Atlanta: Michael Waltrip preview

* NAPA AUTO PARTS driver Michael Waltrip will make his 42nd start at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) in Sunday's Golden Corral 500. Only Terry Labonte (53), Kyle Petty (50), Ken Schrader (43) and Sterling Marlin (42) have made more starts than...

* NAPA AUTO PARTS driver Michael Waltrip will make his 42nd start at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) in Sunday's Golden Corral 500. Only Terry Labonte (53), Kyle Petty (50), Ken Schrader (43) and Sterling Marlin (42) have made more starts than Waltrip at AMS. The Owensboro, KY native made his first start at what was then a 1.5-mile oval Atlanta Speedway in 1985, driving the No. 23 Hawaiian Punch Chevrolet owned by Dick Bahre. He started 19th, but finished 39th after a lap 92 accident.

* Atlanta, Ga., is home to a majority of Waltrip's sponsor's. NAPA, the long time sponsor of Waltrip's NEXTEL Cup Series car, is headquartered in Atlanta. Aaron's, who sponsor Waltrip's Busch car, and longtime personal sponsor Coca-Cola, are also based in Atlanta.

* Besides being headquartered in the "ATL", NAPA also has a major Distribution Center located in the Georgia capital. The NAPA DC serves 100 stores located in the Southeast.

* The NAPA team will race chassis BD 94 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It is the same car that Waltrip raced a few weeks ago in California, finishing 36th.

NAPA TEAM LOOKS TO REBOUND AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Michael Waltrip and the No. 55 NAPA team hope that lessons learned at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2005 will transfer over in 2006 and get their program back on track. The newly formed Waltrip-Jasper Racing with Bill Davis Racing team showed signs of growing pains during the first three races. Waltrip has suffered through two straight finishes of 35th or worse, which dropped the No. 55 car out of the top-20 in points and into 31st.

Everyone knows there is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel for Waltrip-Jasper Racing. But that light might be closer than one year away. If history does indeed repeat itself, like some say it does, then the Cracker Barrel 500 should be a turning point for Waltrip.

"Last year the NAPA car struggled through the first three races and then went to Atlanta and finished seventh," said Waltrip. "We have once again come out of the box slow, but we feel like everything we learned last year will transfer to this year and we'll have a good run."

The NASCAR schedule throws a little bit of everything at the drivers in the first four races. Because of that, most teams have a pretty good idea of where they stand and where they need to improve. However, a newly formed team sometimes needs a little longer to get everything worked out.

"Four or five races into the year pretty much show a trend," Waltrip said. "If you can't hit your butt with either hand in four races at the four different tracks you run at, then it might be a long year. Now sometimes, some guys don't get all their new team deals figured out for six to 10 races and still go on to have a good season. But you'd like to think you'd have everything figured out by Atlanta. We're still figuring, but we are getting closer."

NAPA AUTO PARTS driver Michael Waltrip on the Golden Corral 500 at AMS...

What are your thoughts on racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend?

"Atlanta is an important town for us to perform well in for several reasons. First, most of my sponsors are headquartered there (NAPA, Aaron's, Coca-Cola) and those folks will be at the race. Second, this is the first high-banked 1.5-mile track we go to and it relates closely to what we will see at Charlotte and Texas as well. Last year the NAPA car struggled through the first three races and then went to Atlanta and finished seventh. We have once again come out of the box slow, but we feel like everything we learned last year will transfer to this year and we'll have a good run."

We have seen great racing and a lot of passing at AMS in the past. What makes it so good?

"Everybody loves it. It's just a fun race track. The speeds are really fast, but as soon as the race starts, your grip goes away and you have to search for a new line. Some cats like the high groove and other stay down low, so there are multiple grooves. We've seen wonderful finishes and really competitive racing."

-wjr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Terry Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Kyle Petty , Ken Schrader