JOLIET, Ill. – A good call in the pits by crew chief Bootie Barker and smart driving by Michael Waltrip helped the NAPA AUTO PARTS team rally back from a disappointing start to Saturday night’s LifeLock.com 400 to finish 20th place at Chicagoland Speedway. The top-20 result moved Waltrip up to 30th position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup owner points standings.
“We finished 20th and David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose finished 12th and 11th,” said Waltrip who started the LifeLock.com 400 in 37th position. “The whole MWR organization looked pretty good out there on the track at Chicagoland Speedway. Trevor Bayne started it off by finishing 12th in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday night. Then all three of our Cup cars had top-20 results. It was a pretty good weekend for us.
“We are still a couple of rungs down the ladder from where we need to be. It is obvious that Hendrick Motorsports has it going on. They are all over it. David is still in contention for that top-12 spot in points to be a part of The Chase. We will keep plugging away and find out what we need to do to get those MWR cars better.”
Brian Vickers led the field to the green flag for the fifth time this season. However, it was not long until Mark Martin showed everyone that he was the class of the field. Meanwhile, Waltrip’s car on the other hand, was extremely loose on throttle so when the first caution of the day came out on lap 39 for debris, Barker called his driver in for a wedge and air pressure adjustment. The NAPA Toyota took the restart in 32nd position and Mark Martin was the leader.
The loose-handling condition continued causing Waltrip to lose several positions on the track. The next chance to work on the car came under green on lap 94. This time track bar was added to the help tighten up the car. It caused the NAPA Toyota to improve slightly and enabled Waltrip to run in 33rd.
A second caution for debris was thrown on lap 131. The NAPA driver requested a significant adjustment to help him out on the track so Barker added spring rubbers to the left rear of the car. When the green flag waved on lap 136, Waltrip was 34th and Martin remained the leader.
The NAPA team opted to take a gamble and stay out when the third caution of the race happened on lap 211. Barker and his driver felt there was a good chance that another caution would be triggered during the double-file restart. What they needed was simple -- a yellow flag thrown before Waltrip was forced to pit for fuel. If it happened, the NAPA team would regain one of their two laps back. Their decision paid off. On lap 219, Sam Hornish Jr. lost control of his car on the backstretch. The NAPA team went from 33rd to 26th due to the strategy.
The final 50 laps saw three more caution flags to slow the race down on laps 227, 246 and 261. The team chose to pit on two of those occasions to help Waltrip’s car. Each time his car got more manageable. It also allowed him to contend for positions just outside the top-20. Then the final 15 laps saw an exciting shootout between Jimmie Johnson, Brian Vickers, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Mark Martin.
“I thought they were going to crash,” said Waltrip to his spotter Ty Norris. “I let off figuring they were wrecking but then they didn’t. It was wild running up through there.”
Despite their efforts, none of the drivers who took over the top spot for brief moments could keep up the pace with the veteran Martin. He retook the lead for the final time on lap 251 to collect his series-best fourth victory of the season. As for Waltrip, he got the job done to pick off six more positions before the checkered flag waved to score 20th place.
As for Waltrip’s teammates, JTG-Daugherty Racing’s Marcos Ambrose led the way. He finished 11th. As for David Reutimann, he also battled an extremely loose car. He collected 12th place. He currently sits in 14th position in the championship standings – less than 80 markers out of The Chase.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is off this weekend. Waltrip will be in the broadcast booth in Kentucky with Rick Allen and Phil Parsons for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event on Saturday. It can be seen starting at 6:30 p.m. ET on SPEED.
LifeLock.com 400 Unofficial Results:
LifeLock.com 400 Lap By Lap: