There are signs of improvement at Andretti Green Racing, and I think our fifth and sixth places at Mid-Ohio reflect that. Those results also reflect the fact that we did the Mid-Ohio test; that made quite a difference, and more than we could show at the start of the weekend, to be honest. We botched up qualifying, because we had been suffering some understeer on the hard, black tires, and when we went to the red tires, it just became big understeer. It would have been interesting to see where we'd have ended up if we'd got that right: but I'm not a big believer in saying what might have been, because you need to have something to back it up.
But through the weekend, we were able to use what we'd learned from the test and build on it, which is what it takes and we ended up with something to show for it. To do that, we switched strategies, and having a clear track to click off some fast laps while we were running second was crucial to that.
It was risky though: we had already got the No. 26 Meijer car up to eighth running a conventional strategy, and if there had been a yellow while we were in second, it would have lost us all our track position. But it stayed green, we got our laps in, did a good quick stop and gained two positions for it, and now we're in sixth place in the championship and closing in on Danica for fifth.
But…it's still only a sixth place finish, so no one in the team is getting too excited; we're just thinking that it's progress. It's a strange feeling. People saying “Well done!” for getting a mediocre result. And the team's working so hard for it, you know? It's no consolation that no one is consistently giving the Ganassi and Penske boys a hard time. In fact, for us I'd say it was doubly frustrating because we used to be able to not just threaten them but often beat them – and not that long ago, either. But I think that's why we all have kept that bit of faith that we can come back from this slump.
I don't know what we need to make that leap, though. I mean, Dixon was just in a class of his own at the weekend, wasn't he? He went way longer on his first stint, because they always find a way to make great fuel mileage, and once he was past Wilson, he just checked out. When your car is as good as his, it becomes easier to make good fuel mileage. If I have a good-handling car, my fuel saving is…well, not bad. Kyle Moyer has been a big help there. There's two ways of doing it: you can turn the fuel down to full lean and drive as hard as you want, or you can just really feather the throttle but carry more speed into the corner, but then that's harder on the front tires.
Edmonton was much less satisfying, because we only got a 10th place, and all four of us were way out of the ballpark in qualifying. That's frustrating for the whole team, and I know it's something we plan to work on again through the off-season. I think we've got better at the road courses in terms of general set up, but the fine-tuning is more of a struggle. To try and be more specific, I'd say we have most work to do on bumpy circuits.
But I guess the main issue with me in that race was that I got criticized for holding up the leaders when they came to lap me. I guess it's a touchy subject, because these things can come back and bite you at another race. The thing is, it's so important to stay on the lead lap, so that if there's a full course caution, you can go round and catch up and maybe mix up your strategy. Plus, giving way to three or four cars while you're in a battle of your own – which I was at that time - will lose you so much ground to the person you're fighting with.
The other thing to look at is that once I let Will [Power] past me, it's not like he really went anywhere, so I don't know how much quicker he was. But…I won't make excuses: I absolutely did hold him up, and so I went and talked to him and apologized, and we're fine now.
Looking ahead, I'm positive that what we learned at Mid-Ohio over the course of the weekend will be a help in Sonoma. By the time you read this, there will be 17 cars testing there – including ours. But also, I think we're positive about Sonoma because we have had good cars there in the past. If we can get our usual qualifying questions answered during the test, so we're right there and ready to go from first practice on race weekend – it's only a two-day event, remember – then I think we have a strong chance of qualifying well.
And then it's three ovals. We messed up on the race setup in Kentucky – we were trimmed out too much – but I could see the new tech regs had made a difference. I'm pretty positive about the changes that were made. But with the parts that have been removed, the cars now actually make a smaller hole in the air than they used to so you don't get the same drafting effect. It's harder to catch up with someone. But what's better now is that, once you've gotten yourself on the tail of a car – maybe through use of the new boost button or just having a generally faster car – you can stay there because the car's handling is more consistent, and you can run different lines in order to get past. The important thing is, it's better for the spectators, and the TV viewers, and that's who we've got to look after.