We've grabbed a lot of attention the last few races because of the number of cars we've passed on race day. It has been similar situation in the championship: from nowhere after the first four races, we've arrived at 10th in the championship, ahead of cars from Ganassi and KV Racing.
I like that; it's a metaphor for the progress I feel is being made by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing since we got a Chevrolet engine and a partnership with Panther Racing. However, although I like the fact that we have gained 89 places from start of races to the ends – 11 cars pers race on average – don't get me wrong: I'd like to start nearer the front!
Practice for the Indianapolis 500 was our first taste of Chevrolet power, although in oval spec, the engine had less power than the Lotus had in road course trim – that's the rules. Still, right away I was impressed with the throttle response, the engine management and the shifting. Similar deal with the chassis: Indy practice was my first try of the Dallara DW12 on an oval, we were lucky because our new partners, Panther, had already tested there so we were not starting from scratch. We could use their feedback, and from the word go, our car felt pretty good.
However, we had a technical issue on Fast Friday when everyone was allowed the new power level for the first time, so we weren't able to run a single lap that day. Then we had to change the gearbox in the hour of practice before the qualifying runs on the Saturday, so the changes that we made to the car for qualifying were untried, and the car was super-loose. Coming around to take the green flag, I spun on the exit of Turn 4, as you probably saw.
I have to say, that's probably the time I've been most scared in a racecar, because when I spun, I knew I was sliding toward the pit wall. Even though Indianapolis Motor Speedway is very safe and has SAFER barriers, I didn't want to hit the end of the pit wall sideways: It's probably the worse possible impact you can have. I knew I was going toward it, but with the smoke I didn't know my exact trajectory. As it happens, I was lucky because although the spins looked spectacular, they scrubbed off speed there was not huge energy in the impact. In fact, it's the first crash I've had on an oval that didn't cause me to next day have a headache or a sore body. So whatever product is used in the attenuator at the end of the pit wall did its job.
From a practical view, though, that put us behind because on the Sunday, we had to focus on qualifying for the race, which of course we did comfortably, but you still wish you could be out there focusing on race setup like the top 25 could because they were safely in the field. It takes three to four hours to change back from the qualifying boost to the race boost, so that accounted for too much of Sunday for us. So our practice in race trim was pretty much restricted to Carb Day, the following Friday, and we made a lot of changes that really showed good pace and encouraged me that even though we were starting 27th, we could advance strongly on race day. 200 laps, 500 miles…that gives you a lot of time to pick your way through.
What we didn't need was a tire deflating in the first stint of the race, so the unscheduled pit stop meant we lost a lap. With a long race ahead, it's best it happens early on, but the way the yellows were falling, they were always coming right after I pitted, so there was no way of getting the lap back.
I got bored spending two hours just keeping out of the way of the guys on the lead lap, but then finally, our last stop worked with a caution period, and I got my lap back. By this time, we had a good car, because at every stop we worked on it, adjusting the wings and tire pressures and there were 30 laps to go. Man, was I ready: at that point, the green flag was a red rag to this bull!
I think I drove 30 of the best laps I'd ever driven, and cut through to finish fourth, and I only wish we'd had 10 more laps. I really felt we had a great car. It was awesome because it was 1) our first race with Chevrolet, 2) our first race with Panther 3) our first race with Mecum as a sponsor – they'd just signed the week before, so they were very happy! And 4) it was our first chance this year to prove how strong the Dreyer & Reinbold team is. Look at the excellent job my crew did in the pit stop competition on Carb Day! You don't get ready for a pit stop competition in a day, there's no magic. That performance showed they'd been practicing daily since before the season started.
So overall, Indy gave the whole team a boost, because it's one thing knowing you're good and another thing to be able to demonstrate to everyone that you're good.
Then it was straight to Milwaukee for a test there. Penske and KV Racing were very strong, but I'd like to think we'll be in the mix too. I've always loved the challenge of that track and how hard the racing is. Finishing on the podium last year despite a bad pit stop was a really satisfying feeling.