Waltrip Steers the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota to a 23rd-Place Finish at Texas Motor Speedway


It was looking like Michael Waltrip Racing and its alliance with JTG-Daugherty Racing was going to produce two top-five finishes during Sunday’s Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, the fuel cells of David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose went dry in the closing laps that relegated the drivers to 15th and 16th-place finishes. As for NAPA Racing’s Michael Waltrip, he had plenty of gas to cross the finish line in 23rd position. He remains 32nd in the owner points standings -- just 77 markers out of the top 30.

“My NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was loose all day,” said Waltrip, who started the Dickies 500 in 40th position. “I appreciate the effort that Gene (Nead) and all the guys did for me today, but after working on the car since Friday, it still did not handle the way I needed.

“This isn’t the season I had wanted. Right now, my goal is to finish in the top 30 in owner points. We closed in on that today so that’s a good thing.”

The big story of the 334-lap race occurred just three circuits into the event. That’s when championship points leader Jimmie Johnson crashed after making contact with Sam Hornish Jr. in Turn 2. Johnson’s car sustained significant damage. After one hour of repairs in the garage, he was back on track to finish 38th. His points lead was drastically cut from 184 points to 73 over teammate Mark Martin.

Waltrip’s race saw him battling a very loose NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. The team struggled over the course of the weekend to find a setup that the two-time Daytona 500 winner was comfortable with. On Sunday, a whole new combination was under the car. When the race started, it was a handful. It was loose in the corner, skated through the middle and plowed off. The first caution involving Johnson provided the NAPA team with two opportunities to come down pit road to make major repairs. Spring rubber, track bar, wedge, air pressure and packer changes were made. Waltrip returned to the track in 36th position. Jeff Gordon was the leader.

The NAPA team found themselves down two laps by lap 124. The wave-around strategy was put into place after a debris caution was thrown on lap 167. Waltrip restarted in 30th position, one lap down to the leader Kyle Busch. The strategy paid off when two circuits later, the yellow flag was out after Juan Pablo Montoya crashed. Gordon and Carl Edwards were also involved. The NAPA team went back to work by pitting two times on laps 177 and 178 that included a toe adjustment. Waltrip took the green flag in 28th position and Kurt Busch was the new leader. On the restart, the adjustment seemed to help as Waltrip picked up two spots on the track to run in 26th position.

The fifth caution of the event came out after the 43 car had a problem. Waltrip came over the radio to say his car was running better in the corner but still not great. The toe adjustment made him push on exit, but the car also improved going over the bumps. The team decided to gamble again on the wave around. It put Waltrip back on the lead lap and in 20th position. Unfortunately, a caution would not be thrown before the team had to pit for fuel. Waltrip was forced onto pit road under green on lap 241. It cost him a lap, but put him in a fuel window that consisted of only one more stop. For many of the frontrunners, if the race went green the rest of the way, they would need two more services. 

The NAPA team’s final stop took place on lap 299 for fuel and fresh tires. Waltrip was running in 28th, but sitting in a good position to gain more spots as he was good to go on fuel. As expected, final stops for gas started to take place on lap 313. Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., all had to duck onto pit road. Reutimann soon followed on lap 329.

With three laps to go, Ambrose, running in second, was out of gas and forced to pit for fuel along with the leader, Kyle Busch. Kurt Busch was next in line and inherited the lead. He was good to go on fuel to win the Dickies 500.  

Rounding out the top-10 were Denny Hamlin, Kenseth, Martin, Kevin Harvick, Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Biffle, Jeff Burton and AJ Allmendinger.

Next Sunday the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back out west to the Phoenix International Raceway. Broadcast coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC, MRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.

Unofficial Results:
http://www.nascar.com/races/cup/2009/34/data/results_unofficial.html

Lap By Lap:
http://www.nascar.com/2009/races/lapbylap/11/08/lap.by.lap.texas2/index.html