This was one of the most enjoyable and exciting races I have ever run and it has confirmed what I felt towards the end of last season: I love this car and track combination.
I’d run a qualifying session earlier in the week (2009-02-07 9:30 pm), setting a time of 1:47.831. This meant that for the race I would be starting 9th, which isn’t bad considering I was iRated as the 11th best road course driver out of the 16 runners. My aim for the race was to be clean and finish 11th, or better.
I got a decent start (making up two places) and just took my time around the first corners hoping I wouldn’t hit anyone and that everyone else would return the favor… Thankfully they did and I held 7th for the first two laps until I missed my braking mark into turn 1 and ran wide, letting Doug Gegenheimer through as we started lap 3.
I held 8th for the next 4 laps and just concentrated on staying as close to Doug as I could. I was following him closely when I saw Brett Stephens pulling off to the right (he had gone off track a lap earlier and presumably limped back to the pit area with damage), so I had now climbed to 7th again as we started lap 8. Also during those 4 laps Michael Yoder had spun and Bruce Morse had passed me, leaving me in the same position on the track.
Lap 10 and I had dropped back a little bit behind Doug as we joined the oval at the back of the circuit. I gained another position though because Marc Vasaturo had spun from 4th and handed me 6th-place, just missing me in the process as he rejoined the track.
For the next 15 laps I stayed consistent and tried to keep Doug in sight on the banking of the oval, knowing that if he or those close infront of him slipped up I should be able to capitalize and take their positions. During these laps I set my fastest lap, a 1:47.306.
It was now lap 25 of 30 and as I exited the first turn I saw Bruce rejoining from the grass where he had spun after contact with another car; this put me into 5th-place and also meant that for the final few laps I’d probably be fighting Bruce off. One lap later though I gained another position, moving into 4th after Marcus Iglesias made car contact and fell to the back of the pack.
For the final 4 laps I drove hard (and made my only mistake of the race, an off-track on the exit of the first right-hand hairpin) while trying desperately to hold my position ahead of a hard charging Stephens and recovering Morse. I eventually made a mistake large enough that both of them were able to get very close, but to my surprise (and delight at the time), Morse fell off the road, leaving me with just Stephens.
With 2 to go, Stephens was all over my gearbox and I decided to take some more defensive lines around the infield turns of the Daytona Speedway. Coming onto the oval towards the Superstretch though I knew I was not going to be able to hold him off and let Stephens by on the inside into the chicane. I tried to stay close to him, hoping that he would feel some pressure and perhaps make a mistake, but he didn’t, and I ended up finishing in 5th-place, something I am absolutely delighted with.
All in all, a very enjoyable race where I feel I punched far above my weight and beat a lot of people I am not really that capable of doing. I only made that one small error when under pressure from Stephens and set my fastest lap while trying to be consistent on lap 10, a 1:47.306.