DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NAPA Racing’s Michael Waltrip was making his move to the front with just 35 laps to go in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night when contact was made between Waltrip and NASCAR’s reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Waltrip’s Camry slammed hard into the backstretch wall to bring out a caution. The damage sustained during the altercation prevented the NAPA team from finishing the 75-lap race and was relegated to a 22nd-place finish.
“I missed a couple of wrecks by an inch and to make a long story short, I tried to get into a hole that wasn’t quite there,” said Waltrip who started the non-points race in 17th position. “I thought I had enough room to get in and there just wasn’t. Jimmie (Johnson) hit me in the rear and put me into the wall. It broke the right-front suspension. I guess the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota is a little bit wider than I thought.”
Throughout the first 25-lap segment, Waltrip’s NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota ran a little on the loose side. Despite the challenge with handling, the two-time Daytona 500 champion was able to run as high as 11th place. However, to make a run for the win; the driver asked his crew chief Bootie Barker for an adjustment. Barker instructed his team to make air pressure and track bar adjustments during the 10-minute intermission. Fuel and four fresh tires were also completed as part of the service.
When the final 50-lap segment got underway, Waltrip restarted in 14th position and Carl Edwards was the leader. The NAPA driver wasted no time in making a charge to the front. In just two laps, he broke into the top 10. Then on lap 32, a wreck involving Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Casey Mears, AJ Allmendinger and Johnson occurred. The back of Waltrip’s Camry was hit by Biffle. The NAPA Camry was able to be repaired under caution and returned to the track in 22nd position. Denny Hamlin was the new leader when the green flag waved on lap 35. But just two laps later, Reed Sorenson’s car blew an engine to bring out another caution. This time, the NAPA team used the opportunity to come down pit road to top off for fuel since the car was a half-a-lap short from making it to the end of the race under green-flag conditions.
The green flag once again waved on lap 40 with Kyle Busch in the lead and Waltrip in 17th place. As before, the NAPA Camry quickly climbed back into the top 10 after completing lap 42. But while entering the backstretch of the 2.5-mile track, Waltrip tried to tuck back in line and in front of Johnson. Unfortunately, Johnson was not willing to give up any real estate causing the accident that ended the NAPA team’s chance for a solid Budweiser Shootout finish.
“Tonight, I learned I have a great car,” he elaborated to MRN radio’s Steve Post. “I think our Daytona 500 car has that speed. When I was down here last year, I couldn’t drive my car. It bounced. It wouldn’t handle. In order to win this race, you have to have a good handling car. I had that tonight. It just needs to be faster and I think we have one sitting over there in the garage waiting to qualify tomorrow. It should be faster so hopefully we’ll have a good weekend.”
Scoring the victory was Kevin Harvick. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, AJ Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne, Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Kurt and Kyle Busch.
Waltrip’s teammate David Reutimann finished 20th after being involved in several accidents.
Next up for Waltrip and his NAPA Racing team is qualifying for the Daytona 500. Qualifying gets underway tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. ET on FOX. It can also be heard on MRN Radio and Sirius XM Satellite Radio. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Camry will go out 20th out of 57 cars attempting to make the race.