- Jeff Meendering
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We unloaded at Daytona with pretty high expectations, but we just didn't get the qualifying run we were hoping for.
We went a little conservative on tape. We went conservative because we wanted to save our motor for the 150s. I felt like, going in, we didn't have a legitimate shot at the pole or outside pole, so we were looking more for race trim.
We qualified 47th, so I was obviously pretty disappointed. I knew we wouldn't qualify great, but I didn't think we'd be that bad.
We got in race trim, got in the draft and driver Bobby Labonte felt really comfortable. He was really happy with the setup in the 150s.
The pit crew did a real good job in the 150s -- that was the first time a lot of these guys have been together, because we made a lot of changes in the offseason in the pit crew. We went into practice the next day (following the Duel 150s) with pretty much the same setup, but the temperatures were up and we had a real loose race car.
We kind of lost the setup. We came back Saturday for practice with a much better race car. We ended up that final practice on a real good note and that definitely got our hopes up for the Daytona 500. We thought we were one of the better race cars for sure.
Sunday rolled around, we started the race, and we were pretty good. We were a little loose. It was the hottest it had been the whole week, so that freed us up a little bit getting into the corners. We adjusted on it the whole day, and our pit crew did a real good job making those adjustments. Coming into the race we had the car where we needed it to be.
A lot of the cars had lost the handle, and we found it.
We had a pit stop -- two stops from the end -- where we got a little too close to the wall, and we ended up losing eight spots in the pits. That set us back a little bit, but Bobby got us back into contention.
We chose to pit when quite a few cars stayed out toward the end. We were sitting there with four fresh tires, and we had three cautions at the end of the race, and we needed it to go green, because we were sitting on four tires.
After qualifying, I wasn't really feeling good, but coming out of Daytona with a solid finish [Labonte was 11th], it's got everybody's confidence up, including mine. Monday and Tuesday, we went to Nashville for a test.
Our California testing didn't go as well as we'd hoped, so we went to Nashville, and we found quite a few things.
We were not looking forward to California, but now we are, because the Nashville test gave us confidence in our car, and the Daytona race has the pit crew excited and now the race crew's really excited, so that's a good combination.
Jeff Meendering is the first-year crew chief for the famed Petty Enterprises No. 43 Betty Crocker/Cheerios 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.
Confidence was high for crew chief Jeff Meendering and the rest of the No. 43 team heading into Daytona, then they missed on their qualifying setup. Meendering writes in his diary driver Bobby Labonte & Co. made up for it in the race.