TALLADEGA, Ala. – Michael Waltrip and the NAPA Racing team outlasted two big wrecks and a finish that saw Carl Edwards run to the finish line after his car went airborne into the catch fence during Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was damaged but managed to finish the race in 21st place after being caught up in a 10-car crash with just nine laps to go. Waltrip’s car wasn’t perfect during the event, but he showed his muscle by running in the top five many times. The result was the team’s sixth top-25 finish of the season. It also moved Waltrip up one position in the championship points standings to 24th place.
“Our day was challenging,” said Waltrip who started the Aaron’s 499 in 31st position. “My NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry did not run as well as we thought it would. It wasn’t as fast as I thought it would be. It bounced around a lot which was really difficult to drive because you have to be precise when you drive right up next to people. You never know what the car will do next. Those issues on the performance side hurt the NAPA team for sure. Nevertheless, we went for a fun slide. That was pretty cool. We survived that. We stayed competitive and stayed up front.”
On the pole for the Aaron’s 499 was Juan Pablo Montoya. However, it wasn’t long until the first of two big wrecks occurred. On lap seven, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon got together. The contact triggered a 14-car accident that involved the cars of Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Scott Riggs, AJ Allmendinger, David Gilliland and Brian Vickers. Waltrip came out unscathed while running in 21st position, but opted for four fresh tires and fuel when the pits opened on lap eight.
The race went back to green on lap 13 with Joey Logano as the leader and Waltrip in 22nd. The NAPA Toyota climbed into the top 10 in just seven laps. On lap 22, the 2003 Talladega winner was scored in sixth position. The second caution of the event came out on lap 29 for debris. Crew chief Bootie Barker opted to pit for two right side tires and fuel. Waltrip returned to the track in third position and Kyle Busch was in the top spot. Waltrip got up to speed on lap 35 and was posted in the second spot showing the crowd of 142,000 that he had ‘The Good Stuff’. A tense moment for the NAPA team came on lap 42 when Waltrip took evasive action as the lead pack suddenly slowed. The NAPA Toyota darted out of the pack to slide through the tri-oval. Waltrip did an incredible job to get his car in control.
“I saw the 2 car having trouble,” Waltrip radioed in. “I hate it that I pretty much drove over my teammate (Marcos Ambrose), but I’m glad everything is OK.”
Waltrip’s NAPA Toyota only needed a splitter brace replaced on the left side. The team pitted on lap 43 and 44 to make the repair. Four fresh tires and fuel were also part of the services. Waltrip returned to the track in 28th position. During the caution, Waltrip was patted on the back for his impressive driving by the FOX broadcast booth. Brother Darrell gave him an ‘Atta boy!’ The NAPA driver took it to heart and just five laps later, he was back in contention and in the top 10.
By the fifth caution of the race on lap 85 for debris, Waltrip said the front of his car was starting to give up like it did in Daytona. The team pitted on lap 86 for two right side tires and fuel. However, when Waltrip was leaving pit road, he spun out. He returned back to pit road for four fresh tires. He returned to the track in 33rd place. The next 40 laps saw the NAPA Toyota running consistently in the top 20. Waltrip was using patience and biding his time to make another run to the front. The biggest issue he had with his car was it was sliding the right front and bouncing. The pit crew went to work under caution on lap 125 for four new tires and fuel. The fast stop enabled Waltrip to pick up five positions on the track. When the green flag waved, Waltrip was in 12th and Kyle Busch was first.
The NAPA team experienced a setback shortly after their 10th stop of the afternoon. Waltrip’s car restarted in 30th on lap 150 after the team made two pit stops to prepare the NAPA car for the finish. The track position put Waltrip at a disadvantage as he was behind a group of much slower cars. The slow pack would eventually cost Waltrip the lead draft. The team’s only hope to salvage a finish they deserved was a caution. The yellow was thrown on lap 172 after Kyle Busch lost control of his car. Barker called Waltrip in for four fresh tires. The crew also found a huge piece of debris on the grill which had caused the NAPA Toyota’s temperature to climb. Waltrip returned to the track in 28th when the race went green on lap 175.
With 13 laps to the finish, it was time for Waltrip to go. On lap 173, he was 19th place and picking up steam. Then on lap 179, the second so-called ‘Big One’ happened. This time, Montoya was bumped by Denny Hamlin causing him to hit Bobby Labonte and Robby Gordon. Unfortunately Waltrip was in the middle of it. He almost made it out, but the wrecked car of Jimmie Johnson slid up in front of him.
“With 15 laps to go, we raced up to the middle of the lead pack,” said Waltrip after the race. “I was trying to position myself with a chance to win the race. I’m not sure what happened. I saw Juan Pablo Montoya get sideways. I thought I had a chance to slip through on the outside, but Jimmie Johnson got hit and turned into me. That messed us up. We ended up finishing 21st.”
Waltrip’s NAPA Toyota had the most damage on the left front of the car, but was still drivable. The pit crew got the car back out for the four-lap dash to the finish. What transpired next was a dramatic finish. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pushing Ryan Newman to the finish when Carl Edwards and rookie Brad Keselowski hooked up together. They were able to pass Dale Jr. and Newman. But as Edwards and Keselowski were coming to the checkered flag, Edwards tried to block Keselowski. Contact was made sending Edwards up into the catch fence. Keselowski, who drives for Earnhardt Jr. in the Nationwide Series, scored his first career Sprint Cup Series victory. Edwards climbed out of his mangled car and reenacted a scene from the movie Talladega Nights.
Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Earnhardt Jr., Newman, Marcos Ambrose, Scott Speed, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Vickers, Logano and Jeff Burton. Ambrose’s top-five was his second top-10 finish of the season. As for Waltrip’s other teammate David Reutimann, he was on pit road when a caution came out and was put a lap down. He was relegated to a 26th-place finish.
Saturday night racing returns this week as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Richmond International Raceway for the Crown Royal 400. Broadcast coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET on FOX. It also can be heard on MRN and Sirius XM Satellite radio networks.
Aaron’s 499 Unofficial Race Results:
Aaron’s 499 Unofficial Driver Points Standings (24th place/ +1 position):
Aaron’s 499 Lap-By-Lap: