CONCORD, N.C. – Michael Waltrip didn’t get the finish he wanted in his NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry in Monday’s rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. However, he did get the finish he so deserved as a car owner when David Reutimann and his Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota team gambled and stayed out to score Michael Waltrip Racing its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
“It feels great to get my first Sprint Cup victory as a car owner,” said Waltrip who started the Coca-Cola 600 in 39th position and finished 30th. “This whole season has been great for me. Reutimann has been up front all year long nipping at The Chase. He put himself in a position today to win the darn race. What a call by his crew chief Rodney Childers. All those cars in front of Reutimann had the same opportunity to take a right instead of a left. They all went left and David went straight and stayed on the track. David’s team did the best job out there. They made the best call. He has now won the 50th running of the Coca-Cola 600.
“I truly enjoyed watching David and his dad, Buzzie, celebrate after the race was called,” smiled Waltrip. “I saw their first moment. It was incredible. For me as an owner, it was important for me to hug my driver because it was something I dearly missed when I won my first Daytona 500. I waited for Dale Earnhardt to come and give me a hug. I warned David. I told him I felt pretty good about the rain and I was going to give him a hug. I hugged him because it was going to make up for something I missed out on when I won my first race.”
Rain prevented the Coca-Cola 600 from going off as planned on Sunday, so it took an extra day before polesitter Ryan Newman could lead the field to the green flag. It wasn’t long until Waltrip realized his NAPA team had a lot of work to do in the early stages of the 600-mile race to make their car competitive and yet, rain was constantly a threat. Just seven laps in, rain slowed the action and crew chief Bootie Barker used the opportunity to make an air pressure change and bolt on four fresh tires to see how the NAPA machine would react. Unfortunately the minor air pressure adjustment made Waltrip’s car extremely tight. The best the team could muster on the leaderboard by the 50-lap mark was a top-35 spot, but the NAPA gang was still determined to turn their day around.
The first of three red flags for rain was thrown on lap 73 for almost one hour. Barker rallied his team together and put a game plan in place for when the race restarted. Waltrip brought his No. 55 NAPA Toyota on pit road and the team made air pressure, packer and rear shock changes. Waltrip returned to the track in 39th position and Kyle Busch was the leader. Then on lap 129, Waltrip once again pitted and the NAPA Toyota started to respond favorably. He picked up five positions in as many laps when he returned to the track to run in 34th place. During several stages in this run, the NAPA Toyota was as fast as the leader.
NASCAR threw a competition caution on lap 166 for Memorial Day’s National Moment of Silence. All crew members lined up on pit road and the drivers stopped on the frontstretch and shut off their cars for the tribute. Then several minutes later, it was back to work for the NAPA team. Waltrip was in the pits for four tires and fuel. The stop was completed in 13 seconds putting Waltrip 33rd on the board. Once again, Waltrip was fast. He just needed the track position, but time was running out as rain started to fall. NASCAR called a caution for rain on lap 220 so Barker opted to pit when Waltrip was in 29th position. The NAPA team once again produced a fast stop posting Waltrip in 30th while some teams, including Reutimann’s, opted to stay out. Reutimann’s gamble paid off and after a two-hour rain delay, NASCAR called the race completed at the 227-lap mark. Reutimann’s victory was his first in 75 starts and it also moved him up two positions to rank 13th in the driver championship points standings.
“It’s an interesting world I am living in right now,” said Waltrip to the SPEED broadcast team. “Someone is going to tell me tomorrow that I did a great job. I’ll say, ‘Thank you’ and then I’ll think to myself, ‘I finished 30th!’ I’m the winner and the loser. Looking back, when we started the race, my NAPA Toyota wouldn’t do anything. It wouldn’t turn at all. If my car would have started out like it was running at the end, I would have been on the lead lap and in contention for a top-15 finish. We just need to start races in a better position.”
Waltrip’s other teammate Marcos Ambrose scored 26th place. Rounding out the top-10 was Ryan Newman, Robby Gordon, Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth.
“I think it is important to remember that we have been racing cars for just over two years. This is the beginning of our third season. We are racing against Mr. Hendrick … Mr. Penske … those gentlemen have been racing for over 25 years. We finally have got ourselves rooted and established. We can go out and contend and compete. That is a tremendous accomplishment. We wouldn’t even have a team if it wasn’t for Toyota. But I am just as appreciative to NAPA and the commitment they made to me because thanks to them, I am able to race cars as an owner. Aaron’s is another partner that has made such a huge commitment to me and they just won the Coca-Cola 600! I am so impressed. We’ve got so many other great sponsors like Lowes Foods, Best Western and Coca-Cola. All of my sponsors are the reason why we were able to survive 2007 and contend now.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be back in action at the short track, Dover International Speedway on Sunday. Broadcast coverage starts at 1:30 p.m. ET on FOX. It also can be heard on MRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
Coca-Cola 600 Unofficial Results:
Unofficial Driver Standings:
Reutimann Wins Coca-Cola 600: