FORT WORTH, TX. – Michael Waltrip and the NAPA Racing team finished 24th in Sunday’s Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry was fast during the first half of the race, but struggled with less than 100 laps to go. Crew chief Bootie Barker got the balance back for Waltrip’s final run to help the driver pick up two positions on the track before the checkered flag waved. The NAPA team’s finish puts Waltrip 21st in the championship points standings – just 54 markers out of 15th place and only 114 shy of a coveted Chase position.
“It’s a shame what happened to us out there today,” said Waltrip after climbing out of his NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry. “We had a very good balanced car for the first part of the race. It was a top-15 car. We got down a lap, but felt confident we could race our way back onto the lead lap by how well the car drove. Somehow we lost the handling on it. We kept working on it and made some adjustments at the end that got the NAPA Toyota back to being a pretty good car.
“We just need to keep working hard and improve. It’s unfortunate because I feel like we wasted a good day. But we’ll review our notes, work through it and find out what hurt the car so that we keep moving in the right direction.”
On the pole for the Samsung 500 was Michael Waltrip Racing’s David Reutimann. He led the field to the green flag and immediately went into battle with the points leader Jeff Gordon. Reutimann went door-to-door with the champion and was able to drive past him to lead 40 of the first 50 laps. As for Waltrip who started in 34th position in his NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry, his car was loose in and tight off the corners. Despite the car’s balance, it started to show some muscle as it generated competitive lap times at the 30-lap mark. It enabled Waltrip to pass seven cars to race in 27th position before the team’s first green-flag pit stop took place on lap 52. The service took just 13.9 seconds for four fresh tires and fuel.
Waltrip’s Toyota picked up the pace even more as Barker informed his driver that he was as fast as the new leader Matt Kenseth by lap 75. Then 10 laps later, the No. 55 machine was going door-to-door with Kenseth as the only thing Waltrip was lacking was favorable track position on the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Eventually, the No. 55 machine lost a lap, but not without a fight and in close range of racing back onto the lead lap.
Debris would soon bring out the next caution on lap 96. Waltrip was one position short of getting his lap back. Barker told his driver to pit for four fresh tires and fuel. Unfortunately, Waltrip overshot his pit and had to put his car in reverse to get back into his pit box.
“It was my fault,” said Waltrip to his team over the radio. “I lost sight of my pit sign.”
Barker encouraged his driver and team to keep digging when the race resumed on lap 102 with Waltrip in 35th place. Like before, Waltrip’s NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was fast and by lap 145, he was once again as fast as the frontrunners. The driver raced his way up through the field to make up the positions he had lost in the pits. Meanwhile, while running 28th, the team completed another pit stop under green. As before, no adjustments were made to the car. In 13.42 seconds, the crew changed four tires and added fuel.
At the 160-lap mark, Waltrip’s car started to lose some of its balance. While running in 25th position, the driver came over the radio to report a loose condition. Then on lap 186, his car started to develop a bad push. A chance to make adjustments came under green-flag conditions on lap 207. Air pressure was changed. Waltrip returned to the track in 27th, but the severe push persisted despite the adjustments made to the car.
When the third caution of the day came out on lap 220, Waltrip was in 24th position. The pit crew went back to work to make more air pressure changes and add a track bar adjustment to the mix. The stop took only 14 seconds. The race resumed on lap 225 and it wasn’t long until the driver came over the radio to inform the team that his car remained a real handful. Fortunately, the green-flag run was interrupted after Sam Hornish Jr. lost control of his car. Barker used the opportunity to regroup and implemented more changes. Another fast service equated to 12.9 seconds. It helped Waltrip gain a position on the track to run in 23rd on the restart at lap 236.
Waltrip’s car still would not respond favorably until the final stop of the day was completed on lap 306. Air pressure adjustments were made. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry took the final restart on lap 308 in 26th position, two laps down to the leader Gordon. Changes made to the No. 55 machine help put it back in competitive form. In the final 25 laps, Waltrip was able to pass two cars on his lap to finish 24th place.
Jeff Gordon scored his first victory of 2009 ending a 47-race winless streak. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Stewart, Kenseth, Mark Martin, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards.
Michael Waltrip Racing’s David Reutimann rallied back from a one-lap penalty for pitting outside his pit box to finish 11th. Reutimann remains in 11th place in the championship points standings. Only six points separate him from Kasey Kahne in the 10th spot. Meanwhile Marcos Ambrose had a top-15 run going despite have an issue with his throttle. However, on lap 216, he lost a motor and was relegated to a 40th-place finish.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is off this coming weekend, however, Waltrip will be on track participating in the Nationwide Series event at Nashville Superspeedway where he won in April 2004. Broadcast coverage starts at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN. It also can be heard on MRN and Sirius XM Satellite radio networks.
Samsung 500 Unofficial Race Results:
Samsung 500 Unofficial Driver Points Standings (21st place/ -4 positions):
Samsung 500 Lap-By-Lap: