Maybe I should do a diary on RACER.com for every round of the championship: I like the way this works! It gives me a thrill to write it in black 'n' white: I'm the winner of the 2010 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. On Monday, I'll be thinking about how it's boosted us in the championship – we're up to third – I'll be wondering how Andretti Autosport is doing with its oval package as we take the IZOD No. 37 car to Kansas and Indianapolis. And I'll be thinking, “I sure hope we can make the deals happen so that I'm here for the whole season.”
But first, I'm just savoring the feeling of winning one of the most famous races in the world. We sure didn't win it by luck, either: we led 64 laps, and, in the early stages, while I was running second, I was able to stay with Will Power and save fuel and felt I could close the gap on him whenever I had to. It would have been tough to actually make the pass on track, that's for sure, because it's so hard to overtake someone at Long Beach, even if they're a second per lap slower. So long as they're as quick as you out of the final-turn hairpin before the pit straight, they can hold you up almost everywhere else. Look at the struggles I had lapping Alex Lloyd, for example. But I think we had the pace to get around Will using strong in-and-out laps. We were able to pull away at the front and we were able to save fuel while also staying out of reach of Justin Wilson and Will, even after we got bunched up by the full-course caution with about 20 laps to go.
So, all that work on the race setup that I mentioned in my previous diary installments paid off in a major way. I laid down the fastest lap of the race on lap 82 out of 85. That shows how confident I was in the car that my engineer Ray Gosselin and I had worked on together. My crew gave me great pit stops and it was just one of those days where everything seemed under control. It was our race to lose, really, and we felt able to absorb anything that was thrown our way. In my career, those days haven't come along often – probably the last time was Milwaukee in 2004 when I led every lap. So this was special.
I dedicated the win to my mother, Lydia, who passed away with cancer last November. She loved coming to watch me race anywhere, but she always regarded this event as special. She really loved it here, and this weekend she'd have been so proud. I lived down here in Southern California for six years and always regarded this as a home race, and it's where I met my beautiful fiancée, Beccy, six years ago. So, on a personal level, this event means a lot to me. But like I've said before, it's Long Beach. After the Indy 500, it's the race everyone in the series wants to win.
The result was also majorly significant for Michael Andretti, a guy I owe so much to. He scored the first and last of his 42 wins here, and that final win in 2002 was the last time an American had won this event. To be the next guy and to do it for Michael's team is one of those chances of a lifetime and I'm glad we grabbed it. He's put his own money into the No. 37 car's program, and he deserved a victory considering how close we came in Sao Paulo to breaking the Andretti Autosport team's winless streak.
To be honest, though, both he and I are all about looking forward, not so much about what it means in our personal histories. We're just thinking about what's next. I knew exactly how big a chance this was, even if I was only guaranteed six races back when I signed the deal over the winter. I knew the team was being shaken up and restructured, I knew the changes were for the better, and I knew that Michael was desperate to do the right thing by me, just as IZOD has right from the start of our relationship. What can you do in those circumstances? Well, you show the same kind of dedication and loyalty in return so that you can maximize what you've got going together.
As of right now, it seems we're going to be together for the Texas race, too, the race right after the Indy 500. That's not enough though, and we know it, and I think we're building a compelling case for the whole season. I mean, we're third in the point standings, just one point behind second, and we've had a win and a second place in the first four races, so I'd like to think we're laying a strong foundation for a championship challenge if we're given that chance. When Michael said, “We're back!” he didn't mean it just in the context of getting into Victory Lane today. It's the big picture, and he's seeing what I'm seeing – a team that has improved out of sight, and one that can soon return to its glory days. Myself, Tony Kanaan and Marco have each had really strong performances this year, we've all worked really hard together, Danica, too, and we're all confident that there is a lot more potential to be tapped.
I'm certain that there are more wins on the horizon, because the strong pieces in the Andretti Autosport team are now fitting together, and that confidence and upbeat mood runs throughout the team. Now that we're looking so competitive again, it makes the crews even more willing to dig deep and work those late, late shifts. It feels like there's real excitement behind their purpose. It's not about making a 15th-place car better so it runs 10th. We're at a stage where the crews can think, “OK, we have a fifth-place car but if we do this change or that change, we could make it into a potential winner.”
And winning is what we live for. That's what makes it all worthwhile. And the opportunity to work for a team as strong, dedicated and smart as 2010-era Andretti Autosport is what I've been looking for throughout my career. Now that I've found myself here, thanks largely to the best sponsor a driver (and series) can have in IZOD, I'm not going to give it up or waste the opportunities. I just want a bunch more of them!
Thanks for reading. I hope it gave you some insight into what turned out to be such a great weekend for us.