AVONDALE, Ariz. – Michael Waltrip Racing had a prosperous weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. The organization announced contract extensions with Toyota and Best Western along with a multi-year partnership with Gary and Blake Bechtel that puts driver Trevor Bayne in the No. 99 Nationwide Series Toyota in 2010. The same held true for driver Michael Waltrip as his team had solid practice sessions and an 11th-place starting spot for Sunday’s main event. His NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was fast in the race but, a wreck on the restart on lap 119 ended the team’s chance for a top-15 finish. The two-time Daytona 500 champion was able to get back on track after repairs to finish in 36th position.
“It was a great week for MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing),” said Waltrip. “We announced our Toyota extension and Best Western coming back to our team as a sponsor. I’m really proud of the effort our team put together, but disappointed in the end result, obviously.
“We lost power steering so we pitted twice during the caution to try and fix it. It put us midway in the pack. The guys in front of me messed up and got together. I slowed down and because I still didn’t have any power steering, I tried to turn right at the last second to miss the 96 (Erik Darnell), but I couldn’t turn. A couple guys passed me and it caused them to get in it. Ty, my spotter, said it wouldn’t have mattered if I had power steering or not. I was doomed. That’s what happens when you get caught in the back. It’s a shame, but the NAPA Toyota was strong.”
Martin Truex Jr., who will be driving the No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota next season, led the field to the green flag. Waltrip was in close pursuit during the first green-flag sequence. His only complaint was the right-side tires had too much air in them. Waltrip ran comfortably in the top 15 before making his first stop for four tires and fuel on lap 70.
Not long into the next run, Waltrip lost his power steering. It was a handful, but he persevered until the first caution of the day was thrown for debris. Crew chief Gene Nead brought Waltrip in for service on laps 116 and 117. The team put on four fresh tires and added fuel. The second stop saw the crew add power steering fluid. Waltrip returned to the track in 24th position.
The race returned to green on lap 119, but the restart was anything but clean when Brad Keselowski was hit from behind. Waltrip had nowhere to go and was collected in the mess. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota sustained significant damage to the front of the car and was forced to go behind the wall for repairs. The NAPA team’s hard work enabled Waltrip to refire the engine on lap 171.
For the remainder of the race, the NAPA Toyota was on track going from 39th to a 36th-place finish.
As for Waltrip’s teammates, David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose, their finishes reflected the type of car Waltrip had before his accident. They finished 10th and 11th, respectively,
Meanwhile, points leader Jimmie Johnson rebounded from last weekend’s crash to win his third victory of the season. His lead over teammate Mark Martin is 108 points heading into the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Following Johnson to the finish line to round out the top 10 were Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon and David Reutimann.
Next Sunday, it’s NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It gets underway at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC, MRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.