was that something as inauspicious as a pothole interrupted the sport’s biggest event not just once, but twice. Then a car that hadn’t even lead a lap all race long pushed to the front and managed to stay there. Jamie McMurray had a strong car and has shown promise at restrictor plate tracks, but he is not who I expected to pull into Victory Lane at the end of the day.

However good or bad your driver’s day was at Daytona, I doubt there is a fan out there that wasn’t glad to see cars on the track again. When the off-season starts, it is kind of nice to have the break from racing. But by the time January rolls around, I’m ready for the cars to fire up again.

With the Daytona 500 now over though, the real 2010 season is getting ready to begin. In the grand scheme of the 36 race schedule, the true racing will begin at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. That track typifies what the competitors will face this year. And while none of these ovals are exactly alike, how well the teams run this weekend will give us an idea of what the season has in store for them.

Last year we saw teams struggle the minute they left Daytona and spend all season trying to find out where they had gone wrong. So now we are getting ready to find out which organizations will face an uphill battle in the 2010 season. Or will there be any teams that start out the year on the wrong foot?

Roush Fenway is confident that they have improved their program, and even brought six additional engineers into their fold. RPM is likewise confident that their chassis knowledge combined with the horsepower of Roush-Yates engines will be the key to success. And the Childress teams showed at the end of 2009 that they already had their ship turning in the right direction.

So which teams are going to falter? Hendrick? Doubtful. Gibbs? Pretty unlikely. Stewart-Haas? I don’t think so. Penske? Ganassi? Michael Waltrip Racing? Red Bull Racing? It truly could be anybody, and we will find out over the next five or six races just who it is. Of course my hope is that none of them will struggle. Wouldn’t it be great to see one of the most competitive fields in recent history?

I think this year could be the one where we see some true parity in the sport of NASCAR again. I think Hendrick, SHR, and Gibbs will certainly be in Victory Lane at some point, but I think that Childress, RPM, Ganassi, Penske, Roush, MWR, and Red Bull all have equally good shots at taking the checkered flag on any given race day. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking, but wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Daytona Post-race Quotes

PAUL MENARD -- No. 98 Peak/Menards Ford Fusion (Finished 13th)
"It was a solid day. When the sun was out we weren't as good as when it started to go down. The track got a little more grip and that's what our car needed. It was a long day and you think about a 500-mile race and it all comes down to two laps at the end. It was make or break at that point and it seems the guys running up front go to the back and the guys in the back go to the front. I just had a good restart and hooked up with the 17. He made a couple holes on the outside and I just followed him through and passed quite a few cars."


ELLIOTT SADLER -- No. 19 Stanley's Ford Fusion (Finished 24th)
“We had such a good Stanley Ford Fusion the first half of the race. We were so fast. After the first red flag, it seems the track conditions really changed and that affected the car. After last year’s disappointing end to the 500, I really wanted to come in here and win this thing. But at the end of the day I’m really proud of Wally (Rogers) and these guys that work on this No. 19 team. They’ve worked hard and it definitely showed. I’m upbeat and looking forward to heading to California.”


KASEY KAHNE -- No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion (Finished 30th)
"I hate it for the Budweiser team. We ran up front most of the day, but got shuffled back. It was all about getting in the right line out there today, and it just didn't work out at the end. It's just disappointing that our day ended with a wrecked car."


AJ ALLMENDINGER -- No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion (Finished 32nd)
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE SPIN? "I'm not really sure. I was under Jeff and I'm not sure if it was that pothole there or not, and it doesn't really matter, but I just got a little tight. I didn't want to get up into Jeff, and I don't know if Kyle was right behind me, but I just lost it."

Credit – Ford Racing

More AJ Allmendinger Quotes
"I am not sure if I hit the pothole or what, but the front end planted and I got loose. I was trying to save it, but I was pinned up against the 24 and I didn't want to take us all out so I just spun it to the inside. Unfortunately, when I stopped I couldn't get it refired and get going again. They made me get out of the car and go to medical even though we hadn't hit anything. So that was very frustrating because we lost a lot of laps.

"The car was so fast today. We struggled a little bit when we were in the traffic, but we were able to move up to the front twice today. It was great to lead those laps, but I just wish we were there fighting at the finish for a better spot. You hate to not make the most of the chance when you have a car as fast as the Best Buy Ford was today. We'll just have to make up for it at California next week."

Credit –

Daytona Results

Daytona 500 Finishing Order
1. Jamie McMurray
2. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
3. Greg Biffle
4. Clint Bowyer
5. David Reutimann
6. Martin Truex, Jr.
7. Kevin Harvick
8. Matt Kenseth
9. Carl Edwards
10. Juan Pablo Montoya
11. Jeff Burton
12. Mark Martin
13. Paul Menard
14. Kyle Busch
15. Brian Vickers
16. David Ragan
17. Denny Hamlin
18. Michael Waltrip
19. Scott Speed
20. Joey Logano
21. Bobby Labonte
22. Tony Stewart
23. Kurt Busch
24. Elliott Sadler
25. Boris Said
26. Jeff Gordon
27. Bill Elliott
28. Robby Gordon
29. Travis Kvapil
30. Kasey Kahne
31. Robert Richardson, Jr.
32. AJ Allmendinger
33. Michael McDowell
34. Ryan Newman
35. Jimmie Johnson
36. Brad Keselowski
37. Sam Hornish, Jr.
38. John Andretti
39. Regan Smith
40. Max Papis
41. Marcos Ambrose
42. Mike Bliss
43. Joe Nemechek

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Daytona Race Recap

There was a lot of great racing leading up to the 2010 Daytona 500. Exciting finishes in both Duel races, the Nationwide race, as well as the Truck race left everyone with high hopes of having one of the best Daytona 500’s in history. Unfortunately, the pothole from hell deflated everyone’s anticipation just after midway through the race.

For AJ Allmendinger it was a week of ups and downs. AJ had a great run in his Duel 150 race on Thursday. He was running as high as second place when an error in the pits put him back in the pack. He rebounded for a solid finish which lined him up in 15th place for the Daytona 500. Then came the low when an overheating issue at the end of Saturday’s practice led them to make the decision to change engines and start at the back of the field.

When the race went green Sunday afternoon, AJ hung out in the back for a little bit, but couldn’t hold those Yates horses back for long. He pitted for tires after flat spotting them trying to avoid a multi-car wreck early in the race and then he sliced and diced right through the field. After starting clear in the back, the #43 Best Buy Ford Fusion passed Kurt Busch for the lead around lap 45.

Kurt Busch would eventually pass him back and then green flag pit stops followed. AJ was still running in 2nd place when the caution came out. After the restart, AJ took the lead again and was in front of the field when the yellow flag flew once more. This time the pit stop didn’t go as smoothly, and a dropped lug nut left AJ stuck mid-pack with a car that wouldn’t handle in dirty air.

When the caution came out the next time, the Daytona track officials were faced with an unusual problem. A large pothole had formed right in the lower racing groove and an hour and forty minute red flag came out while repairs to the track were made. Then the cars were eventually set loose again and AJ worked his way through that pack of cars towards the front again.

That’s when AJ’s luck ran out. While running near the top five, Jeff Gordon came down to get a side draft off of the #43 car, which made the back tires lose grip and the car jump sideways. AJ did a fabulous job of not hitting anyone and keeping it off the inside wall as he slid across the pavement. Unfortunately, the slide caused the tires to go flat and also sent him just past the end of the pavement and into the grass where he couldn’t get it re-fired.

It seemed to take the track crew FOREVER to get the car out of the grass and back to the garage. The field came around nine times before it was finally to where the crew could work on it, and all they had to do was throw four new tires on it and send AJ back to the track. Being now twelve laps down put AJ in the 35th spot with not much chance of moving up unless more cars had problems.

The pothole once again caused problems and required patching, this time putting the field under the red flag for half an hour. I’m sure that was a long thirty minutes for AJ to replay that spin in his head. But when the field got going again, he kept some distance between himself and the pack to be prepared for more trouble, which of course there was. He managed to get a few lucky dogs and pass three more cars that had problems. After two attempts at a Green-White-Checker finish, AJ brought the Best Buy Ford home in 32nd place.

While it certainly wasn’t the finish that the team was looking for, there were definitely some positives that came out of the day. For one thing, AJ led eleven laps in the Great American Race, and had a car that was capable of leading even more if it wasn’t for the spin. That’s a big improvement after having to hear about how he was the only top 35 driver that didn’t lead a lap in 2009. And I can guarantee that those laps won’t be the last that he’ll lead as we get further into the 2010 season.

Another positive from the day was that three of the four RPM drivers ran up front at some point in the race. And all of them were impressed by the Yates engines that they were running. In my opinion, the confidence in the motor package will be a big morale boost for the entire team. The cooperation with the Roush competitors also showed on the track, and will hopefully carry over in the future.

