2002. Man, I cannot wait to see it come. To say the 2001 season was tough is an understatement.
At the beginning of 2001, everyone was asking me about the sophomore jinx. I never thought twice about it, and I sure never thought it would happen to us. Even though I am not superstitious, what happened to us last year could very well be classified as the jinx. Just like Murphy's Law, everything that could go wrong-on the track-did.
We went into last season with high expectations. Of course our fans, the media and my fellow competitors also had certain expectations of the DEWALT team as well. I can tell you one thing: because we did not live up to all of the expectations, no one was harder on us than we were on ourselves.
On the other hand, we do have the potential to become a championship caliber team, and there were a few races this past year in which we had the car to beat. For some reason, winning races just was not in the cards for us in 2001. It seemed like there were always circumstances, either beyond my control or unavoidable accidents, preventing us from good finishes. The best example of this was the second race in Michigan. Even Mother Nature dealt us a bad hand. If the race had gone until the end, I would have pulled into Victory Lane. But instead, we settled for fourth.
All year long, people asked what our problem was. My answer was, "If we could just put our finger on it, we would fix it." Looking back now, I think the main problem was qualifying. If you qualify in the back every week, you are going to get caught up in someone else's mistake. By starting in the back, we were forced to fight our way to the front. I depended on my team to help me get to the front with good pit stops and strategy. They depended on me to drive the heck out of the race car.
When you have an awful season like we did, it makes you look at the bigger picture. There were so many significant events that changed the sport and the world, it just made the little things look totally minute. Just to name a few, starting off the year losing another competitor and friend, Dale Earnhardt, cast a dark cloud over NASCAR for the whole season. Imagine what Dale Jr. went through this year, trying to work through the grieving process of losing his dad and yet focus on racing. It was amazing to watch, and we were so happy to see him win the Pepsi 400 because he raced hard, and he deserved it.
Also, witnessing the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., where the loss of life was so tremendous. NASCAR cancelled the race in New Hampshire that weekend out of respect for the country, which was a good decision. It's still hard to talk about it. I think it was just a shock to everyone. Our hearts still go out to those families who lost loved ones.
In my personal life, last year could not have gone better. Katie and I enjoyed our first year as husband and wife. I am so thankful for Katie, my parents and my son Ross. They are always there for me when things get tough, and they helped me keep my chin up through a terrible season.
2002 is a brand-new season, and I am looking forward to it. NASCAR has been taking us into brand-new markets, and the sport is getting bigger and better every day. I never thought when I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin I would be a part of the elite Winston Cup Series. I think I have come a long way since the days when I rigged my Dad's riding lawnmower to go faster and rode it through the streets of Cambridge, Wisconsin. My Dad nicknamed me "Motor" because while other kids my age were out riding bikes and playing sports, I was busy tinkering with anything that had a motor in it. Even as I look back now, it makes me laugh, but it also makes me appreciate the support of my family and how we all worked hard to make my dreams of racing a reality.
My crew chief Robbie Reiser and my team have really worked hard on pit stops, the motor program and in the body shop. Look for the DEWALT car to be up front a lot more in 2002 because one bad season is behind us, and we don't plan on having another one any time soon. This experience has made us stronger and like the slogan for my sponsor DEWALT Tools says-"Guaranteed Tough."