Big finish on the track, big news about Bobby off the track

We were off at the start of the Richmond race and were down a lap fairly early. But we kept working on the car, and halfway through we finally hit on some stuff, got the car better, got the Lucky Dog and started making our way through the field. Toward the end of the race, we were running times that were right with the top five cars. I'm not happy with the way we started, but I'm happy with the way we finished (13th).

That last caution may have hurt us. We took four tires on the second-to-last caution, and a lot of cars stayed out. I was pretty excited about that. We started to make passes when the caution came out after the 18 and 88 got into each other, so that wasn't the best timing.

Bobby Labonte


As for reports that Bobby Labonte has signed with the team, I don't think that anything is set in stone there. They are getting really close on working everything out. But to say anything is set in stone might have been some speculation. When everything started blowing up with that story, the guys on our team never paid any attention to that. We have really good management here that takes care of that and allows us to go to the track and race. I still feel like Bobby will be here next year, but I know they're not totally done with it. I think they're getting close, though.

The test at Lowe's was just what we needed. I definitely didn't feel we were as strong with our intermediate program as we need to be. We tried some stuff outside of the box that we haven't tried yet, and we definitely found some things that work. We're pretty excited. I don't think the changes will be anything that will be noticeable to the race fans -- we found some different suspension things, some different spring and shock combinations, stuff out of the ordinary. With the old car, these things probably wouldn't have worked. It's weird, because we're having to develop a whole new way of thinking with the new car. Things that worked with the old car just don't seem to work with the new car. It's definitely a different way of thinking.

I enjoy that challenge, though. At times, when you're at the track struggling with things, I wish it was a little easier, but I really enjoy going to these tests and trying stuff you don't have time to try on a race weekend. If it were up to me we would test all the time, but I've just got to get my wife convinced of that. This year we've put in the most hours racing-wise that we've ever had to put in, but I'm sure once we get a grasp of this car, it will get easier.

It used to be really tough at Darlington Raceway, where we're racing this weekend, but now that they've paved it, I honestly don't know what to expect. I've talked to people who did the tire test there, and they're comparing it to the intermediate tracks because there's a lot more grip now. Darlington used to take a totally different setup from any other track. Now, it's a typical intermediate-track setup. That's why I feel good about our Charlotte test. The tire that we just tested at Charlotte on the right side is what we're going to race at Darlington. It's a pretty hard tire, and sometimes harder tires are tricky to set up, so it's good that we had those two days with it.

Jeff Meendering is the first-year crew chief for the famed Petty Enterprises No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Charger driven by Bobby Labonte. Meendering will take ESPN.com readers inside his life on and off the track each week with the help of writer Angelique S. Chengelis.