So a lot has happened since the last blog, but I'm most pleased to say that we're standing firm in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, with a couple of top-three finishes recently. We could have been better at Chicago, but we've had some good runs, and a second place at Indianapolis and third place last weekend at Iowa were really encouraging for everyone working on the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge Challenger. We're still only 34 points off the lead of the championship with 13 races still to go.
The only problem is, the top four or five of us in the Nationwide standings never seem to have really bad finishes! Everyone's been pretty consistent so it's really hard to make gains. We're all pretty disciplined and don't get caught up in accidents, so we're all seeing the checkers. Give up five points, and you'll discover it's really hard to get it back if we all finish between second and sixth every weekend!
I think it's great for the NNS that Cup drivers are still involved, even if they can't score points, because we want to beat the best guys, and in general, the best drivers going back and forth between Cup and Nationwide – the Busch brothers, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne – are really some of the best stock car drivers in the country. So it's a chance to measure yourself against them. And, let's be honest, there might not be the same level of sponsorship in the Nationwide Series if those guys weren't involved.
Of course it would have been nice if my teammate had let me win at Indy (just kidding, Brad!) and it would have been even nicer if I could have held on at the front and not had to worry about it, but we didn't quite have the car to do that, and so the team compensated by giving me just two tires in one stop to save time and gain me track position and that worked out fine. If we'd taken four we might have been pretty well off, but that might also have put us into the pack and made us vulnerable to getting caught up in someone else's accident. So we took what we could. And as Brad said, it's better to finish runner-up behind your winning teammate than it is to beat your teammate but finish 15th and 16th!
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway still has a hold on me, I've got to admit. I remember the first time I went there to drive a NASCAR race after all those years driving in IndyCar, and although obviously you're turning in 40-50mph slower in a Cup or Nationwide car, they feel faster because there's so much more movement in them. That's how I used to feel, at least, although as I get more comfortable in the cars, that situation is improving, but it's taken time to get to that point. First couple of times I turned in, I wondered how the heck anyone was coming out the other end of the turn – and that's just while you're driving solo. You get out there for a double-file restart with 42 other cars and some of them are trying to take it three-wide and you're heading toward Turn 1 at almost 200mph…. Yeah that's a definite handful and it rivals anything I've felt in an Indy car. Ultimately they both make you tense but for totally different reasons.
For example, when Kyle Busch spun in front of me on one of the restarts in the Nationwide race at Indy, he did everything he could to keep it off of me, but I had to make a fairly big correction. If you're following someone, you're in the draft and so there's not much downforce, but then if you turn down underneath them, suddenly you have all this aero on the front of the car that pins the front down, which causes the tail to start to come around. At most of our tracks, you've got some banking to help catch you but Indy is so flat compared to other tracks, and so fast too, if you get out of control turning in, it's going to be pretty hard to get it back.
It was good to get the third place at Iowa, too, but obviously everyone's results at Pocono (on the Cup side) were overshadowed by the lightning strike that killed a fan. I send my sincere condolences to Mr. Zimmermann's family, and a “Get Well Soon” to others who got injured.
There's been less TV work to do on the SPEED Report lately because I've been pulling double duty, driving the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge in the Sprint Cup Series. A lot of people would say, “Come on, how much work is it to do a 30-min show and a one-hour show?” but to be informed enough to be able to talk about the races does take a lot of time. I used to watch racing all the time, sure, but I could choose when to watch them: I'd just DVR the IndyCar race, the F1 race, the Cup race, etc. and watch them through the week. Now I have to do it all throughout Saturday and Sunday and take notes, so when I'm asked about them, I'm not just talking out of my backside. I want to be good at it, just like I want to keep improving my racing skills.
In live TV, if you didn't give the answer you wanted to give or it didn't come out the way you wanted it to, you have to let it go. Don't draw attention to it; lots of people won't catch it. I feel like I've gotten a lot better at it, but it did come as a culture shock at first. When you're interviewed on TV, you look at the reporter, but if you're co-presenting a program, you sometimes have to look at your colleague and then you have to look directly into the camera, and you have two earphones in, so the director and the producer can be talking to you at any given time, telling you how much time you have before the next commercial, when you've got to hand back to the other guy, and so on. And in the mean time you've got to be speaking without missing a beat – and I think I've got that down fairly well. Actually, the guy who has a tough go of it a lot of the time is Adam Alexander or whoever is presenting the show, because what you don't see is that when he's doing the voice-over to say what's up next, they'll be grabbing him by the belt-loop to alter his position in the studio, while talking to him, and he has to be watching the prompter and make sure he's looking at the right camera when it cuts back to the studio.