Mike Bliss' goal was to hang onto a top ten in the points after he departed Phoenix Racing 21 races into the Nationwide Series season. He was sixth and in salvage mode, unsure of what opportunities he might find.
Driving for three teams, Bliss slid to ninth in the next six races - three of them 'start-and-parks' - but, at Dover, he hooked up with CJM Racing and began a remarkable climb back up in the points to sixth going into Saturday's O'Reilly Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway.
Bliss will be making his fourth start with CJM at Texas. He has finished second at Dover and Lowe's and fourth at Memphis in the previous three races with the #11 Toyota team and is 59 points behind Justin Allgaier for fifth with three races remaining.
“Crazy,” Bliss said, “When I was released by Phoenix, I was out to get into any car to get into the top ten in points because there is some pretty good money available from the post-season fund. To be sitting here with the possibility of finishing in the top five is more than I would have expected.”
Bliss was reunited with crew chief Paul Wolfe at CJM. They enjoyed success together for 23 races in 2007 and five in 2008 at Fitz Motorsports.
“I think our performance of late might be a surprise to some, but not to us,” Bliss said, “The cars are very good cars, and Paul Wolfe is a good crew chief. So, the finishes we've had might be surprising to other people, but not to us.
“I think Paul certainly had influence with the team in helping me drive for them, and he's probably been trying longer than I've been here. I respect him. He works really hard, he does a very good job. He's meticulous. Paul builds really nice racecars. I like nice racecars, and nice racecars like to go fast.”
Bliss finished seventh at Texas in April, but won at Lowe's in May, a 1.5-mile track with a similar layout to Texas.
“That #11 car has been pretty fast everywhere they go,” he noted, “I'm expecting a good run at Texas, too. I don't think my finishes there have been that great, but I've always run well there. But we're going there with the same approach - just try and run as best we can and finish as best we can. And I think we'll have a good result.”
Bliss, the Camping World Truck Series champion in 2002, also will drive for CJM next week at Phoenix, but will return to Phoenix Racing's #1 in the season finale.
“It's been a mind-boggling season,” Bliss said.
by Tim Tuttle / Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service