For the #43 Best Buy team, it seemed like there was a lot more familiarity than was there last year. AJ only had a few starts with RPM when he went to Daytona in February of 2009, and he wasn’t sure of his future with the team. This time AJ and crew chief Mike Shiplett really seemed comfortable with each other and it sounded to me like they trusted in each other’s abilities.

In fact, when AJ came on the radio late in the race to apologize for spinning out a car that was capable of winning the race, Mike wouldn’t accept the apology. In essence, he said that it is a team effort. They win as a team and they lose as a team. That was a really good thing to hear, and doesn’t surprise me in the least. One of AJ’s strengths is that he brings cohesiveness to the group. He makes an effort to make his team into a part of his family. The Allmendingers even hosted a team barbecue earlier in the week for the #43 crew guys as a positive way to kick off the season.

So while I’m disappointed in the results, I am not the least bit disappointed with the effort that was put forth. The Best Buy team ran great today and was a legitimate contender for a win. That’s all any fan can ask for. And while AJ is no doubt kicking himself for what happened, I would rather have my driver spin his car trying to keep off another competitor than take out half the field.

The Daytona 500 is over. At times it seemed like it was going to be another 24 hour event, but it finally ended with an exciting race to the finish line. For the winner Jamie McMurray, this will probably live in his memory as the greatest race ever. But for everyone else, it is just one of 36 races in a very long season. The #43 RPM team needs to shake it off and look forward to Fontana, where the real racing will begin. I for one can’t wait to see what they have in store. I see great things coming.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Daytona Lineup

Daytona 500 Race Lineup
1. Mark Martin
2. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kasey Kahne
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Tony Stewart
7. Kyle Busch
8. Juan Pablo Montoya
9. Clint Bowyer
10. Kurt Busch
11. Regan Smith
12. Elliott Sadler
13. Jamie McMurray
14. Martin Truex, Jr.
15. AJ Allmendinger
16. Joey Logano
17. Ryan Newman
18. Marcos Ambrose
19. David Ragan
20. David Reutimann
21. Jeff Gordon
22. Brian Vickers
23. Greg Biffle
24. Matt Kenseth
25. Denny Hamlin
26. Brad Keselowski
27. Carl Edwards
28. Mike Bliss
29. Michael McDowell
30. Scott Speed
31. Max Papis
32. Paul Menard
33. John Andretti
34. Robby Gordon
35. Travis Kvapil
36. Sam Hornish, Jr.
37. Robert Richardson, Jr.
38. Boris Said
39. Jeff Burton
40. Bill Elliott
41. Joe Nemechek
42. Bobby Labonte
43. Michael Waltrip
DNQ Casey Mears
DNQ Todd Bodine
DNQ David Gilliland
DNQ Terry Cook
DNQ Derrike Cope
DNQ Aric Almirola
DNQ Dave Blaney
DNQ Reed Sorenson
DNQ Mike Wallace
DNQ Norm Benning
DNQ Jeff Fuller

Duel at Daytona Notes and Quotes

AJ ALLMENDINGER -- No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion (Duel 1, Finished 7th)
"The Best Buy Ford was really fast. The driver did a pretty decent job on the race track, but not very good in the pits. We got to second and I missed our pit box coming in. I lost the pit sign and it just honestly blended in with everything. I guess it was first pit stop jitters and that got us behind. The guys did a great job. The car was really good and I felt like if we could get back in the clean air and get back up front, we had a chance to win the race, but we've got some good notes for the 500 and that's what pays all the points and all the money."

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FOR SUNDAY? "It seems like the track is getting bumpier and bumpier every year and our car is bottoming out a lot, so if we can get the front of the race car off the race track, the thing is gonna be really good. I hope the fans enjoyed it because it's gonna be a great 500 and it's gonna be a lot of fun in the driver's seat."

IS IT ANY KIND OF BLESSING WHEN YOU MISS THE STALL AND FIND YOURSELF IN THE BACK AS FAR AS SEEING HOW YOUR CAR HANDLES IN TRAFFIC FOR SUNDAY? "Maybe, but I like being up front. I'm trying to get used to being up front more and hopefully that's what we do all year, so I wanted to start as early as possible. I'm just upset with myself. I knew that pit road was gonna be slick and I honestly just lost the pit sign and overshot it by a mile. You just never know how these races are gonna play out. I started 12th and got a great run on the outside and was third before I even knew it. That last time, I didn't get the right line and kind of got up to seventh or eighth and got stuck there before getting shuffled back to 16th again. It was tough, but, all in all, we came out fairly unscathed. We've got to work on the bumper a little bit. I think the 78's bumper bar was out at the end of the race and I kept bump drafting him, but, for the most part, we came out unscathed. The car is really fast and we learned some things, so hopefully we get that pit road mistake out of the way early and we're good."

