RICHMOND, VA – NAPA driver Michael Waltrip rallied back from being one lap down to finish on the lead lap and in 24th position in Saturday night’s Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Waltrip, driving the Adaptive One Brake Pads paint scheme for his sponsor, battled an ill-handling car during the first half of the race, but by the halfway mark, his car was a top-10 contender. Waltrip’s seventh top-25 finish of the season keeps him 24th place in the championship standings – just 213 points out of 12th and just 75 markers out of 20th.
“All I wanted to do was run a mistake-free race,” said Waltrip who started the Crown Royal 400 in 30th position. “I did that. I just wish my Adaptive One Brake Pads Toyota would have handled better at the end. It pretty much went to pieces as it had no forward bite. It was a top-10 car in my opinion and it’s a shame we couldn’t have gotten that result.”
“Michael drove hard and drove fast,” said crew chief Bootie Barker at the end of the race. “We only had scuffed tires for him to run at the end so he did a heck of a job out there with what we could give him.”
A damp track forced the 43-car field to start the race under caution, but just six circuits later, polesitter Brian Vickers led the field to the green flag. However, it took only two laps for the first caution flag to be thrown as Dave Blaney spun out in Turn 4. Waltrip came over the radio to tell Barker that his car was loose off the corners and not down into the track. Barker put his pit crew to work to make an air pressure change to tighten up the car. Waltrip returned to the track in 41st position.
The next 100 laps saw Waltrip running outside the top-25 and one lap down to the leader Jeff Gordon. Despite the challenge in track position, Waltrip’s lap times in the NAPA Adaptive One Brake Pads Toyota were consistently improving. By the time the third caution flag was thrown on lap 115 for an accident involving Jeremy Mayfield, Barker told his driver he had gained a lot of speed during the last run so more air pressure changes were made. Waltrip went back out in 31st position and Clint Bowyer was the new leader when the green flag was thrown on lap 121.
“We started way far off on the set up in the beginning of the race,” said Waltrip. “But the car was getting much better. Bootie was making good calls on the adjustments.”
Kasey Kahne would bring out the next caution on lap 149 when he spun out on the frontstretch. As before, Waltrip’s car was picking up the pace, but was still loose off the corners. This time, Barker added a wedge adjustment along with air pressure changes. The pit crew completed the stop in 14.2 seconds allowing the Adaptive One Brake Pads Toyota to pick up two positions on the track. The race was back up to full speed on lap 155 with Virginia-native Denny Hamlin in the top spot.
Waltrip’s teammates David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose were running up in the top 15 and the NAPA Adaptive One Brake Pads Toyota was running the same lap times. All Waltrip needed was to get in contention for the Lucky Dog-free pass and that’s exactly what was happening as the race continued on. By lap 300, Ryan Newman was the new leader and Waltrip was racing David Ragan for the free pass. The only challenge for Waltrip was on restarts. It took the NAPA Toyota about 10 laps to get up to speed so Regan was the beneficiary as the next caution came out just seven circuits later when Waltrip’s teammate Ambrose had an accident after Sam Hornish Jr made contact with him. Ambrose’s car was damaged in the rear, but was still able to continue on and remain on the lead lap. Barker opted to keep Waltrip out in favor of track position. When the race returned to green conditions on lap 312, Gordon was once again the leader and Waltrip was scored in 24th position and in line for the free pass. Barker’s call was the right one as Mark Martin, Newman and Martin Truex Jr. got tangled just one lap later.
Waltrip showed his emotions as he cheered over the radio as he was back in the game. This time the NAPA Adaptive One Toyota was brought in for service for just four fresh tires and fuel. The two-time Daytona 500 champion went back out in 22nd place and kept his forward momentum going as he picked up four positions on the track by the time the 13th caution was thrown after Bobby Labonte made contact with David Stremme. The incident also collected Jimmie Johnson and Kahne. Waltrip used the opportunity to come back in for four fresh tires. The race went green on lap 335 with the NAPA Adaptive One Toyota in 16th position.
During this next run, the handling on the NAPA Adaptive One Toyota was once again loose off the corners. Barker felt the track was changing as the night went on but believed Waltrip was better off staying out on the track in favor of the track position. Plus, the large number of caution flags had teams on pit road, including the No. 55, searching for a set of fresh Goodyear tires. Waltrip did the best he could as his car was a handful. The NAPA driver held on as he saw his driver Reutimann and Vickers run into problems in Turn 2. The incident brought out a caution on lap 357. Barker chose to bring his driver in for air pressure and a spring rubber change. The team bolted on four scuffed tires and returned to the track in 24th position. The lack of four, fresh sticker tires appeared to have hampered Waltrip’s attempt to pick up positions on the track. He had to settle for a 24th-place finish.
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch claimed his third victory of 2009 and the Richmond weekend sweep on his 24th birthday. Busch is the first driver since Cale Yarborough to win a Cup race on his birthday. The night before, Busch claimed the Nationwide Series event.
Waltrip’s teammate Ambrose didn’t let his accident on the track faze him as he finished in 11th place. Reutimann didn’t have the same luck as he had a disappointing 28th-place result which dropped him to 13th position in the championship standings.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series once again goes Saturday night racing. This time the Cup boys head to the track “Too Tough to Tame” – Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Broadcast coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET on FOX. It also can be heard on MRN and Sirius XM Satellite radio networks.
Crown Royal 400 Unofficial Race Results:
Crown Royal 400 Unofficial Driver Points Standings (24th place):
Crown Royal 400 Lap-By-Lap: