TALLADEGA, Ala. – Michael Waltrip knew what to expect at Talladega Superspeedway during Sunday’s running of the Amp Energy 500. After running up front during the first half of the race that included leading, he patiently went to the back of the pack to watch the final 45 laps unfold before making his move. His instincts were right as the winner of the 2003 fall event avoided two accidents that included barrel rolls and in the final two circuits, maneuvered his way from 17th to a seventh-place finish.
“We really had a good car this weekend,” said Waltrip. “I want to thank the NAPA AUTO PARTS team for putting a solid car under me. I was really confident when the race started. We had some issues on pit road. I had a vibration one time. The car shook so bad that I couldn’t see. We finally got it squared away and were all set to go to the finish on gas. I knew I had to save some gas and it caused me to lose the draft. I wasn’t concerned about it because I couldn’t imagine this race going the whole way to the checkered flag without people running out of gas and mainly, people wrecking. It all happened as I expected. We made a really good run in the end and I am glad we were able to get a solid finish.”
The NAPA team’s weekend of preparation consisted of just two practices as rain washed out qualifying. Those sessions on Friday were good indications of what to expect from Waltrip as he was ninth and second on the scoring pylon. When the green flag waved under sunny skies on Sunday, Waltrip started in 32nd and quickly broke into the top 10 by lap 20.
A caution was thrown on lap 50 for an incident involving Kurt Busch. Waltrip was scored in the top spot and used the yellow to come onto pit road for service. The crew changed four tires and added fuel. The NAPA Toyota restarted in 11th position and Elliott Sadler was the leader.
During the next green-flag run, Waltrip radioed in to say he did not like the set of tires the team had just put on. Despite a vibration, he ran in the top 10 before a stop under green was completed on lap 98. A slow stop put Waltrip back in 30th position and out of the lead draft before a debris caution enabled him to catch back up and pit for a new set of tires and more fuel on lap 106. When the race went back to green, the NAPA team was scored in 21st position and Denny Hamlin was the new leader. Unfortunately for Hamlin, his day would come to an end when his engine let go. The NAPA team used the caution to pack the car with fuel on laps 141 and 142. Conservation was the directive to Waltrip from crew chief Gene Nead in case the race would go green the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, a spectacular accident involving Ryan Newman brought out the fifth caution of the event. Newman’s car made contact with his teammate Tony Stewart. It caused him to slide across the track and go airborne. Newman’s car landed upside down on Kevin Harvick’s car before barrel rolling. Other cars involved were Sadler and Marcos Ambrose. NASCAR was forced to throw the red flag so they could get Newman out of his car and clear the debris. Newman was OK but, frustrated over what happened.
NASCAR put the race back under yellow conditions after 12 minutes to set up a green-white-checkered-flag finish. But before the race could go green, several cars had to duck onto pit road as they over extended their fuel window. Waltrip was good to go to take the restart on lap 189 in 17th position. Jamie McMurray was the leader. Unfortunately, Waltrip’s charge to the front for a second Talladega victory was ended when a multi-car crash involving 13 cars that included David Reutimann occurred on lap 190. Waltrip came out unscathed as his impressive drive earned him seventh place.
McMurray remained out front to score his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of his career. Rounding out the top-10 were Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Johnson, Waltrip, Brad Keselowski, Sadler and Bobby Labonte.
As for Waltrip’s teammates, Reutimann and Ambrose, they were both caught up in the wrecks that resulted in finishes of 26th and 34th.
Johnson extends his points lead to 184 markers over teammate Mark Martin.
Next Sunday the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Texas Motor Speedway for the Dickies 500. Broadcast coverage gets underway at 2:30 pm ET on ABC, PRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.