WILL YOU GET A NEW PIT SIGN ON SUNDAY? "I hope so because when I drove by on the first pace lap I thought to myself, 'That's small.' Unfortunately, we were pitted with Carl and his is bright pink, so it just blended in. It was my fault, but we worked hard and showed we have a fast car. We got back up through the field and I really thought if we got around the 78 with two to go, I had a chance to win the race because those guys were on two tires. I'll beat myself up overnight for it, but we'll be ready tomorrow."


KASEY KAHNE – No. 9 Budweiser/Team USA Ford Fusion (Duel 2, Winner)

Full Winning Team Press Conference here -

*Today's win by Kasey Kahne was the first win for Ford's new FR9 engine.

*The win also marked the first for Richard Petty Motorsports since joining Ford at the beginning of this season.

*Kasey Kahne's win was his first at Daytona International Speedway, the first with Ford in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the 20th win for Ford in a Gatorade Duel qualifying race.

*Kahne becomes the third active Ford driver to ever win a Gatorade Duel, joining Bill Elliott (4) and Elliott Sadler (2).


ELLIOTT SADLER -- No. 19 Stanley's Ford Fusion (Duel 2, Finished 5th)
"I feel great. The car drove really good. We feel like we learned some things today for Sunday's race. We finished fifth and my teammate won the race, so it was a great day all in all for Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford and Stanley. I feel like I've got a pretty good piece for Sunday. It handled good and ran good on long runs, and that's what it's gonna have to have."

WHAT KIND OF A BOOST IS IT FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION TO WIN A RACE RIGHT OFF THE BAT WITH FORD? "It's a big boost. Doug Yates and his engine staff have given us a lot of horsepower here this weekend. It drafts good. It cools good, so those guys did a good job."


PAUL MENARD -- No. 98 Peak/Menards Ford Fusion (Duel 2, Finished 15th)
"I learned a lot for Sunday. We started off and were pretty good, but it seemed when the sun went down or things cooled off the track got a little freer. I was kind of hanging on at the end. The top line was the line you needed to be in, but I was a little bit too loose to run up there. I could run the middle and bottom good, but the car would bog down too much to get a good run off, so I learned some things and we'll be ready for Sunday."

HOW SLICK WAS THE TRACK? "It's been a slick race track since we unloaded last week. I don't know if it's the rear shock package or what, but it's definitely a lot slicker than it has been."

Credit: Ford Racing

Duel at Daytona Finishing Order

Duel 1 Results
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Kyle Busch
4. Clint Bowyer
5. Regan Smith
6. Jamie McMurray
7. AJ Allmendinger
8. Ryan Newman
9. David Ragan
10. Jeff Gordon
11. Greg Biffle
12. Denny Hamlin
13. Carl Edwards
14. Michael McDowell (Raced into 500)
15. Max Papis (Raced into 500)
16. John Andretti
17. Todd Bodine (DNQ)
18. Joe Nemechek (Locked in on speed)
19. Travis Kvapil
20. Terry Cook (DNQ)
21. Mark Martin
22. Bill Elliott (Locked in on speed)
23. Robert Richardson Jr.
24. Reed Sorenson (DNQ)
25. Michael Waltrip (Locked in on speed)
26. Jeff Burton
27. Jeff Fuller (DNQ)

Duel 2 Results
1. Kasey Kahne
2. Tony Stewart
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Kurt Busch
5. Elliott Sadler
6. Martin Truex, Jr.
7. Joey Logano
8. Marcos Ambrose
9. David Reutimann
10. Brian Vickers
11. Matt Kenseth
12. Brad Keselowski
13. Mike Bliss (Raced into 500)
14. Scott Speed (Raced into 500)
15. Paul Menard
16. Casey Mears (DNQ)
17. Bobby Labonte (Past Champion’s Provisional)
18. David Gilliland (DNQ)
19. Robby Gordon
20. Derrike Cope (DNQ)
21. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
22. Aric Almirola (DNQ)
23. Dave Blaney (DNQ)
24. Mike Wallace (DNQ)
25. Norm Benning (DNQ)
26. Sam Hornish, Jr.
27. Boris Said

Duel at Daytona - One Fan's Journey

As a passionate NASCAR fan for almost ten years now, I have always watched the Duel races on the Thursday before the 500 with the same interest that I watch every race. They were always a good show, but up until a couple years ago they weren’t anything other than a means of lining up the drivers for the 500 and weren’t all that critical in my eyes.

