DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Michael Waltrip kicked off the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with a solid seventh-place finish in his No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry in Sunday’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. The two-time Daytona 500 champ was in contention for the win when rain shortened the race to just 152 laps out of 200.
“We might have over achieved a little bit,” said Waltrip who started the race in 27th position in a back-up car. “We didn’t have a great car especially in comparison to my primary car that was wrecked Wednesday in practice. We had to scramble to get in the top-10 so I’m happy with that. If we would have gone back to racing, we might have gotten an even better finish. I didn’t feel like I had the fastest car, but it handled great. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t so fast because it was set up to handle well. I’ll just take what I can get.”
The opening laps of the Daytona 500 saw Waltrip battle both a loose and tight-handling condition. Crew chief Bootie Barker used the competition yellow on lap 25 to make air pressure and track bar adjustments. Waltrip returned to the track in 33rd place and Kyle Busch took over the lead from the pole sitter Martin Truex Jr.
Waltrip’s NAPA Toyota responded well to the changes as he was able to run just outside the top 10 by the 50-lap mark. The driver called over the radio to say the car was very well balanced, but just needed more speed. However, the lack of speed wasn’t the only concern for Barker and the boys. Tire failures slowed the race down two times to bring out the caution on laps 55 (Travis Kvapil) and 119 (David Stremme). Plus, inclement weather was lurking. During the caution periods, the team inspected the tires, bolted on four fresh Goodyears and added fuel.
When the race restarted for the fifth time on lap 124, the NAPA Toyota Camry was 20th and Elliott Sadler was the new leader. Unfortunately, it took just one lap for the race to slow after Brian Vickers tried to put a block on the lapped car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Instead of a clean block, the two touched triggering a 10-car crash involving drivers Kurt and Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Robby Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Scott Speed. Waltrip dodged the melee, and to be on the safe side, Barker brought his driver in to inspect the car, change all four tires and take on fuel.
The green flag once again waved on lap 133 with Waltrip in 20th. The NAPA driver knew rain was on its way so he made another fast charge to the front. He climbed to 11th place when Jeff Burton and Regan Smith got together to bring out the yellow flag on lap 138. Barker kept the NAPA Camry out on track to maintain the track position as rain drops started to fall. Fortunately, the weather improved and NASCAR threw the green flag on lap 143. In just two laps, the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was in fifth position and in contention for the win. Unfortunately, Waltrip’s momentum slowed when Aric Almirola wrecked on the backstretch. The NAPA Toyota was posted in seventh position, but moments later, the rain once again began to fall. NASCAR was forced to call the race completed after being under a red-flag period for 20 minutes.
Winning his first Daytona 500 was former NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Elliott Sadler, David Ragan, Waltrip, Tony Stewart, Reed Sorenson and Kurt Busch.
Michael Waltrip Racing turned in the highest finishes for Toyota in the Daytona 500. Besides Waltrip’s top-10 finish, David Reutimann scored 12th place and Marcos Ambrose finished 17th.
Next up for Waltrip and his NAPA Racing team is the Auto Club 500 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Broadcast Coverage gets underway Sunday at 5:00 p.m. ET on FOX. It can also be heard on MRN Radio and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
Daytona 500 Unofficial Race Results:
Unofficial Driver Points Standings: