We are now two races in the books. Last week was the Daytona 500, and this week the race was at whatever they call the track in California (Fontana, Auto Club, California, take your pick). To me it’s Fontana, so I’m going to stick with that.
The (Daytona) 500 is a special event, so it has a unique schedule. It’s been shortened since the last time I was there (2016) but it was still a Tuesday to Sunday event. We had practice on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, with qualifying on Wednesday and races on Thursday and Sunday. Most of the days didn’t start until after noon, but it still made for a long week. And unlike previous years for me, we weren’t staying on the beach (where I loved to start my day with a walk) and instead were kind of in the middle of nowhere some distance north. Ah well, I was spoiled in that 2015-2016 life and need to get used to a little more ‘regular’ NASCAR life this time around.
Of note at this point, is the 2022 spec of actual physical car. It’s brand new. And very different from anything before. That was a part of the appeal for me rejoining the circus this year, everyone more or less restarting at the same point from a knowledge perspective. That is of course an over simplification, but it does give small teams like mine (Front Row Motorsports) a fighting chance, and potentially means I might be able to contribute in more and different ways. In theory.
So the whole Daytona week went fine. Practice and qualifying as expected. Our qualifying race went equally fine, a pretty boring race as we expected because there is a shortage of all the parts of this new car. Oh, and at this point, our driver is also a rookie. He raced for Front Row Motorsports (FRM) last year in the truck series, and has moved up to Cup for this year. So he also has much to learn. But he did well, he thought things through, was smooth and consistent and didn’t make any mistakes.
We had a pretty solid plan for the big race (the 500 itself) and for the first 190 laps the race played out exactly as we had hoped. Through pit strategy we jumped up into the top 10, and scored stage points (meaning we finished in the top 10) for each of the first two stages. We were running in the top 10 with I think 12 laps (of 200) to go, when we got shuffled out of line, fell back to about 20th, and then on the next lap got caught up in an accident in front of us. Todd (our driver) steered clear on the low side, but another car tried to squeeze through and caught us in the right rear corner which turned the car pretty much straight into the wall. A scary accident, but he was ok. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, we don’t have a ton of parts right now, and all crashes are to be extra avoided if at all possible.
So not a great way to end a pretty solid week, but we controlled what we could pretty well, and that’s about all we could ask for.
Last week I was in the shop for a short day Monday and a long day Tuesday (Tuesday night was load up for California). Wednesday morning myself and one of the #34 engineers (Dustin) went to Roush to rate a bunch of new springs. Then that afternoon I did what I hope is the last of my apartment shopping at least for the moment. Though that application hasn’t gone through yet….
Thursday afternoon we went to Ford Performance for a Driver in the Loop (DiL) test. That’s beacially a really expensive video game, with the cockpit on hydraulics, a 180* wrap around 10 foot tall screen, and a super advanced kinematics model. In theory, it helps our driver learn a new track (in this case) and it allows us to simulate different setup changes to the car.
Friday morning we flew out to Ontario (California). But this particular plane, is not FRR private jet level, so we had to stop for fuel in Tulsa. And Albuquerque. It made for a very long day. We then had 5 hours of garage time at the track to get the car through tech. Which fortunately went well for us, though I heard a few other teams were there rather late…
This was the first weekend of the ‘new normal’ (that term makes me uncomfortable) for NASCAR race weekends. We had a 15 minute practice session late Saturday morning which lead directly into single lap qualifying. And both sessions were chaos, I have never seen so many cars crash on their own. But again, not us. Todd kept his head, got his feet wet and learned.
We started 26th in the race today (Sunday, probably yesterday by the time this is posted). Our goal was to finish, ride around, learn, make the car better, and not crash. We already had a list of components that needed to be brought back on the airplane to be installed on the Las Vegas cars for next weekend. And we pretty much succeeded, struggled a bit with the handling, but we biased our setup that way to keep the car under Todd. And we ended up 20th, not outstanding, but a solid day with the car mostly in one piece. In my mind, I thought 15th might be obtainable, but we just never quite got there.
So now, flying back to North Carolina. I have a hotel booked in Davidson/Cornelius, which is about 8 miles south of the shop, but very close to the apartment I am hoping to move into on Wednesday. Fingers crossed…