This is part three of my five-part “Letter to Anthony Wayne”. Read part two here and come back tomorrow for part four!
How do you follow up a magical season like 2005 and continue the act that you started?
The answer: you don’t.
Wins at Martinsville and Daytona were cool, but at this point what stands out is not what happened on those days, but what took place at Richmond.
Somehow, someway, I thought you were going to pull through. It was Richmond! Richmond! You had always been good at Richmond.
But on this night, you weren’t good. At all. You were genuinely just slow. Really slow.
I kept hanging on to the idea that some miracle would happen up until about lap 380, and then I began to let it sink in: you, a year removed from being series champion, were not even going to make the Chase.
I was bitterly disappointed. Stunned, even, just as the rest of us were. You had been a shoo-in up until this point.
It kinda felt like someone had thrown a dodgeball at me, and the sucker had come out of nowhere and landed square on the side of my face. I just remember watching post-race coverage that night and being so sad about everything.
But then you regrouped. And before long, we got to Kansas, and you won.
And then you dominated at Atlanta and Texas, and won those races in consecutive weeks.
Of course, it was cool to see it all happen, and I’m never going to complain when you win (that bear trophy from Bass Pro Shops is still the coolest one I think you’ve ever won. That thing is huge! Should have recognized that as a sign of what was to come later.)
But I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a part of me thinking if only we were in the Chase, we’d be right in the hunt for back-to-back titles.
In short, I was ready to move on. And I think you were too.