We made a big move before Michigan: we bought a motor. Because of that, our goals have shifted as a race team.
Now, we shouldn’t have bought it. It was expensive. It’s only good for four races. But we wanted to know. We HAD to know. We’ve been down on power all year with our SB2 engine program. We’ve been told it's as much as 25 to 40 horsepower on the top end. More on the low end of the RPM band. Even more on the torque scale.
So, how good could we be with a solid engine under the hood? At Michigan, we found out.
I was nervous before the weekend. It was a huge commitment by my father to get this motor for us. I wanted it to be worth it. If we had gone out in practice and wound up 24th again, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Luckily, we weren’t. We were 17th. The first thing Eagle and my dad asked me was, “Can you tell a difference?” The answer was yes. Oh my goodness yes. It was night and day.
We all breathed a sigh of relief.
Now, we weren’t unrealistic with our expectations. We didn’t think simply dropping a better motor in our truck would immediately put us to the front of the truck series field. There are a lot of top tier teams that we’re not going to be able to compete with from a resource standpoint. Our goal was to put ourselves solidly in that second tier of teams alongside Hattori Racing, Young Motorsports, Bolen Motorsports, NEMCO, AWS Racing, and Ricky Benton Racing. We think we did that.
That’s what’s been so frustrating about our year. I’ve spoken time and time again about what I think the potential of myself and our team is. But I’ve been unrealistic with what I thought we could achieve with our SB2 program. We were a third tier team while running SB2’s. We SHOULD'VE been competing with Premium Motorsports, MAKE Motorsports, Mittler Bros. Racing, Contreras Motorsports, and Bobby Dotter every week. With this new engine, the door is open for us to legitimately compete for top-10’s and top-15’s consistently. We think we’re a lot closer to a top-15 team than what we’ve been able to show so far this year. We proved that at Michigan.
Of course, we had some struggles, too.
We had a tire rub in practice that nearly ended our weekend before it got started. We cut a left rear tire down going into turn 3 at nearly 180 mph, but luckily I was able to gather it up and get it down to pit road without any damage. We dodged a bullet. We didn’t have a backup truck. A wreck would’ve sent us home.
We never got a chance to do a lot of drafting in practice because of the rub. When we did get around a few other trucks, we were competitive. We made some passes, and the truck handled okay in a pack. A little tight, but overall pretty good. I told Kevin I thought it was our best handling intermediate truck since Kansas earlier this year.
I was optimistic for qualifying. I thought we’d be a top-15 truck on speed. That was ambitious. We wound up 20th. That bummed me out. We were essentially the on the tail end of the “fast” trucks. There’s usually a gap on the speed charts between the tiers of teams in our series, and we found ourselves right in the middle of that second tier. I wanted us to be a little closer towards the front of it. Maybe that’s too much to ask for the first race we ever ran with that motor. I just thought we’d pick up more than we did in qualifying trim.
It wasn’t even our best 1.5 mile qualifying effort of the year. We were 19th at Kansas. Only 20th at Michigan. Yeah, we were a lot faster speed wise, but it didn't translate to much improvement on the charts. For us to not even post our best positional qualifying effort was pretty disheartening.
The race played out about as we expected. There were some really hard crashes and we managed to get around them cleanly. We ran inside the top-20 all day. But, I had a brake issue late in the race. I got on the brakes really hard to get around Spencer Gallagher's crash and was worried I might have warped a rotor. I could feel a hard vibration anytime I was on the brakes under caution.
It was decision time. We were running in the top-15, and pitting to check it out would cost us all of our track position. If it was something more serious though, it could wreck us and really put us in a horrible spot. Kevin and my dad deferred to me to make the decision. There was no chance I was coming down pit road.
I knew this was our chance at a top-10 finish; something neither myself nor my team have ever been able to have.
We were in a great position going into the final restart. I was sitting 12th, in the preferred outside lane. I felt good about our restarts all race. Our motor was getting up through the gears as well as any truck in the field. I focused in during the final caution. I was ready. I knew how critical getting a good jump was going to be for our chances to crack the top-10. As we came to the green, someone in my lane missed a shift. It might’ve been the #51 truck but I’m not totally sure. We were the first ones to get bottled up. Ben Kennedy had nowhere to go and smashed into the back of us, bending our bumper up under our fuel cell and damaging our right rear quarter panel. I got shuffled back and wound up only managing to finish 15th.
I was extremely disappointed. Who knows how many chances we’ll get at a finish like that. And for our truck to get damaged on the very last restart of the race…it just sucked.
I commiserated with Austin Wayne Self after the race, who also had some horrible luck during that last restart and fell from 8th back to mid-pack. We’re snakebit. I ran as good a race as I’ve ever run in my NASCAR career and we still didn’t get anything to show for it. Jordan Anderson finished right in front of us with an SB2. Travis Kvapil finished only three spots behind us. Tyler Young finished 10th. The same guys we compete with every week wound up around us in the final results, even when we were faster than them all weekend. I was disheartened. I mean why even buy that motor if we’re just going to finish roughly in the same place as usual and still get wrecked. What’s the point?
My dad had to calm me down. Finally, after some counseling, I was able to see the big picture. Yeah, we caught another tough break at the end of the race, but look at where we were. We were 12th with 8 to go and had a real shot to get a top-10. That’s something we’ve never had before. It might not have wound up the way we wanted, but we gave ourselves a chance. If we keep improving, that’s going to be a normal situation instead of an extraordinary one.
I had my career best finish & tied the best ever for our organization. I shouldn’t be upset after something like that. But, I know we’re running out of chances to do something great this year. I just felt like I let a chance slip through my fingers. And by comparing us to some other teams, it made me feel even worse. I shouldn’t do that. I should worry about us. Martins Motorsports had a very solid day.
But, our expectations are even higher going into our race this weekend at Canada.
Some of you might not know, but I'm a driving instructor at Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain right outside Las Vegas, NV. Most of the time, I’m working there between races. It’s the official driving school of Corvette Racing. It’s an awesome job. I work with some extremely talented racers. They’ve made me a much better driver during my two years out there, and I can’t thank all of them enough for how encouraging they’ve been through all of our struggles this season.
When the NASCAR guys want road course training, Spring Mountain is one of the places they go. The guys I work with every day have coached guys like Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Daniel Hemric, Ross Chastain, and several others. As far as I’m concerned, I’m representing all of us this weekend. I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself in that regard. I spent time this week studying the previous races. I spent hours on iRacing at another instructor’s house trying to learn as much as I possibly could about the track.
I’m expecting a lot out of myself.
So is our team. We knew we’d have a chance to get a solid finish at a road course with me behind the wheel, so we prepared a truck specifically for this weekend. Road course spindles, brakes, a new rear end, lease transmission – you name it, we’ve gotten our truck as prepared as we possibly could for Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. It's not the best truck in the field, we know that. All the top organizations build trucks from the ground up every year specifically for this race. We couldn't do that. But we did as much as we could.
We’re not up here to get a top-15. We’re up here to win the race.
It’s the first time I’ve ever shown up to a racetrack in NASCAR and thought I had a chance to win a race outside of Daytona or Talladega. Anything less than a great finish will be a disappointment.