LOUDON, N.H. – The No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS team rallied from being two laps down to finish 24th on the lead lap after being wrecked early in Sunday’s rain-shortened Lenox Industrial Tools 301.The top-25 result keeps driver Michael Waltrip firmly in 29th place in the owner points standings. The team is now – just 79 markers out of 25th and less than 175 out of the top 20.
“Our car was pretty good at the start of the race,” said Waltrip. “I was really happy as I was moving up through the field. I just got wrecked. The team did a great job when they finally got the time to work on the car under caution (lap 172). They got the car fixed back up and when it was fixed, it was fast again. We made up a lot of ground. We had a good strategy and good pit stops all day. At the end, we just found ourselves in a bind because we really couldn’t do anything cool like Reutimann did. We couldn’t stay out with him because we were going to run out of gas. We just had to take our medicine and settle for a top-25 finish.”
Sunday started with Tony Stewart leading the 43-car field to the green flag since qualifying was rained out on Friday. NASCAR set the starting field by the rulebook. Meanwhile, Waltrip started in 29th and used the first caution of the day on lap 17 to get an air pressure adjustment and four fresh tires as he needed more forward bite. Waltrip returned to the track in 40th position and Kyle Busch was the new leader.
For the next 40 laps, four caution flags were thrown on laps 21, 27, 45 and 60. Unfortunately for the NAPA team, they were involved in the incident on lap 60. Scott Speed lost control of his car and tried to correct it. It caused him to slam into the left side of the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota as Waltrip was running in 28th place. The NAPA team went to work to secure the damaged sheet metal to return to the track in 36th position.
“I encouraged my guys,” added Waltrip. “It wasn’t a big deal because the car was good. I felt we could race our way back.”
The NAPA team needed another caution to continue work on the car, but instead, the race saw a long green-flag run that included pit stops. The lack of extra time on pit road to properly repair the car caused the team to lose two laps over the course of 85 circuits. At that point, crew chief Bootie Barker started watching the weather monitor and began putting a strategy in place to help his team return onto the lead lap.
A light rain started to fall just as a caution was thrown for debris on lap 151. Instead of pitting, Barker kept his driver out as most of the field pitted. The idea was for another caution flag to be thrown before the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota had to pit. The strategy worked as Paul Menard lost a tire on lap 169. Waltrip earned one lap back and in contention for the Lucky Dog as he was racing Menard and David Stremme for the free pass.
The restart on lap 174 did not go well for quite a few competitors as Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun his tires. Martin Truex Jr. had to take evasive action and was drilled from behind by Kyle Busch. It caused a melee that involved Truex Jr., David Ragan, Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and Waltrip’s teammate, David Reutimann. Waltrip also had a little damage to the front of his car as he had to react quickly. It brought out the red flag in order to clear the track. Waltrip was now the only car one lap down.
The race restarted on lap 180 with Jeff Gordon in the lead. Three laps later, the caution was back out when Joey Logano lost a tire. The yellow placed Waltrip back on the lead lap and he was pumped. His car felt pretty good despite all the cosmetic damage.
When the race returned to green, he was in 27th position and his lap times were fast. It allowed him to pick up seven positions on the track when green flag pit stops started to happen on lap 234. Barker started talking strategy with his driver as the service would be their last. They opted to stay out as long as they could with rain looming in the area. But on lap 261, they had to forfeit their second-place position for one can of fuel and two tires. The NAPA Toyota returned to the track in 24th position, but the rain came just five laps later and would eventually cause NASCAR to call the race complete.
Winning the race on a good call by veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli was 19-year-old-rookie Joey Logano. His victory put him in the record books as he is now the youngest driver in the history of NASCAR to win a Sprint Cup Series event.
Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Reutimann, Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Sam Hornish Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne.
Reutimann’s fourth-place finish and fourth top-five of the season helps him close in on the top-12 drivers in the Race for the Chase. He currently sits just 12 points out of 12th place.
JTG-Daugherty Racing’s Marcos Ambrose finished just ahead of Waltrip in 23rd spot.
Michael Waltrip and the NAPA team return to their favorite track -- Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night. The two-time Daytona 500 champion will have a little help as he goes for his fourth victory at the superspeedway. Big brother Darrell will be a NAPA crew member. Broadcast coverage gets underway at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT. It also can be heard on MRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
Lenox Industrial Tools 301 Unofficial Results: