Once the regular season ended after Indy, I took advantage of the down time before Charlotte and the start of the Countdown playoffs to go dove hunting at a local farm near my house in Greeneville. It was the first time I had been dove hunting in 15 years. Tennessee has some great wild game — there were four of us and we bagged 62 doves, and I took 15 birds. I’ve got a special recipe for doves — I soak the meat in saltwater for about half a day, then marinate them in zesty Italian dressing for about four hours, and then wrap a piece of bacon around each piece and put them on the grill. My wife, Pamk and I feasted on a dinner of dove, mashed potatoes and rolls, and it was awesome!
The night before Charlotte we participated in a B.R.A.K.E.S. event to support Doug Herbert’s work to educate teens before they get behind wheel. I’ve been a big supporter of B.R.A.K.E.S. for years, and at the dinner and auction I was presented with the Danielle Lee Kennedy Award for going over and above in support of the organization. It means a lot to be able to support a cause like B.R.A.K.E.S. It’s an amazing group, and to receive an award from them is just humbling. During the auction I challenged audience members to pay for a B.R.A.K.E.S. school session, and if they did I would match their contribution. A great couple offered their support, and we were able to get it done.
We tested at Charlotte for two days to get ready for the first Countdown race. Charlotte is always a great event, but it was just unfortunate that we ran my friend Erica Enders-Stevens in the second round, because I believe we would have beaten anybody else in that round. I didn’t do my job very well, and she stepped up and did hers. That wasn’t how I wanted to start the Countdown, but that motivates you to do better. It was a great testament to our J&J Racing Mopar Hemi engine program that my teammate, Jeg Coughlin Jr., was able to score the win at Charlotte. He’s one of my competitors, too, and he’s going to be tough to beat. For Mopar, having three teams in competition for the Pro Stock championship, counting our J&J teammate Vincent Nobile (and four Mopars when you factor in V. Gaines, who runs his own team), is a good thing. But for me, of course, I want to win it myself.
Next up was Dallas, where we had some success with a win last year. I was pumped up because I wanted to ride the hood of our Dodge Avenger again wearing a cowboy hat and carrying the trophy! You know, we really found some speed and power in the engines at Dallas, and that showed in the last round of qualifying and in the first round of eliminations, where we were low of the round. We had a good package that we took into Sunday, but once again we were matched up with one of the quicker cars of the round, and we just didn’t make as good a run in the second round, where we lost to Jason Line.
But we came out of Dallas with a real optimism that we’re going to have a car to beat the last four races, and I think we’ve found a great a package. With the shakeup in the standings we didn’t lose too much ground, and only fell 10 more points behind the leader. We felt fortunate in that.
The team flew a couple of Hemi engines home to work on after Dallas in preparation for St. Louis. We ain’t quitting; the Mopar Dodge Avenger team is going to dig, dig, dig, and work to defend our 2012 championship. We’ve tested at St. Louis, tested really well there, and I think we hit on something in the engines. I think we’ve got the best package we’ve had. We scored a runner-up finish at St. Louis last year on our road to the title, and I can’t wait to get to the track and show off what we got. I’m fired up as a driver right now, and can’t wait to hit St. Louis this weekend.