In 2008 however, the significance of the Duel races changed for me. You see I wasn’t an AJ Allmendinger fan until April or May of 2007, so his attempt to make the Daytona 500 in 2007 wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen in my eyes. After following his struggles in 2007 – through a long summer stretch of missed races, a string of starts, then another batch of misses at the end of the year – the Duel took on a whole new dimension: a nerve wracking, gut wrenching, and in 2008 a heart breaking dimension.

I suffered through him missing the race in 2008, watching on TV as they interviewed his then teammate Brian Vickers who had made it in, followed by AJ – who had not. Yes, I cried. I couldn’t help it. One of the things that make me a fan of AJ’s is that he shows his emotion. It’s written all over his face, which makes it so easy to laugh along with him and enjoy his good natured disposition. But when he is frustrated or dejected, that translates over as well.

There is no doubt that 2008 was a season of highs and lows for Dinger fans, and we went clear until February not really knowing if AJ was even going to be on the track in 2009. Then came word that he would be in the car that was once the #10 GEM entry and was now branded as the #44 for Richard Petty Motorsports. Not only that, but with the merger of DEI and Ganassi, it appeared that he would be locked into the first 5 races of the season. Joy of joys, it was a miracle. But last minute points swapping put the team on the outside looking in even as the haulers were already en route to Daytona.

So the Thursday of the 2009 Duel races loomed again, and my stomach was tied in knots. I was up before dawn that morning, and had so much nervous energy that I cleaned my entire house while waiting for the races to start. Now keep in mind that I have no connection to AJ or the Allmendingers, other than as a fan. I simply can’t imagine what it must have been like for the family. For Lynne, who had to stand by her husband and do whatever she could to help him through it. And for Greg and Karen, who had to helplessly watch their son go through the emotion of trying to make the Daytona 500.

As race time came, I paced in front of the TV and watched the pre-race activities. The only thing that managed to wrench a smile from me was seeing Greg give his son a hug before AJ climbed in the car. Then it was go time, and I alternated between hyperventilating and being nauseous for the entire 150 miles. Then when AJ raced his way into the Daytona 500 with the help of two of his RPM teammates, I was ecstatic. When he climbed out of the car, I cried again.

Now fast forward through another tumultuous year and here we are again – the day of the Duel races that will set the field for the Daytona 500. Only this time I know my driver is in the show. My only concern is how I’m going to celebrate when he wins the damn thing. I can not even express the difference between the last two years and this year. There is no comparison that can come close. I’m not a nervous wreck, I’m not pacing in front of my TV, and my house is definitely not being cleaned. I am at peace.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Daytona Preview

No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion
• AJ Allmendinger will make his debut behind the wheel of the historic No. 43 in Daytona
• This Sunday, Feb. 14 will mark his second Daytona 500 start
• Allmendinger finished third in last year’s season opener, his career best finish in 80 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts

Allmendinger Looks Ahead:
“To be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford Racing, and having Best Buy on board is really exciting. I’m just really ready to get going. Our team has been so busy and has worked really hard to get ready for this season. As a race team, I think this is the time for us to get out there and shine.

“Running those three races with Ford at the end of last season I think relaxed everyone a little bit. It was a big deal to show our team where we can be. It provided a lot of notes. All of that was something going into the off-season that (crew chief) Mike Shiplett and I, and everyone on the 43 team and everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports, we could really build on and be excited about. We know we’re going to have a good car with a lot of horsepower.

“To be in the historic No. 43 is an honor. I am as big a fan as I am a driver and I love the history of the sport. The No. 43 is a huge part of that history so its just such an honor. Daytona is one of those races everyone wants to win. It’d be really special to get the No. 43 back to Victory Lane. I think the fans should expect to see some of the best racing we’ve had in awhile in this Daytona 500.”

Thoughts From Crew Chief Mike Shiplett:
“We are all ready for Daytona and to get this season going. Everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports - not just AJ and this No. 43 Best Buy team - has been working really hard on getting the best cars that we can possibly build prepared. Everything has gone really smoothly and we’re ready.

“Communication with AJ and I is good and that is really important. It seems like every time I spend some time with him I learn more and more about what he wants in the race car. I think we are going to have strong cars with great horsepower and I think going forward there are a whole bunch of pluses to keep building on for this No. 43 team and our teammates.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be working for Richard Petty. Not only Richard but to also have the chance to work around Dale Inman. To have those people with you every week, that just brings a sense of pride and success and shows just what you want to be. We really want to bring and grow this organization to the level of success that Richard and Dale had back in the day.”

Chassis History:
Crew chief Mike Shiplett and the No. 43 Best Buy crew have prepared chassis No. 682 for this weekend’s Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Raceway. This is a new Ford Fusion prepared for this weekend’s season opening event.

Allmendinger qualified his No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion in 25th place during last Saturday’s qualifying session and will line up in the 12th position in the first of two Gatorade Duel 150-mile races Thursday afternoon.

Credit: Richard Petty Motorsports PR

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gatorade Duel at Daytona Lineups

Duel 1
1. Mark Martin
2. Ryan Newman
3. Bill Elliott* (Locked in based on qualifying time)
4. Jimmie Johnson
5. Clint Bowyer
6. Kyle Busch
7. Jeff Gordon
8. Joe Nemechek* (Locked in based on qualifying time)
9. Jamie McMurray
10. Michael Waltrip* (Will be in based on qualifying time if one of the four locked in drivers race their way in)
11. David Ragan
12. AJ Allmendinger
13. Carl Edwards
14. Denny Hamlin
15. Kevin Harvick
16. Jeff Burton
17. Regan Smith
18. Greg Biffle
19. Reed Sorenson* (Will be in based on qualifying time if three of the four locked in drivers race their way in)
20. Max Papis*
21. John Andretti
22. Jeff Fuller*
23. Robert Richardson Jr.
24. Travis Kvapil
25. Terry Cook*
26. Michael McDowell*
27. Kirk Shelmerdine*

Duel 2
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2. Juan Pablo Montoya
3. Kurt Busch
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Sam Hornish Jr.
6. Scott Speed* (Locked in based on qualifying time)
7. Marcos Ambrose
8. Brad Keselowski
9. Joey Logano
10. Bobby Labonte* (Locked in based on past champion’s provisional)
11. Tony Stewart
12. David Reutimann
13. Paul Menard
14. Kasey Kahne
15. Mike Bliss* (Will be in based on qualifying time if two of the other four locked in drivers race their way in)
16. Robby Gordon
17. Martin Truex Jr.
18. Brian Vickers
19. Elliott Sadler
20. Casey Mears* (Will be in based on qualifying time if all four of the other locked in drivers race their way in)
21. David Gilliland*
22. Aric Almirola*
23. Boris Said
24. Dave Blaney*
25. Derrike Cope*
26. Mike Wallace*
27. Norm Benning*
*Outside the top 35 based on last year’s owner’s points

Daytona Post-Qualifying Quotes

PAUL MENARD -- No. 98 Peak/Menards Ford Fusion (Qualified 23rd)
"Obviously, you'd like to qualify well, but your focus has to be on the race. At a place like this, you kind of have to give up a little bit of pure speed to get some handling for the race on Sunday and the 150 on Thursday. We weren't planning on sitting on the pole, but being the fastest Ford to this point is pretty cool. We picked up a lot from yesterday -- everybody did, but we picked up a little bit more than most. Hopefully, that will give us a good start for the 150 and we can race and have a good handling car where we can race good."


AJ ALLMENDINGER -- No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion (Qualified 25th)
"I think that was a little slower than we wanted to be. Looking at everybody's times and where we were yesterday, we thought we could be a little better than that. We knew we weren't gonna be on the pole, and, ultimately, that's all that really matters here is being on the front row at Daytona. Qualifying is just better for stats, but we're happy. The car is fine. We'll get here on Wednesday and get down to real business, get the thing handling good for the duels and go try to win that."


KASEY KAHNE -- No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion (Qualified 28th)
"I was actually really happy with it. We picked up close to a second from yesterday, so, to me, that was a great lap for our Budweiser Ford. The team has done a great job and the Roush Yates engines run really well, so it was nice. It was a good pickup and I'm looking forward to the Shootout tonight. I think it's gonna be a lot of fun. It's gonna be exciting."

HOW DO YOU LIKE WEARING THE TEAM USA COLORS? "I like it. Budweiser did that with the Olympics coming up and we're gonna do it here at the 500 and also the following week at Fontana, California. It means a lot to us and it's all for the Olympians, so it should be a good program."

CAN YOU READ ANYTHING INTO WHAT WE SAW YESTERDAY AND TODAY? "It's tough to say. We picked up a lot. Greg picked up a little bit, so I think it'll be a lot closer. It looks like the 88 is really quick again, but I'm happy with the way my car ran from yesterday. I felt like it was a lot better."

ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT QUALIFYING HERE? "No, because I've never qualified good at these tracks, ever, so I don't worry about it. I just go and make my laps. I was actually pretty excited coming down here because I thought this would probably be the best I could ever qualify here and I think we should have a pretty decent spot for the 150 on Thursday."


ELLIOTT SADLER -- No. 19 Stanley Ford Fusion (Qualified 36th)
"We definitely wanted to run a faster time than that, but our hearts are not broken. We want to race good on Thursday and want to race good on Sunday, so, hopefully, we'll be able to do that. We'll work on getting it driving good. That's what has worked well for us in the past and being the Daytona 500 time has moved up being more in the daytime on Sunday, you've got to have it handling so we'll go to work then and see where we end up. Hopefully, we'll get a good starting spot for Sunday."

Credit: Ford Racing

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Daytona Practice 1

RPM Drivers Practice Session Results

21. AJ Allmendinger, 186.749 mph, 48.193, 2 laps
31. Paul Menard, 186.254 mph, 48.321, 2 laps
38. Elliott Sadler, 185.647 mph, 48.479, 2 laps
40. Kasey Kahne, 185.387 mph, 48.547, 2 laps

Rain played havoc with NASCAR again, as the first on-track activity for the 2010 season was cut short when the skies opened up. Single car qualifying practice runs were in progress when the red flag was displayed, with most teams only getting in one run each. After first practice was called complete, the precipitation became even heavier and second practice was also canceled as well as the final ARCA practice that was also scheduled.

Since some teams were still going through the inspection process and didn’t make it out on the track to at least shake down their cars, NASCAR is holding a 30 minute practice session Saturday morning for those eight teams to make one run. Otherwise, the teams will hit the track at 1:00 pm/et for Daytona 500 qualifying with very little idea of how their car will do.

Fortunately, qualifying for the Daytona 500 means very little as this race has a unique format for lining up the field. Only the top two positions will be set during Saturday’s qualifying session. The remaining 41 cars will be lined up based on how they finish in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel races. For the unfortunate teams that are starting the year outside the top 35 in owner’s points, four cars can be locked into the Daytona 500 based on their qualifying speeds in Saturday’s session, regardless of what happens in the Duel races. The others must race their way in on Thursday, in what should be some exciting racing action.

For Richard Petty Motorsports, Friday’s practice session marked the first time that the entire team was driving Ford branded stock cars. As reported on the television, the Ford teams are running the new Ford engine in the preliminary Daytona events – practice, qualifying, and the Duel races – and then will switch to the old engine in preparation for the 500. While great things were expected from the new engine practice speeds seemed to indicate that it isn’t as strong on the restrictor plate track as the old engine. Other than Bill Elliott in the go or go home entry for the Wood Brothers, who is possibly running the old engine, AJ Allmendinger was the fastest Ford driver in practice at 21st position.

Regardless of whether or not they have the horsepower to win the pole, it will still be great to see the Richard Petty Motorsports drivers out on the track Saturday. The four drivers are spread out in the qualifying order with Kasey Kahne going out 5th, Paul Menard 22nd, Elliott Sadler 28th, and AJ Allmendinger will be the last locked in driver to go out in the 35th spot.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Media Day Quotes

AJ ALLMENDINGER -- No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion

HOW WILL IT BE TO HAVE THAT YATES HORSEPOWER? " You're gonna be pushing down even harder because you know what's under your right foot. It was something that for the last three races of the season last year I got to feel, and when you've got Doug Yates building your horsepower and everybody at that engine shop, you know getting in the race car that's something that you don't have to worry about. That's not on your mind like, 'Man, do I have enough horsepower?' You know you've got the horsepower there and it just makes your job a little bit easier. It took us last year from running 15th-20th to running 8th-12th -- just by putting a bigger motor in our race car. That was something that you know coming to Daytona you're not gonna have to worry about."

IS THERE ANY WAY OF QUANTIFYING HOW MUCH THOSE THREE RACES HAVE HELPED AS FAR AS PREPARING FOR THIS SEASON? "It was a big deal. We've changed our race cars a little bit to try and make them better with being part of the Ford Racing family, trying to take all of the resources that we had there to make our race cars better, but just getting there and doing those three races, I think it relaxed everybody just a little bit. Elliott got to run it at Talladega. He was fast there and almost won the race there, and it was a big deal to show our team, 'OK, this is where we can be already, and now we need to improve from there.' We took those notes from those three races, kept fine-tuning and tried to make our cars better coming into this season. We come to Daytona and Daytona is its own race. I think once we get past this race, I know we're gonna have a great opportunity to go out there and try to win the 500, but once you get to Fontana that's really when the season starts, so I'm really looking forward to that."

