BROOKLYN, Mich. – Michael Waltrip and the NAPA Racing team battled a loose-handling Toyota to finish 30th in Sunday’s LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Crew chief Bootie Barker made a series of calls on pit road that improved the NAPA Toyota, which should help the team when they return to the two-mile oval in August. Despite the challenging day, the NAPA team advanced two positions in the championship points standings to 30th position – just 107 points out of the top 25.
“I thought we had a decent car yesterday after final practice,” said Waltrip who qualified the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota in 36th position. “Then in the race, none of our teams really ran all that great. I was really loose and sideways most of the day.”
Toyota driver Brian Vickers led the field to the green flag, but it was not long until Jimmie Johnson showed his muscle and dominance. Meanwhile, Waltrip had his hands full with an extremely loose-handling Toyota. The longer the race was under green, the better Waltrip’s times were against the competition. Then on lap 39 under green, the NAPA Toyota pitted for a track bar and air pressure changes along with four fresh tires and fuel. The service took just 12.9 seconds and Waltrip returned to the track in 33rd position.
The first caution of the day was thrown on lap 73 for debris. The NAPA Toyota was one lap down to the leader so the team opted to stay out in hopes of having the new double-file restart work in their favor. The move had teams on pit road watching the strategy play out. Unfortunately, a caution would not come to fruition so the team had to pit under green in 24th position. On lap 84, the pit crew went back to work to adjust the wedge, bolt on four fresh Goodyear tires and add fuel.
The fast stop and fresh tires helped Waltrip go from 35th to 28th position before the team’s third stop of the afternoon was completed. The NAPA Toyota remained loose, but the adjustments were improving the car without hurting the front-end grip. Barker felt a spring rubber change was needed, but a stop under yellow would be needed to pull off the adjustment. Then on lap 121, the team had its chance as a debris caution was thrown. The crew pulled out the spring rubber and Waltrip was back on track in 33rd position and Johnson remained in the top spot.
The NAPA team opted for another stop under green on lap 170 after the majority of the field pitted earlier on lap 151 under caution. This time Waltrip’s team had a few other teams partaking in the strategy. Barker wasn’t worried since his car was faster than the other cars that followed onto pit road.
In the closing circuits, Waltrip would close in on Sam Hornish Jr. who was running in 29th place, the first car two laps down to the new leader Greg Biffle. The NAPA driver was fast and got within a few car lengths of the No. 77. Unfortunately, the NAPA Toyota was a lap or two short of taking the spot away from the Penske Racing driver and had to settle for a 30th-place finish.
Fans were treated to an exciting fuel-mileage finish that saw Johnson, who dominated 146 laps of 200, run out of fuel as he took the white flag. Then Biffle passed Johnson to assume the lead only to run out of fuel himself. Taking the lead and the win where it mattered the most – the last lap was Mark Martin. It was his third win of the season. Following Martin to the finish line to round out the top-10 were Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, and Clint Bowyer.
“I am happy that we survived and we were able to finish. It certainly was not what we were hoping for. We had a faster car than that. It just wouldn’t get any traction in the turns so it made for a challenging day. My arms are tired that’s for sure.”
As for Waltrip’s other two teammates, they also had a tough day at Michigan. David Reutimann finished 19th while Marcos Ambrose came home in 31st position.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes to the first road-course race of the season, the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway this Sunday. Waltrip will be handing over the keys to the NAPA Toyota to Patrick Carpentier. Broadcast coverage starts at 4:30 p.m. ET on TNT. It also can be heard on PRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
LifeLock 400 Unofficial Results:
Unofficial Driver Standings: