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Emotional Waltrip Back In Victory Lane In Daytona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 19 2011

Michael Waltrip waves the checkered flag as he emerges from his truck following his victory at Daytona Friday night. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Ten years to the day marking his initial and star-crossed win in the Daytona 500, Michael Waltrip returned to Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway Friday night.

Waltrip won the NextEra Energy Resources 250 – the 2011 season-opener of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – with a classic slingshot move around Elliott Sadler heading to the start/finish line. Waltrip marked his first Truck Series victory on the 10th anniversary of his breakthrough Sprint Cup Series win in the 2001 Daytona 500, a race marred by the death of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt in a final-lap crash.

Friday night’s race ended under NASCAR’s green-white-checkered flag format following a red-flag stoppage to clean up the debris from a 10-car accident on Lap 98 of the scheduled 100-lapper. On the final lap around the repaved high-banked, 2.5-mile layout, Waltrip pushed Sadler and himself into a comfortable lead ahead of the pack before making his move to the outside entering the trioval.

Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 Wounded Warrior Project Toyota Tundra fielded by Vision Aviation Racing, beat Sadler to the finish line by 0.061-seconds.

“I’m just so thankful,” said Waltrip, who led only the final lap of the revised 103-lap distance. “I didn’t know (if I could win the race) until I saw the checkered. (Sadler and I) made a deal and we raced for it just like we said we would do. He’s just a great competitor. I love racing with him.

“He and I both have something in common with Dale. Elliott shares the same birthday with Dale (April 30) and I knew if he won we would get to be happy because of that, and if I won because of the anniversary of the day that Dale made me a winner. He’s made a lot of people in this world a winner that admired him and looked up to him, and if you knew Dale Earnhardt you’re a better person because of it. I’m so thankful that I can stand here in Victory Lane and honor him.”

Sadler, who led twice for 31 laps, tried to shake Waltrip during the last lap to no avail.

“When I went into Turn 3 I jammed the brakes trying to get him off my bumper,” said Sadler, driver of

Michael Waltrip won Friday night's Camping World truck series race on a rather historic day in Daytona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

the No. 2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet Silverado fielded by Kevin Harvick Inc. “Coming off (Turn) 4 he got me – made a really good move. That’s the way it is.”

Rounding out the top three was Clay Rogers, who exited DIS as the series point-leader with the No. 92 Action Gator Tire/Fleet HQ.com Chevy. Brazilian Miguel Paludo was fourth in his series debut at DIS in the No. 7 Stemco/Duroline Toyota. Cup star and Truck Series owner/driver Kyle Busch – who was 12th on the final restart –finished fifth in his No. 18 Dollar General Tundra.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Jo Cobb earned a spot in the record book with a sixth-place result. Cobb became the highest-finishing female in a NASCAR national touring series event, which includes the Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Cup series. Cobb also recorded her career-best finish.

“I’m so excited with what we accomplished tonight,” said Cobb, who started 31st in her No. 10 Drive to Honor/Lilly’s Cosmetics Ford F-150. “This finish is a testament to my team’s hard work and dedication. We don’t have near the budget that some of the other teams operate with, but we never give up. It’s like Walt Disney said, ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’

“When you think about drivers like Janet Guthrie and Erin Crocker who have accomplished so much in their careers, to think that I was able to achieve something that they didn’t at Daytona is really special.”

Waltrip, 47-year-old owner/driver of Michael Waltrip Racing, became the 22nd driver in NASCAR history to win a race in all three national series. Waltrip, who spent the final moments of the red-flag period joking over his radio with a SPEED broadcast crew that included brother Darrell, said his plan for the GWC was to go high.

“There was a (double yellow) line over there to the left that you can’t go under and it’s easy to crowd a guy toward that line because he’s got to give up before he goes out of bounds,” said Waltrip, who

Michael Waltrip steams past Elliott Sadler on final lap. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

qualified 11th. “But, when you crowd him toward the wall you’re going to crash, too, because he will turn you into the wall. So, I thought the high side was the smart way to go because if Elliott tried to squeeze me off we would’ve both crashed and then it would’ve been a David Pearson and Richard Petty finish and one of us would still be happy.

“I thought the high side was the way to go and it worked. Elliott and I were both just guessing. I would’ve taken the outside if I were leading, working a deal with the guy in second. There were trucks behind us we didn’t know about and hadn’t been there all day.”

Waltrip won the 2001 Daytona 500 after being hand-picked by Earnhardt to join a lineup at Dale Earnhardt Inc. that included Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Park. Waltrip’s victory snapped a career-long, 462-race winless streak, but the aftermath of Earnhardt’s crash between Turns 3 and 4 continue to overshadow that moment.

“Ten years ago I stood here and I thought it was the greatest day ever, and it turned out to be the worst day ever,” Waltrip said. “I just wanted to come back here this year and honor Dale and thank him and give his fans something to cheer for with the No. 15 car, the No. 15 truck and the honorary (black) paint scheme. I wanted to thank him and his fans. I came here to celebrate his life…I didn’t come to celebrate a win. This feels really good. I’m thankful for this.”

Seven drivers in the 36-truck field exchanged the lead eight times during a race slowed six times for 24 laps. The 10-car “Big One” collected pole-winner Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevy, Busch, defending series champion and two-time race-winner Todd Bodine’s No. 30 Tire Kingdom/Valvoline Toyota and James Buescher, who dominated the early portion of the race in his No. 31 Exide Batteries Chevy.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 19 2011