GREG BIFFLE WAS SAYING THERE ARE ALREADY THINGS THAT YOU GUYS WERE DOING LAST YEAR THAT THEY'VE INCORPORATED AT ROUSH FENWAY. IS THAT RECIPROCAL? "Of course. Roush Fenway is one of the best organizations around in Cup racing and has been for the last how-many years, but, obviously, they weren't where they wanted to be last year either. Hopefully, we can help them a little bit and, for them, hopefully they can help us. I think we're gonna see that. We're taking notes from both race organizations to try and make everybody's car a lot better. For me, still being fairly young at this, yeah, it's coming into my fourth year but I've only had 2.5 years of racing, so with that stable of drivers they have over there and the guys I've got to work with at Richard Petty Motorsports, it's just gonna help me all-around inside and out of the race car. I'm gonna get better talking to guys like Greg and Carl and David and Matt. Obviously, that experience with Kasey last year helped me a ton and, hopefully, in return I can do some things that they learn from and I can help them. But I know right away that they're gonna help me more than I'm gonna help them."

DO YOU FEEL ANYTHING SPECIAL PRESSURE DRIVING THE 43 CAR? "Of course, and I've always been the one to put the most pressure on myself. This just adds a little bit of it, but, at the same point, being part of Best Buy and knowing what they've meant to this sport, it's just everything. I know that this really is my best opportunity this season to go out there and shine and show them what I can do. I'm in the 500. We've got the full season locked in. We're ready to go and I know this is my best chance. I try not to put too much pressure on myself, but the end result is I always do. But knowing that I'm in the 43 it's an honor for me just to be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports, but now to be in the 43 and to have Richard personally pick me to be in his race car, it's an honor. I'm a big auto racing fan. I'm probably as big of a fan as I am a driver and I love the history of this sport. The 43 is probably the biggest history that it has, along with the 3, so it just means so much and I want to go out there and represent Richard in and out of the race car the best that I can. I'm not speaking on his behalf, but, to me, I know that if I could get the 43 back in Victory Lane it would mean the world to him. He was in Victory Lane last year with Kasey, but I think to get his own number back into Victory Lane would mean so much to him. Whether I go out there and win one race for him or 100 races, to get that 43 back in Victory Lane would mean the world to me. It would be something whether I won a ton of races or I never won again, I could take that and just be proud I was able to accomplish that."

JUST DON'T WIN MORE THAN 200. HE MIGHT GET A LITTLE MAD. "If I could get a quarter of the way or a third, I would be OK with it. (laughing)"

DO YOU RECALL YOUR FIRST TRIP TO DAYTONA? "It was just nerve-wracking in general. Coming to Daytona, the history of this place, what it means to be in the 500. I spent three years trying to be in the show and last year, luckily, made it. For two years I had to go through watching driver introductions, watching all the famous people and know that technically I wasn't a part of it because I was just another fan being around there, I was wasn't in the show. Last year, to finally be a part of it and to go through the whole day on Sunday -- waking up and doing the sponsor things, going through the autograph sessions, driver intros, driver's meeting, just everything -- getting to see everybody that is a part of this great race it was just so cool. I can't really describe into words what it felt like, but I'm never gonna lose that feeling. Everytime I come back here it's gonna be the same thing. I'm just happy now I don't have to fight to get into the show anymore because that was the most gut-wrenching, mind-numbing, just the worst thing as a race car driver I've ever had to go through. So I'm happy I get to skip that part, but still be part of the show."

DID YOU DO ANYTHING FUN IN THE OFF-SEASON? "I tried to race some go-karts. That was supposed to be fun, but I got my butt kicked a lot by a lot of 15 and 16-year-olds. That was at the PRI show in Orlando and here for WKA kart week. That was awful. I've already told my race team, I said, 'We need to have a good year because between December I got my butt whooped enough by people. I don't want to experience that anymore. I've already had enough of that this year, so that was supposed to be fun. It wasn't a lot of fun, but I'm not a vacation guy. I don't like going on vacation. I like working out. I feel like I'm always active. If I could drive something everyday of my life I would, so I got to do some go-karting, a little bit of testing and obviously did the Rolex, so, to me, that's my fun."

Credit: Ford Racing