BRISTOL, TENN. – Michael Waltrip and the NAPA Racing team had a good run taken away on Saturday night when a tire was cut down with less than 10 laps to go in the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The problem resulted in a crash and a 31st-place finish.
“I am just so disappointed with what happened,” said Waltrip who started the Sharpie 500 in 36th position. “I saw smoke and told the guys about it. Pitting again under that caution to make sure everything was OK was an option, but we stayed out. It cost us a good finish.”
Mark Martin led the field to the green flag and it was not long until Waltrip was moving his way up through the field. By lap 60, he was already in the top 25. Meanwhile, the second caution of the race was thrown when Denny Hamlin had a tire issue. Crew chief Bootie Barker came over the radio to see what Waltrip needed. His answer was pretty simple – nothing. So on lap 66, the pit crew changed four tires and added fuel.
The race went back to green on lap 69 with Greg Biffle as the new leader and Waltrip was in 25th. The NAPA Toyota remained one of the fastest cars on the track as he broke into the top 20 by lap 132. Then three laps later, the caution was back out for debris. Waltrip told the team that he didn’t need any adjustments so the pit crew busted off a 14-second stop for four fresh tires and fuel. Waltrip picked up three positions on the track due to the fast stop. On the restart, he was scored in 15th and Mark Martin was back in the top spot.
The next green-flag run saw Waltrip compete in the top 20 despite the fact that the driver felt the set of tires he had on were not as good as the first two sets. Barker also told his driver that his teammate, Marcos Ambrose, was reporting the same issue. More than likely, the track was changing and the Michael Waltrip Racing cars were running on the tight side.
Another caution was thrown on lap 163. The NAPA team opted to stay out while most of the cars on the lead lap pitted. Waltrip restarted in 13th position and he held his own as his lap times were as fast as the leader.
Then at the halfway mark, Waltrip was on the verge of breaking into the top 10. On lap 357, the pit crew serviced the NAPA Toyota in 13 seconds. Waltrip returned to the track in 12th position and radar showed rain closing in on Thunder Valley. It made its appearance on lap 420 and NASCAR put out the caution flag. Barker kept Waltrip out while the leaders pitted. The NAPA Toyota was posted in the top spot on lap 425 and remained there for eight laps.
Lap 440 saw a multi-car crash take place right behind the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. Sam Hornish made contact with Casey Mears. The cars of Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, and Brian Vickers were also involved. The yellow allowed the NAPA crew to make another air pressure change, bolt on four fresh tires and add fuel. Waltrip returned to the track in 18th and Kyle Busch was the new leader.
The air pressure adjustments made during the last pit stop made Waltrip’s Toyota tighter. So on lap 459, the NAPA crew went back to work to lower the air pressure to free up the car. The stop took just 12.70 seconds. Busch remained the leader and Waltrip was in 17th position. The race resumed and the double-file restart saw close door-to-door racing. Contact was made between several cars including Martin Truex Jr. and Waltrip. Truex Jr. ended up on the short end of the stick to bring out the caution on 478. Waltrip’s left front was smoking so the team pitted on lap 481 to bolt on four fresh tires and pull out the sheet metal. Unfortunately, when the race restarted on lap 486, Waltrip still had a problem on the left side of the car. The left rear tire was rubbing the sheet metal. He held on as long as he could until the tire was finally cut down sending him hard into the turn three wall on lap 491 to end a solid run.
The final five laps of the Sharpie 500 saw Kyle Busch and Mark Martin go head-to-head but it was Busch who had the advantage. He went on to win his fourth race of the season. The victory helped him close in on a Chase birth as he is now just 34 points out of the coveted 12-place position to make a run at the Sprint Cup title.
Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Martin, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Matt Kenseth.
As for Waltrip’s teammates, David Reutimann finished 17th. Ambrose’s third place showing equates to his fourth top-five and eighth top-10 finish of the season.
This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams have their final weekend off. Waltrip is busy doing television. This Week in NASCAR will air tonight at 8 p.m. on SPEED. Then on Friday, he joins Phil Parsons and Rick Allen in the broadcast booth for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at the Chicagoland Speedway. Broadcast coverage of the race begins at 8:30 p.m. on SPEED.
Sharpie 500 Unofficial Results:
Sharpie 500 Lap By Lap: