AVONDALE, Ariz. – Michael Waltrip was hoping to turn in a solid performance at one of his favorite tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit – the Phoenix International Raceway. But shortly after the 160-lap mark of the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Saturday night, the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was involved in a crash with driver Robby Gordon. The NAPA team did its best to make repairs in the pits during the caution, but the car sustained too much damage to maintain a top-20 pace. The end result was a 37th-place finish.
“I don’t really understand what went wrong, but I guess I got loose underneath Robby (Gordon),” said Waltrip who started the race in 32nd position. I love to drive and I want to get better finishes for this race team because they all deserve it. We had two cars that finished in the top 15 and we should have been up there with them. I asked my guys to hang in there with me. It’s a long season and I’m not going to give up. Next week is Talladega. I know how to win there.”
Mark Martin led the 43-car field to the green flag and showed everyone that he was a contender. As for Waltrip and his NAPA team, they battled a loose-handling condition during the early stages. The two-time Daytona 500 champion told his team that he thought his car was good, but it had too much air in the tires. The first chance to pit and work on the car happened under caution on lap 57. The team made air pressure and track bar changes. Waltrip returned to the track in 36th position.
Meanwhile, the next green-flag segment saw the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry turn faster lap times enabling the team to be scored in 29th position on lap 98. Four circuits later, debris brought out the second caution. Waltrip told crew chief Bootie Barker that his car was much better. It just needed a little bit more help. So on lap 103, the pit crew made air pressure and wedge adjustments. The fast stop allowed Waltrip to retake the green flag on lap 108 in 27th position. Kurt Busch was the new leader.
Waltrip remained in 27th position when the third caution of the day came out 30 laps later. The NAPA driver told his team that the last adjustments hurt the car as it was now loose. The crew went back to work and completed the service in 13.6 seconds. The pit crew helped their driver gain two positions on the track. The race went back to green on lap 142 with Waltrip in 24th place. Then just eight laps later, the yellow flag was back out after AJ Allmendinger had a problem on the track. Barker used the caution to make more changes to the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. Only air pressure was adjusted. Waltrip took the restart on lap 155 in 26th position.
Waltrip’s bid to join his teammates David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose, who were running seventh and 19th at the time, came to an end on lap 165. While entering Turn 4, his No. 55 machine slid up and made contact with the car driven by Robby Gordon. The incident left both cars damaged. Waltrip’s Toyota sustained the most damage in the right rear. The NAPA team worked on the car in the pits during laps 166, 167 and 169. Waltrip was able to get back out onto the track, but his car was no longer in competitive form as he notified his team that his car was bent. The end result was a disappointing 37th-place finish.
Mark Martin was able to retake the lead on lap 307 to score his first victory in nearly four years. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Reutimann, Sam Hornish Jr. and Carl Edwards.
Michael Waltrip Racing’s David Reutimann scored his second top-10 finish of the season. The result moved him up two positions to ninth place in the championship points standings. Meanwhile, Marcos Ambrose turned in another solid finish by crossing the line in 14th position.
Next up for Waltrip and the NAPA team is the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, April 27. Waltrip knows his way around the restrictor-plate track as he won there in his NAPA machine in 2003. Broadcast coverage starts at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. It also can be heard on MRN and Sirius XM Satellite radio networks.
Subway Fresh Fit 500 Unofficial Race Results:
Subway Fresh Fit 500 Unofficial Driver Points Standings (25th place/ -4 positions):
Subway Fresh Fit 500 Lap-By-Lap: