DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was a mixed bag of results for NAPA AUTO PARTS, which fielded two cars for Michael Waltrip Racing during Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Michael Waltrip, driving the No. 15 NAPA Toyota, hoped to back up Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, but contact with teammate David Reutimann on lap 28 triggered a multi-car crash. The two-time Daytona 500 champion's Toyota sustained too much damage to continue. Waltrip finished his 25th-consecutive "Great American Race" in 40th place.
"The same thing happened twice," said Waltrip, who started eighth. "I was talking to Kyle (Busch) on the radio and we get there and at the last minute he says, 'I'm going to the middle.' Well, I'm pushing him and he says he's going to the middle and he goes and it spins him out. I have to know a little bit ahead of time. With Dave (David Reutimann), he warned me. He said, 'I don't know what I'm going to do, chill out.' So I was barely against him and then he said at the very last minute, 'I'm going to the middle.' They make that quick move and it just spins them out. I've been doing this all week and I haven't spun anyone out. I'm involved in both of them and I don't know what I could have done differently. I was talking to the dudes and I just hate it -- my cars got tore up and you had to be aggressive so early. Maybe you don't. Probably, now you can see that waiting around would have been a good idea.
"I got blessed Friday night and I just wanted to say thank you and that's what this week was all about. I got to say thank you that night and I really wanted to say thank you again today, but it didn't work out. You did see some crazy stuff today. A lot of people don't get it. This is the Daytona 500 and we've been sleeping all winter waiting for this race and I woke up this morning -- a beautiful day. The crowd is amazing, the stands are packed. All of our sponsors are here - - so disappointing to leave early, but I'm going to become a fan now and a car owner and I'm going to those boxes and try to cheer one of my cars on."
Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr. showed his muscle early on by driving to the top spot for the first time on lap 86. He went on to lead seven more times for a total of 17 circuits. In the closing laps, Truex maintained his competitive form, but during the first of two green-white-checkered-flag finishes, a top-10 finish was wiped away when he sustained significant right-side damage during a wreck triggered by Robby Gordon. The No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota persevered to finish 19th.
"We had a decent day there for about the first 80 to 90 percent," said Truex who started the Daytona 500 in the 20th-starting spot. "We lost our partner, got shuffled back, almost got spun out -- had to come down pit road. We kind of fell way back. Then we were just in the back on one of those last restarts and I don't know what happened off of turn two. The 7 (Robby Gordon) was down on the apron and about spinning out. I got just totally slammed into the fence off of two and there was nothing I could do. It's a shame for all these guys. You race all day -- you race 500 miles and you get wrecked with two or three to go. It's pretty frustrating.
"I have to thank everybody at NAPA and all the guys who work on this car -- the guys at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). We had decent speed. We didn't have one of the best cars out here. It seemed like the Fords could push and push and push all day. I could only push three or four laps -- five laps and I would get hot. I couldn't keep it cool. We have a little bit to work on for next time, but the car had enough speed to be up front if I could just get the right push. I just ran out of teammates at the end."
During the opening laps, the two-car draft proved to be the quickest way around the superspeedway. Waltrip chose to team up with teammate David Reutimann while Truex worked with JTG Daugherty Racing's Bobby Labonte. Waltrip had a close call on lap 4 when Kyle Busch spun. Then 24-laps later, he wasn't so lucky when his accident with Reutimann happened.
Truex drove a conservative race for the first 75 laps. He ran as high as fifth and never fell below 25th. Shortly thereafter, he drove to the front for the first time on lap 86 with a push from Carl Edwards.
By the halfway mark, he was the leader again, but had a new partner - former MWR teammate Trevor Bayne, who was driving in his first Daytona 500. The duo hooked up to show the field that they were a force to be reckoned with.
With 30 laps to go, Truex lost Bayne as a partner, but re-teamed with Labonte. The 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion pushed the NAPA Toyota into contention, but on lap 177, the No. 56 got shuffled out of the lead pack and almost spun out. Truex made a great save, but lost the lead draft and was in danger of going a lap down. However on lap 197, a caution was thrown for an incident involving Kurt Busch and Regan Smith. It allowed the NAPA Toyota to catch up to the pack for a green-white-checkered flag finish. When the race restarted on lap 204, Gordon lost control of his car and Truex was caught in the melee.
"It was mentally draining out there, but it's no different than anywhere else we go," elaborated Truex. "You have to keep your head in the game all day long and we were able to do that. We were in a pretty decent position there until we got turned sideways down pit road and that kind of screwed our whole deal up. I wish it would have happened earlier so we could have recovered from it."
Winning the Daytona 500 for the first time was Trevor Bayne. Bayne is the youngest driver ever to win the prestigious event.
Next Sunday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Phoenix International Speedway. Broadcast coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio Ch. 128.