August 5, 2000 – We came, we saw, we went home

Well, we came, we saw, and we went home. As you can imagine, nobody is very pumped up after being forced to leave Indianapolis a day early. It’s one of those grim realities of NASCAR racing. Every weekend a handful of cars go home. It’s a feeling you hate to endure and one that keeps begging the question, “Why?” Last night, Robby, Mike Held and I had some appearances to attend with Robby before flying out of Indy. If I had a nickel for every time in the middle of a conversation Robby or Mike would frustratedly blurt out, “I can’t believe we’re going home,” I’d be rich. We must have gone over Robby’s lap a million times. Each time he said the same thing, “I held my breath like you guys said to and I hung it out, there just wasn’t enough grip.”

It made it especially frustrating to hear Brett Bodine talk about how “stuck” he was in the corners when he set the track record. Robby said our car wasn’t bad, it just wanted to drift in all four corners, especially coming onto the straights. Thursday he said it was a balanced drift, something he felt comfortable with, but at the same time it was a drift and a drift is scrubbing speed. Thursday night they looked for ways to get the car to turn in more. They made some big changes with softer springs and shocks on the car, but they really didn’t do much to help. In the morning on Friday Robby put up his best time, a 50.1 second lap which would have gotten us in the show, but it was under a cloudy condition. Conveniently enough for us, when second round qualifying was supposed to start at high noon yesterday, the sun was tucked behind a large dark cloud. I told Mike it was the “spaceship of speed,” there to help us. But for some reason the spaceship of NASCAR was experiencing a delay. What’s normally a fine-tuned and on-time machine waited precisely until the moment the cloud moved away, some eight minutes in total, for qualifying to begin. Would the cloud have helped? Well, I asked a crew member of our team what he thought of the cloud and if it really was going to help us or not. His response, “Well hell yes!!” Would it have put us in the field or not I don’t know and we’ll never know, but I do know none of us were counting on its help. We just knew we were faster in the clouds than in the blazing sun. Regardless, Robby went out and drove it as deep as he could while we all watched the big screen over the pit lane suites. When he came out of turn two drifting high he clipped the wall ever so slightly scraping part of the Menards decal off the side, but doing little other damage. As Robby claimed afterwards, “I never lifted.” He just kept his foot in it and continued on, claiming he made up his mind that he was going to gain back whatever tenth or two he left on the barrier in the next two corners. Coming out of turn four the car went into yet another drift, this time completing the decal removal process and adding a faint white wall to the front tire. He crossed the line with a time in the low 51 second area.

Our only hope following the run was a provisional spot and that came right down to the wire. Had Matt Kenseth, the final qualifier, made it in the field on time we would have made the show. But Kenseth fell way short and we packed it in.

Why didn’t we make it? I don’t know the exact answer, that’s for the team to sort out and they’re already trying pinpoint areas. Everyone was pleased with the engine, our straight away speeds were great. It just came down to finding adhesion and keeping the car from drifting.

Starting Monday, the focus turns to Watkins Glen. As Robby said at our sponsor dinner with Duracell last night, “The great thing about Winston Cup is that you always have a race the very next weekend to erase a bad weekend. Everyone on this team did their best to make it into this show today and starting Monday morning they’ll be doing their best and probably more from the bitter taste of today to make Watkins Glen a success.”

– Kinnon