BRISTOL, TN. – A tire problem relegated NAPA AUTO PARTS driver Michael Waltrip to a 32nd-place finish in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The NAPA team was hoping to make a charge to front and join teammates David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose, but the team’s challenges were too tough to overcome. Remarkably, Ambrose scored 10th place despite developing an engine problem and Reutimann produced a 12th -place finish.
“We just didn’t have the car like Reutimann and Ambrose,” said Waltrip who started the Food City 500 in a back-up car after crashing in Friday’s practice session. Waltrip and the NAPA team worked hard and rebounded to qualify 21st in a car that ran just a few laps in practice before earning the starting spot. “My car just pushed and I couldn’t keep up. Bootie (crew chief) Barker and the team made great adjustments. We just made a mistake. It happens and it was unfortunate. It was great to see two of our cars running up in the top 10. They did well and were really fast. We can do it too and I hope all three cars will be up front in Martinsville.”
Mark Martin led the 43-car field to the green flag for the second time this season. However, it wasn’t long until Kyle Busch showed the competition that he was going to copy his NASCAR Nationwide Series performance of the previous day, but close the deal with a win. Meanwhile, Waltrip’s back-up car was competitive, but had handling issues similar to what he battled during Saturday’s two practice sessions. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was tight in Turns 1 and 2. Opportunities to work on the No. 55 happened under caution on laps 28, 64 and 125. Barker had the pit crew make air pressure and wedge adjustments to help free up the NAPA Toyota. However, air pressure seemed to help the most. During the first 100 laps, Waltrip ran comfortably in the top 25, but needed a little more assistance in order to join his teammates who were both running in the top five.
The fifth caution of the Food City 500 was thrown on lap 189. Barker kept his driver out to gain five valuable bonus points. Then on lap 193, Waltrip brought his NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota down pit road for another air pressure change. When the race went back to green, Kyle Busch was the leader and Waltrip was scored in 26th position, the last car on the lead lap.
While running in the top 25 just past the 300-lap mark, Waltrip radioed in to report his right front tire was going down. He was called in on lap 312. The time on pit road cost Waltrip four laps to the leader and just as he was getting back up to speed, the caution flag was thrown on lap 319 for debris after another competitor blew a tire.
For the remainder of the Food City 500, Waltrip raced Matt Kenseth for position. He passed the 2009 Daytona 500 winner with forty laps to go and was able to hold him off during the green-white-checkered flag finish despite Kenseth taking on four fresh tires at the final caution.
Kyle Busch dominated and went on to win his second NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ambrose.
Waltrip’s disappointing finish dropped him to 21st position in the driver and owner standings but the points are extremely close. The NAPA team is just 40 points out of the top 15 and 78 points out of The Chase.
Next up for Waltrip and his NAPA Racing team is the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, March 29. Broadcast coverage starts on FOX at 1:30 p.m. ET. It also can be heard on MRN and XM Satellite radio networks.
Food City 500 Unofficial Race Results:
Food City 500 Unofficial Driver Points Standings (21st place/-5 positons):