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Waltrip Spends Day On Roller Coaster

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 11 2010
Michael Waltrip and his No. 51 car is in the Daytona 500 but it was not an easy day for the two-time winner of the race. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Michael Waltrip and his No. 51 car is in the Daytona 500 but it was not an easy day for the two-time winner of the race. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

video-bugDaytona Beach, Fla. – Michael Waltrip can be kind of goofy at times, clowning for the cameras in commercials and on TV broadcasts of races and on televised racing shows.

But at the core, he’s a serious racer, and that side of him showed on Thursday as he failed to earn his Daytona 500 starting spot in his first race, then agonized throughout the second race before Scott Speed’s late-race surge put Waltrip in the 500 based on his qualifying time from last Saturday.

Waltrip said that experiencing a wide range of emotions at Daytona is nothing new to him. His first Daytona 500 win and his first ever in Cup came on the day his car owner Dale Earnhardt died. And in his second 500 win, he had to sit through a rain delay before being declared the winner.

“I guess I’ve come to expect it a little bit,” he said. “I know for some reason, for me, this place, it defines my career….

“I figured when I woke up this morning I’d be crying before the day was over. I just didn’t know if it would be because I was happy or because I was sad. And then I sure didn’t know it would be both within an hour of each other.

“To be able to smile now…, it really feels rewarding because we took a part‑time car, Bobby Kennedy, my buddy who has helped me out so, so long, put a crew together and gave me a car on Saturday that we qualified fast enough to make the 500 with.”

But the old, goofy Waltrip wasn’t totally absent during his stop in the media center after his Daytona 500 starting spot was assured.

As he walked into the press room, Waltrip told Speed: “There’s some Kroger roses for you young man when you get to the motor home,” he said.

Waltrip, a two-time 500 champ now in his first year of semi-retirement, was seeking to run the 500, a race he’s won twice before. But he was trying to do so without the benefit of a guaranteed starting spot as his old points position was assumed by Martin Truex Jr.

It was a big undertaking, especially considering that his Michael Waltrip Racing team wound up putting six cars in the Daytona 500. They were the three from MWR, the Toyotas driven by Waltrip, Truex and David Reutimann, as well as the ones his company prepared for Max Papis, Marcos Ambrose and Michael McDowell.

Waltrip said the Daytona successes are good for his company’s bottom line.

“We got happy customers, and that’s good for any business,” he said. “It’s real important to be able to diversify and figure out how to bring money into the company in order to help pay the bills.”

But he said it’s also very important from a team morale standpoint.

“I’m mostly proud of all that because there’s a bunch of men and women, fabricators, engineers, that figured out how to make cars competitive for this place,” he said. “So when those guys send us a check for the cars they bought, it’s going to feel pretty good to them to know that we were able to provide them with stuff to have the success they did down here.”

But business and qualifying successes aside, there are still some Daytona challenges facing Waltrip, and apparently some hard questions that only he can answer.

One is whether his days of driving in the Daytona 500 are coming to an end.

Asked if Sunday’s race would be his last Daytona 500, he wouldn’t exactly answer the question.

“I’ve got to prove to myself on Sunday in the 500, or at Talladega where I know I’m going to run, that I can indeed make the moves to win these races,” he said. “I didn’t do anything today to impress myself, and that’s disappointing.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 11 2010
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