Michael Waltrip seems to be building a first-class NASCAR team, but he will no longer lead the charge from behind the wheel.
A winner of four official races and four poles in his Sprint Cup career, Waltrip will compete in only a few races as a driver this year. He will turn over his NAPA Chevrolet to Martin Truex Jr., with the Toyota’s number changing from 55 to 56. Waltrip will enter his own No. 51 at Daytona International Speedway in the Budweiser Shootout and Daytona 500 this weekend.
"When I think about going to Daytona, I get excited because I know how to win that race," said Waltrip, who won the 500 in 2001. "I finished seventh at Talladega this past October and seventh in the Daytona 500 last year. I know I can go win that race, and that makes me smile.
"When I think about California and Vegas, I just haven’t performed at the level that makes me say, ‘I’m going to go out there and do the same thing.’"
Michael Waltrip Racing fields Toyotas for Truex, David Reutimann and, by a cooperative arrangement, Marcos Ambrose. The team is co-owned by Waltrip and Robert Kauffman.
Reutimann nearly made the Chase for the Sprint Cup last year and gave MWR its first victory in one of NASCAR’s more prestigious races, the Coca-Cola 600 at (now) Charlotte Motor Speedway. Waltrip said he expects at least one of his drivers to make the Chase this year.
"I couldn’t have sat in front of you in January 2009 and said that, because there wasn’t any history to support it," he said. "But we have the history now to say it’s a real possibility."
Michael is the younger brother of three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, now a Fox television analyst. He plans to compete this year in occasional Camping World Truck Series races with Billy Ballew Motorsports.
Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston, N.C., Gazette since 1993. E-mail him at email@example.com.