After the qualifying that we had with the Dragon Racing Ralphs Grocery No. 8 car, it was always going to take some good luck to get into the top 10 – and that's something we didn't get. Me crashing early in the second practice session set us back for the rest of the weekend. Missing that hour got us behind the eight-ball and combined with a team that was regrouping and a car that hadn't turned a wheel all year, we were just off in qualifying. We had a little too much understeer on blacks, and every time we tried to correct it, we made the back more nervous.
I admit I was pretty surprised that we were so far back in qualifying, because I'd picked up over a second compared with practice, but the guys up front had made more gains in the hour we'd lost.
At the start, everyone was expecting a yellow, and they'd all said, “Just sit back, there will be carnage at Turn 1,” but we were all so freakin' strung out, there was never any danger of that. Jay Penske was calling to me “green, green, green” for the leaders when I was still going into the second-to-last corner, so there was no real opportunity to pass anyone anyway. So I hung back expecting a big pile-up, and although I got past Charlie Kimball, we just sat there in fuel-saving mode waiting for yellows that never came.
We had started on the harder black tires anticipating a yellow and going off-sequence so we could run through the rest of the race on reds, and it didn't happen. Kimball was on reds, and he eventually got a good run on me out of the hairpin on lap 15 and passed me down the front straight, and then passed James Jakes. Eventually I got bored sitting behind Jakes, too. I was trying to save fuel to go an extra lap so I could jump him in the pit stops, but he was going so slow, I just got fed up with it. I went inside him at the hairpin and – because everyone was coming almost to a complete stop – I barely touched Simona, but it was enough to send her around.
I then pitted with the others under the first yellow and for whatever reason, even though we were in a pack, apparently I was speeding – 52mph. After the restart, they made me do a drive-through penalty. That didn't matter so much because we were near the back anyway, and it put me on the other side of the circuit from the others, so at least I had a clear track at that point. So I just thought, ‘OK, let's go,' and it became a lapping session. That's something we didn't really get to do through practice because there you run two or three laps at a time and then come in to get an adjustment. So I settled into a pace and it was pretty good – I was going a second per lap quicker than when we'd been following the backmarkers. I almost caught the back of that pack by the end of that stint. I was settling in pretty good, the team was happy with the lap times. Then we had yellows, a bunch of guys crashed out, carbon fiber was flying everywhere and on that last restart we were running 13th. I thought, “Well, climbing from the back to the middle is OK, let's see if we can pick off a couple more and get into the top 10.”
Anyway, cruising around under yellow, the team saw the left-rear tire pressure sensor was reading that the tire was deflating. Just in case the sensor had taken a crap, they told me to check it out under speed on the green, and sure enough, it was down. I guess we must have hit a shard of carbon fiber from all the wrecks, and it started twitching out of line down the front straight – which sort of gets your attention at 160mph.
So again I pitted under green and ended up on the opposite side of the track to everyone else, so it was a fairly lonely race thereafter and we ended up with 16th. Not what I'd wanted, even from the back of the grid. The Dragon Racing team wasn't too disappointed: we set some good times when we had the space and we didn't load onto the truck with a crunched up car like a lot of other teams at each of the races this year. But we were relying on going off-sequence and we also had to make two unscheduled visits to pit lane so that combination was never going to produce a strong result.
On the other hand, the weekend as a whole was a warm-up for Indy, getting my head back in the game. Obviously, what we learned this weekend won't have much of a bearing on my next two races – the Indy 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's WIX Filters car, and Texas with Dragon Racing and Motegi Wheels – because they're ovals. But I think then, my engineer Eric Zeto and the team can think hard about Toronto so we can make a better stab at getting the overall balance of the car right for the different tires.
Nice drive by Mike Conway – he did a great job and the Andretti Autosport cars looked wicked fast. It's pretty rare that someone passes a Ganassi and a Penske car in successive laps.
I've got to thank Ralphs Grocery, Motegi Wheels, and Rockstar Energy Drink for their support through the weekend and I'm pleased to say some interesting doors were opened to some potential additions to the Dragon Racing schedule this year. We'll all be working hard to make those opportunities work out for us.
I drove back to Vegas after the race, and Monday I'll be moving house down to Scottsdale, Ariz. Then I'll be doing a four-day media tour in Canada, then recording a TV show with the new Dodge Charger, and then it's off to Indy.
I'll keep you posted; you keep the faith.