One trouble that's off my mind: I'm doing the last 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, whether I'm sponsored for them or not! You'll have to ask Mr. Gillett and the team any questions over the sponsorship. I just know I'm racing.
Another thing I know: that with my new crew – you know Reed Sorenson and myself have swapped personnel – there is more to come than we showed in Michigan. I spent that weekend getting back in the flow with the new crew chief. I worked with Mike Shiplett last year, in the last five races of the season, when I first joined Richard Petty Motorsport, and it's good to work with him again.
It was a team decision. Sure, they asked my opinion about it, but ultimately it was their decision. Sammy Johns, who was my crew chief all year, had been doing a good job, but he hadn't really crew chiefed these cars and hadn't been crew chief at all for a couple of years. So he did a great job jumping into the role, and we put a makeshift team together; we added a couple of guys and got the team strong…But in the end, the bosses wanted to find a way to strengthen every team in the organization.
I have a lot of confidence in Shiplett, because, when we last worked together, we went well. When everyone on the team had the same equipment, we were the top car three of the five weekends. So yes, of course I'm cool with this change! But still there's always that time of readjustment, and in those circumstances, I think we went relatively OK for our first weekend together at Michigan.
Especially well considering I hit the wall in Saturday practice. I was disappointed in myself because that really put us behind, and I think maybe had something to do with our average kinda race on Sunday. We had to make a couple of guesses at things that we could have tried in practice.
Michigan's probably one of my least-favorite tracks, honestly. I've never really done a good job there, so I'd like to have gotten a little more out of it. There were times, in the middle of the race, I thought maybe a Top 15 was really doable, but the way it played out, we just weren't very good on restarts and it took 15 laps to get going, so that hurt us at the end of the race. Overall, I was happy with the way I worked with the guys and the way they worked with me; but I wish we could have gotten a little better finish out of it. That will come.
Personally, I'm definitely happy with the progress I'm making. It was tough switching teams last year, though it's definitely a good deal overall – I love working for Richard Petty Motorsports. But at the beginning of this season it wasn't about the points so much; it was more about trying to get to the next race and doing my best there, and getting into a rhythm in my new surroundings. But I feel like I'm doing the right things in the racecar, and learning different driving styles.
I think it's feasible to be in the top 20 in points at the end of the season, which is a big goal of mine. The cars have gotten a lot better on this team and I think they're going to continue to improve. I think we need to sort what we lack in the motor department – that's probably our weakest point right now – but the team is working really hard on that, so I'm pleased with the progress we're making. If we can finish out the year strong, get a few more top 10s, consistently run inside the top 20 and top 15, and not make any mistakes, I think it will be a successful year.
I've fought hard; I'm second in the company to Kasey Kahne in terms of the points, and I believe the bosses have full confidence in me. It's a tough situation because all year we've been the fourth car, waiting for the latest, greatest stuff to trickle down: I'm the last one to get it, and I'm desperate to be running better. I don't want to be just a top-20 guy, that's not my goal. I want to be one of the top-5, top-10 guys every weekend. I know we'll get there, and hopefully the changes we've made will speed up that process.
There have been some rumors around, to do with which engines we'll be running next year here at RPM. The true story is…yes, the bosses are looking around at different manufacturers, though that's not to say we won't be with Dodge in 2010. But when the Big Three got hit so hard by the economy and needed rescuing, that's when RPM started looking around. It's no secret that Toyota was one of the manufacturers we were talking to, but hell, I think they talked to everyone, honestly! They are looking for the best opportunity and that's something I hope we can nail down here in the next little bit.
That's probably the biggest question mark heading toward the end of the season, you know: everyone in the company is wondering which manufacturer we are going to be with; whether we will stay with Dodge or move around. We need to get that solidified fairly quickly. I think sponsor-wise, the teams are doing really good in general because, at least for next year, Best Buy and Stanley Tools are back, Budweiser is back; and the other two cars have had a lot of interest from a lot of companies, so that's cool to see.
So let's look at the more near-term future. Apart from further work on our relationships with my new crew, which we know will jell no problem, I reckon we have two specific things to think about. One: right now we're struggling a little bit on new tires. We need to put scuffed tires on to get the best out of our car in the early laps of a stint. Two: we don't get great fuel economy right now, so that restricts our strategy options. You know, at Watkins Glen, by the end of the race we had a top five car in speed, but we only got 13th place and part of that was because of some earlier decisions we were forced to make because of the fuel situation.
But we arrived in Bristol feeling good: I like racing there. Qualifying was alright, but I know where we lost a 0.1sec and that would've put us around fifth. We had a good car at the start of the race and I made my way up into the top 10 and were in a good rhythm until we had the brakes come apart, which…doesn't really ever happen like that! Heck, even after fixing the car, we went out and were still one of the fastest cars on the track. So if we step back and look at those things, it was a weekend moving in the right direction.
So I am excited about this weekend. At Atlanta, we ran pretty decent earlier this year, and I think that will be the first race where I get the new motor. I'm not 100 percent certain of that, but I believe that's the aim. Don't get me wrong, it's not like the new motor is night and day better; it's not a 40 horsepower boost that all of a sudden wakes the package up. But from what I understand, it's a little bit better on the bottom end in terms of torque, which is where we need it. And Atlanta is a fun racetrack anyway, because it's really slick, and I've found a couple of lines that I feel really work for me.
Right, that's if for now. But keep cheering for the No. 44, and I'll report back soon.