Happy Summer, Chicago!
As everyone knows, there’s no better place than Chicago in the summer. This week, I was reminded of that once again. Following Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway, where I finished 11th after winning the pole, my Penske Racing Shell-Pennzoil team scheduled a few days of testing in Milwaukee. Work obviously comes first -- especially at this time of year when we’re working our tails off to remain solidly in the Top 10 in NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings -- but you can bet, when track time and meetings were over, I was going to be in Chicago.
As I told you last week, I always try to get to at least one game at Wrigley Field each year. Knowing that we would be in Milwaukee testing on Monday and Tuesday, I arranged to go to Sunday night’s Cubs game against the Yankees at the Friendly Confines. Following the race, I made it to the Cubby Bear by 6:00 p.m. and was in my seat at Wrigley just as the Cubs took the field. Seeing Nick Swisher hit a three-run homer to rally the Yankees past the Cubs was painful, but seeing the Yankees playing in my favorite nonracing sports venue was extremely cool.
Testing on Monday at the Milwaukee Mile went well. We were there to prep for the July 17th race at New Hampshire, which is a similar setup, and because NASCAR has restrictions on where testing can occur during the season.
The Crosstown Classic being in town was a wild bit of serendipity as far as I’m concerned, and I couldn’t pass up the chance. I mean, I’ve won three straight poles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, which rarely happens. I figure I’ve got to ride this train of good things. I have only been to U.S. Cellular Field once; for the All-Star Game in 2003, so I was pretty fired up to catch the opener of the series with the Cubs.
Joined by several good friends, I had a terrific time. I’m still partial to Wrigley, but we had a blast. I’m a Cubs fan through and through, so I will tell you I was pumped watching Carlos Zambrano settle down after a shaky first inning and then see Carlos Marmol pick up the save.
Z is my favorite player. I know he catches a lot of heat for his emotions, but man that guy is exciting and I actually like his attitude. He hates losing and doesn’t give up. Sometimes he says things that get him in trouble, but I think those things are due to his passion. I can empathize with him somewhat as I’ve been criticized for similar things.
Well, I miss Chicago already, but it’s time to start focusing on Sonoma and the road course, Infineon Raceway. This is one of two road course races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Circuit, where we have to worry about a few left turns each lap and a whole series of left and right turns on which shifting prowess is at a premium. I’m hoping to keep my qualifying streak alive and this week hoping for a really strong finish. I’m more comfortable than some drivers on road courses because of my background, but you never know what’s going to happen out there.
I’m also excited about the party that series sponsor Sprint is having for me and my team at a nice vineyard in honor of our win at the NASCAR All-Star race last year.
Folks, the maneuvering is heating up to make it into the Chase. Our goal is to continue racing hard and getting all facets of our program grading out at an “A” so when we get to Chicagoland Speedway, we are indeed in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.