Michael Waltrip Racing announced yesterday that Michael Waltrip will drive the No. 15 NAPA Toyota in his 25th consecutive Daytona 500 on Feb. 20th.
“This is a very special day,” Waltrip said during the media tour. “Ten years ago I won the 500 in my first race with NAPA and we know February 18, 2001 is a day that NASCAR fans will never forget. What looked to be a storybook ending turned to tragedy seconds later. To mark the 10th anniversary of that race and my 25th consecutive 500 will be quite emotional for me and fans alike.”
On February 18th, Waltrip broke a 462-race winless streak to win his first ever Sprint Cup Series race, the Daytona 500—though everything changed in an instant when car owner Dale Earnhardt died in a turn four accident on the last lap.
Waltrip speaks of the events of that day and other challenges in his life in his new book In the Blink of an Eye, which goes on sale Feb. 1st.
“I’ve spent much of last year writing the book," Waltrip said. "It forced me to put into words a lot of emotions from that weekend and how we and the whole NASCAR world dealt with the loss of Dale. When I got my first copy the other day I told people that I felt like I had given birth. The book has become a part of me and I know fans are going to love it.”
The color will be black and blue, following along the lines of the yellow and blue paint scheme that Waltrip drove for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
“Hard to believe 10 years have passed since that fateful day in 2001 when we celebrated Michael’s Daytona 500 win and unfortunately mourned the loss of our friend, Dale Earnhardt,” Bob Susor, NAPA President, said. “We could not think of a better way to honor our friend Dale as well as mark this milestone in Michael’s career than to bring the NAPA No. 15 back to the Daytona 500 with a special paint scheme. We are hopeful fans, family and friends enjoy the tribute to both Michael and Dale.”
Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was going to avoid getting involved in the madness of it all, though he is okay with what other people are doing, including Waltrip.
"It has nothing to do with me," Earnhardt Jr. said during the media tour. "It shouldn't have anything to do with me. I'm not even in the equation. It's about his life.
"I understand my connection to him and I understand that I might be able to shed some kind of light on what the day means and how it makes me feel, but it really doesn't matter. What matters is we remember him for who he was on the track and what he did for us as individuals.
"I just don't want to in any way overshadow what my father meant to the sport and this opportunity for people to recognize him," he continued. "It's a great opportunity for him to be recognized and remembered, and I want him to get everything he deserves."
Earnhardt Jr. said that all the details are still fresh in his mind, but he would prefer not to talk about it. He did speak about the weekend after, when they got to Rockingham. He said he went to Rockingham because he felt it was his responsibility to go.
"After (the accident), I never wanted to see another racetrack or race car again," he said. "But after about a week, I got to thinking: 'What else am I going to do? My dad gave me this opportunity; I'd be foolish not to (keep going).'"
The first lap crash didn't matter during that weekend, as he said, "It didn't break my heart any worse than it was already broken. I couldn't feel any worse than I was feeling."