HAMPTON, GA –Michael Waltrip and the NAPA Racing team rallied back from handling issues and a damaged splitter on the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry to finish 25th place during Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Their never-give-up attitude enabled the team to remain solidly in the championship points chase. After the fourth race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Waltrip is 16th in points.
“My NAPA guys hung in there today,” said Waltrip who qualified 24th. “They did a great job for me in the pits and helped me gain track position with great pit stops. It was an extremely tough day for us to finish 25th. Our NAPA car was a little loose at the start of the race, but I was able to pass a few people and hang on. But after that, we made changes that really hurt the car. I have never felt anything that bad. Our car was just so extremely loose.
“Our other two cars weren’t much better as they were just a few spots behind me so we need to figure out what we were missing. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll regroup and get ready for a good weekend in Bristol.”
Mark Martin led the field to the green flag and Waltrip maintained a good pace, but shortly after the team’s second stop of the afternoon on lap 64 for wedge and air pressure adjustments, the NAPA team suffered a setback as the caution came out for a tire that rolled off pit road and into the grass by the frontstretch. Ironically, a crewmember from Marcos Ambrose’s team ran out to retrieve the tire and it triggered the yellow. The caution put the majority of the field, including Waltrip, who had just pitted, two laps down to the leader Jimmie Johnson. When the NAPA Toyota returned to the track, the No. 55 was in 26th position.
For the next 150 laps, Waltrip held on to drive a very radically different handling car from what he had during Saturday’s practices. The driver was amazed at how loose his NAPA Toyota was. Crew chief Bootie Barker and his team worked vigorously to fix Waltrip’s issues on laps 105, 161, 189 and 206. Shock adjustments, air pressure changes and spring rubber additions were all part of the plan to get Waltrip’s car back into competitive form. By the 200-lap mark, the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry was back turning respectable laps times enabling Waltrip to break back into the top 25.
“Our best runs of the day came after we got past 200 laps,” remarked Waltrip. “The car was getting better. It was still loose, but I could finally drive it.”
A tense moment for the NAPA team came on lap 267 when former F1 driver Scott Speed made contact with the wall. The entire field had to take evasive action to miss Speed’s damaged car. Waltrip was forced down into the grass causing damage to his splitter. The team went to work quickly under caution to repair the damage on laps 268, 269, 271 and 272. The NAPA Toyota returned to the track battered and bruised in 26th position, but was able to gain one more valuable spot on the track before Kurt Busch sealed the deal to win his first race in 2009. Busch dominated the Kobalt Tools 500 by leading 234 laps of 330.
Meanwhile, rounding out the top-10 finishers were Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr.
Waltrip was the top-finishing driver out of the Michael Waltrip Racing camp. David Reutimann had mechanical issues and had to settle for a 32nd-place finish. As for Marcos Ambrose, he had an engine let go and was relegated to a 38th-place finish.
Next up for Waltrip and his NAPA Racing team is the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 22.
Kobalt Tools 500 Unofficial Race Results:
Kobalt Tools 500 Unofficial Driver Points Standings (16th place/-4 positons):
Kobalt Tools Lap By Lap: