“Reflection. It’s healthy.”
Those were the words that Michael Waltrip wrote on his Twitter page late Sunday night.
Waltrip had just tweeted to all his fans that beginning Tuesday, January 26 until February 14, he’ll be reflecting on what are his top 20 moments from his Sprint Cup career. A career that spans 25 years and will end on February 14, the day of the 2010 Daytona 500, the last of two races (the Budweiser Shootout a week earlier) that Waltrip has scheduled.
When Waltrip calls it quits after Speedweeks he’ll step back into the role of team owner at Michael Waltrip Racing, which he founded in 1996 and co-owns with RobKauffman, most likely one of the memorable moments to make list.
In 2005 after leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc he received support from Bill Davis Racing to race his own No. 55 Toyota and has since expanded to three more cars, as well as an alliance with JTG Daughtery.
During the Sprint Cup Media Tour last week Waltrip said that he expects the company to show the world in 2010 and contend to make the Chase. Could be a big year for the 46-year-old driver in more ways than one.
And when he’s not playing team owner NASCAR fans will be able to catch him in the Camping World Truck Series, not only as a Speed broadcaster, but it’s possible that he’ll run multiple races for Billy Ballew Motorsports.
The Speed channel is a familiar place for Waltrip as he’s also appeared on countless shows on the network and will continue to do so.
For now though, it’s not about what could happen in the future, it’s about reflecting on the past. It’s a past that has seen both triumph and tragedy for Waltrip and those around him.
The journey began in 1985, making his Sprint Cup Series debut in the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, finishing 28th in a machine for Dick Bahre. A year later he was in the No. 23 Hawaiian Punch car for Bahari Racing, and in 1987 he captured his first career top ten finished when he posted a tenth place at theMartinsville Speedway.
In 1990 at the Bristol Motor Speedway, while it was a Nationwide Series race, it’ll always remain a memorable moment in the life of Michael Waltrip. While participating in the event Waltrip hit a cement wall and part of the steel gates on the backstretch.
The contact caused the car to shatter in many pieces, but he amazingly he walked away unhurt. Older brother Darrell was at the track watching the whole thing and gave an emotional interview afterward, in which he joked that Michael was definitely a Waltrip because he has a hard head.
He rebounded a year later with Pennzoil now on the hood and after making his Sprint Cup debut at Charlotte, it would be the track that he saw “victory” for the first time in the Winston Open which put him in the All-Star event later that night.
That year also included the first poles (two) of his career.
Even though Waltrip’s accomplishments were now improving he still was searching for his first career win, and in 1996 he joined Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21CITGO Ford. While NASCAR only counts points paying races at official wins, in ’96Waltrip won the Winston, to go along with that win from five years earlier in the Winston Open.
But on this night, he took home the big check.
Taking the lead when Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte made contact while racing door-to-door in turn one. “Wow, that’s big,” he said upon arriving in victory lane. “I ain’t supposed to win this race. I don’t even know what to do.”
What he did was join Mattei Motorsports for the 1999 and 2000 season with the No. 7 Philips Chevrolet before being getting a call from Dale Earnhardt Sr. Earnhardt had his own team, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and he wanted Waltrip behind the wheel of the available No. 15 NAPA car to be a teammate to son Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Park.
Waltrip agreed, and in the 2001 Daytona 500 he finally won his first career race, after 463 loses. Unfortunately, his new team owner wasn’t there to help him celebrate in victory lane, as Earnhardt died on the last lap in turn four.
While that victory is certainly bittersweet, Waltrip will also remember returning to the track in July and embracing Earnhardt Jr. in the infield on top of his car after they finished 1-2 in the race.
During his time at DEI Waltrip won more races at Daytona: the July event in 2002 and another Daytona 500 in February of 2003. Later that year he won his last race to date, at Talladega where he popped out of the roof hatch after coming to rest in the infield grass.
It’s all part of the appeal that is Michael Waltrip and why so many enjoy him.
Now as an owner he’s making new memories, the first notable being his first win as an owner in the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte when driver David Reutimann won the rain shortened event last May.
Martin Truex Jr. joins his team this year and will also be teaming with Marcos Ambrose as the three attempt to bring MWR to bothvictory lane and serious championship contention.
Before that happens we must say goodbye to Waltrip.
Just two more races, two more races of seeing the NAPA firesuit on him, two more races to hear his always entertaining interviews. Just two more races before MichaelWaltrip begins the next phase in his life, to leave behind the driving part, where no one will be able to say he didn’t leave his mark on the sport he loves so much.