DARLINGTON, S.C. – The “Track Too Tough to Tame”, Darlington Raceway, lived up to its reputation on Saturday night. A record breaking 17 caution flags were thrown for incidents including the No. 55 NAPA Adaptive One Brake Pads Toyota Camry. Just 74 laps into the 500-mile event, NAPA driver Michael Waltrip experienced a catastrophic engine failure. A rod broke piercing the oil pan and causing the No. 55 Toyota Camry to burst into flames. Waltrip quickly brought his car to a stop and climbed out safely. The early end to the night caused the NAPA team to finish 40th place and unfortunately, drop to 28th in the championship points standings.
“The engine just blew up,” said Waltrip who qualified his No. 55 NAPA Adaptive One Brake Pads in 36th position during Friday’s Coors Light qualifying session. “I had a spin earlier in the race and in order for that to cause damage to the engine, you have to kill the engine and turn it over backwards. I kept the motor running the whole time and went on. It didn’t have anything to do with that. Luckily, I had Adaptive One Brake Pads. When the car caught on fire, I got on those brakes and brought it right to a stop – safe and sound.
“When a car catches fire, it’s tense at first. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if the flames are going to engulf the car or if they are going to blow out. When you are going straight, the flames are streaming behind you. If you turn backwards, they come toward you. I was working it and trying to keep going in the right direction knowing it could get bad. Luckily, it was just a flash fire. It went out and I was fine.”
Matt Kenseth brought the 43-car field to the green flag. It was not long until Waltrip informed his team that his car was extremely hard to drive. It was very loose and the two-time Daytona 500 champion was doing everything he could not to spin out. But on lap 21, the NAPA Adaptive One Toyota Camry spun in Turn 4 without getting significantly damaged. Under caution, the pit crew went to work to tighten up the car. Crew chief Bootie Barker called for wedge and track bar changes. Waltrip returned to the track, one lap down, in 41st position.
It took just seven laps for the wrath of the Lady in Black to strike again. This time Casey Mears clipped Brian Vickers. The cars of Denny Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger also were damaged in the altercation. The caution flag was thrown and Waltrip was awarded his lap back. Barker used the opportunity to improve the Adaptive One Brake Pads Toyota as it was still extremely loose. Spring rubber and more track bar changes were made. Waltrip returned to the track in 36th place and Ryan Newman was the new leader when the green flag waved on lap 37. Waltrip’s lap times improved during the run enabling him to pick up five positions on the track. He was posted in 31st place at the time his engine expired.
Winning the Southern 500 was Mark Martin. It was his second win of the season. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Newman, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth.
Overall, Michael Waltrip Racing had a tough night at Darlington. Besides Waltrip’s engine failure, David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose also experienced trials and tribulations as they both made hard contact with the wall. Reutimann suffered a 29th-place finish and Ambrose finished 33rd.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will hold its annual Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway on Saturday night. Broadcast coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET on SPEED with the running of the Sprint Showdown. Then the All-Star Race kicks off shortly after 9 p.m. ET. It also can be heard on PRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
Southern 500 Unofficial Race Results:
Southern 500 Unofficial Driver Points Standings (28th place/ -4 positions):
Southern 500 Lap-By-Lap:
ESPN.com Article (photo of NAPA Adaptive One Brake Pads Toyota): http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/nascar/cup/columns/story?columnist=hinton_ed&id=4154664