DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the second-straight year, NAPA AUTO PARTS will field two Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas in the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Michael Waltrip raced his way in by finishing third with his No. 15 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota in Thursday's second Duel qualifying race. The result equates to his 25th consecutive Daytona 500 and an eighth-place starting spot.
"A quarter of a century of running this race -- I don't take that lightly," beamed Waltrip, who raced his way in for a coveted starting position. "I never took for granted running one of them, let alone 25 of them. It's quite an honor to not only be in it, but it looks like we can be a part of the show. The car was really fast and it handled great. The end went really well. I feel good about our car -- I really do. And we've got more power coming -- that's a great feeling too."
Waltrip's driver, Martin Truex Jr., raced his No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota in the second qualifier as well. He drove to the top spot with less than 10 laps to go. Unfortunately, a mix of momentum in the chaotic closing laps led to a ninth-place finish. He'll line up 20th on the starting grid for the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
"The only thing that matters is having a partner - a dance partner," Truex Jr. said. "We've been talking about it all week. If you don't have somebody to work with out there, you're really just done. You can't run. We had a good thing working with the 11 (Denny Hamlin) for the first part of the race. Then we got separated and he got with the 18 (Kyle Busch). I was left out by myself until that caution. After the caution, I was able to get up through there on a restart and kind of back myself up in front of David (Reutimann). I found David, got in front of him and just backed up to him. He started shoving me and we stayed together the rest of the day. It's just your friends and where you find them that dictate your fate in the race."
Before the green flag waved, Truex dropped to the back of the 24-car starting field. He forfeited his starting spot of 14th after going to a back-up car due to an accident in Wednesday's practice. Waltrip lined up 11th and quickly received strong support from Reutimann's No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota. They teamed up for the first half of the race to comfortably compete in the top seven.
Truex was the odd man out, but quickly made friends with Toyota driver Denny Hamlin. The duo ran just behind Michael Waltrip Racing's No 15 and No. 00 Toyotas.
The caution flag few on lap 15. The majority of the field came onto pit road for gas only. Truex took two tires to keep pace with Hamlin, but the No. 11 team opted for no tires at the last minute. The change in plans caused Truex to lose his partner and no one to push from behind when he restarted in 16th.
The next 15 laps, Waltrip and Reutimann remained glued together and running within the top-five. The No. 56 managed to stay within striking distance of the lead pack. He caught a break when the caution came out on lap 40. The field bunched back together and Truex found himself drafting with Reutimann. The duo blasted up through the middle of the pack and by lap 53, the NAPA Toyota was the leader and Reutimann was second. The two worked together and mixed it up with Waltrip to contend for the win.
When the checkered flag waved, MWR finished eighth (Waltrip), 20th (Truex) and 24th (Reutimann). Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton won the Duel events.
Sunday's broadcast of the Daytona 500 gets underway at 1 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio Ch. 128.
Duel Race 2 Results: http://www.nascar.com/races/cup/2011/102/data/results_unofficial.html
Duel Race 1 Results: http://www.nascar.com/races/cup/2011/101/data/results_unofficial.html
Daytona 500 Lineup: http://www.nascar.com/races/cup/2011/1/data/lineup.html
How much fun did you have running in today's Duel race? "It was real fun to race up near the front mixing it up with Clint (Bowyer) and Kyle (Busch). I've got to explain to Clint that I'm a little old. I couldn't quite see whether I was clear of him or not yet. So, I got in him a little bit, but he seemed to keep going in a good direction and it worked out for all of us up in the front. I drug the brake a little bit for a lap or two. I could've got up beside Clint and those boys, but I didn't know what to do. I thought maybe on the last lap that I would make that run and then they just squirted away a little bit too much."
What do you think about the racing on the new surface? "I raced here when you ran 207 (mph) and you had to run in a line and you couldn't get near anyone. Then I raced here when you ran 180 (mph) and you're on top of each other. Now, we have a variation of the two. We're in line, but we're all over one another and it's crazy. From the driver's seat I don't know if it's ever been any wilder. It's just different, but we sure do make it entertaining with the run to the checkered. I'll tell you that."
What do you expect for Sunday's Daytona 500? "We know what it's going to look like now. Everybody has been hung up on this I don't know, I don't know stuff. And, we know now what it's going to look like. It's going to look like cars pairing up and fighting toward the front. Just like the move Kyle (Busch) made at the end to give me the spots so he could push -- that was smart. You need partners and you need teammates. I have three teammates so maybe that means we'll be two pair."
Martin Truex Jr.
How important will it be to have another partner in the Daytona 500 with your team owner Michael Waltrip? "It will be better to race because we'll have four cars. We were an odd number there, which is difficult because at some point one of the guys is going to get left out, trying to find another partner. That's where the hard part is. When Denny (Hamlin) and I got separated the first time he went and found Kyle (Busch) and Joey (Logano) was out of the race so they had two team cars. They got together and I was like, 'Okay, Michael (Waltrip) and David (Reutimann) are working together,' And, I'm like, 'I'm screwed. Who is going to work with me?' I was able to snake my way up through there on one of those restarts. Then I got in front of David and then he did an awesome job the rest of the way sticking on me. We made a couple runs to the front to the lead; we just didn't have it timed right. We just got here a little bit too early and at the end they came back and caught us again."
Were there any differences with the changes that NASCAR made? "You can't push the guys long, but it's not a whole lot different. I still think we'll see some changes coming -- that's just my opinion. Maybe, maybe not. I'll tell you one thing, when you get all 43 of them out there it's going to be nuts because it was nuts with 15 or something racing there at the end. The guy behind you is pushing and he doesn't know when he should lift, when he shouldn't lift. The problem is if he lifts then he gets off you everybody blows by you. He doesn't want to lift and that puts you in a bad position because you are getting pushed and you've got to find a hole to get through once you get there. It's crazy."