The atmosphere in the team afterward was strange, inevitably. We had led with some cars and Ana Beatriz, Tomas, Mike and myself and our crews had done good jobs. But our thoughts were with Mike. We couldn't really relax or reflect on a decent job until the next day when we got a bit more news from the hospital.
Then, though, we could recall the encouraging bits: with a seventh-place finish, I'd ended up roughly where I expected to be, and although I struggled in the middle of the race, my crew had done a great job: seven or eight perfect pit stops. At one point we pitted just ahead of Helio and came out three seconds up on him – and remember the No. 3 crew had won the pit stop competition the day before! And we beat two Penskes to the checkered flag.
Texas was a mixed bag – quick in practice, pretty good in qualifying, and then a race that turned out as bad as Kansas for us. We made a change before the race in terms of downforce level and that bit us pretty hard. In traffic, it meant I had terminal understeer, and the front tires then lost grip so the understeer got worse and worse.
If there was a saving grace, it's that eventually we were running alone and, out of traffic, we were able to go quick. Why were we alone? Because we kept getting unlucky with the strategy. We were so unlucky, it actually became laughable. We'd pit under green just as there would be a full-course caution. I couldn't believe how misfortune was biting our behinds all night: We had to gamble to get our lap back, and every time we did, we rolled snake eyes and went another lap down.
Anyway, the lesson to be learned was that Tomas went the right way in setup, the way he added downforce, and said his car was good all race. So we'll remember that and use it in the future.
Before I move on from Texas, I wanted to give you all an update on the results of the auction for my helmet. To refresh your memory, for the Indy 500, I created a special paint scheme for my helmet. Michael Corby, my helmet painter, painted the top part of it like the Wilson volleyball. The idea started when Will Power kept shouting, “WILSON!” at me like Tom Hanks with his volleyball in Cast Away. My PR rep, Mike Micheli, contacted Wilson Sporting Goods and secured permission to use their logo and make it look as realistic as possible. Michael Corby and I then went down to Riley Children's Hospital at Methodist and had some of the children put their hands in paint then put it on the helmet, and it came out great. I wore it during the 500 and afterward we put it up on eBay. The auction ended the Friday of Texas and my helmet sold for $9,100, which is fantastic. All the proceeds will go to two great causes, Racing for Kids and Operation Helmet.
So now we head to Iowa, and I'll have a new teammate in Graham Rahal driving the No. 24 car. I'm looking forward to that, as he and I worked fine together at Newman/Haas in 2008, but don't get me wrong: I like working with Tomas, too. He's interesting to watch in terms of his interaction with the team and because he's had a lot more experience on ovals than me. Seeing how he works out exactly what he needs and how he gets it is valuable for me, because every driver needs the same thing on these high-banked oval tracks: good downforce but low drag. I always like working with Tomas. I hope he gets a drive again soon.
For myself, I'm looking forward to Iowa, because I remember how well Tomas went for Dreyer & Reinbold at that track last year. Plus, me and my engineer Matt have the data bank from Kansas, Indy and Texas to now try and put into practice – what to do and what not to do.
And then there's Watkins Glen…which is going to be exciting for us all. Can I get Z-Line Designs into Victory Lane again but with a different team? I hope there is that possibility. It's not like we were gifted it last year: we genuinely beat Penske and Ganassi. Problem is, there's another Penske there this year, and neither of those teams have been sitting still over the last 12 months. Plus, the field has gotten closer this year: it wouldn't surprise me to see Andretti Autosport cars in the mix at the front, and maybe Alex Tagliani, too. And we haven't been able to test there….which is back to where we started this blog.
I guess what I'm saying is that I'm confident that we're going to be in the fight but that a fight is exactly what it will be. Hope to get back to you with good news next time.