Chicagoland: Michael Waltrip race report

Joliet, Illinois. (July 11) - The NAPA AUTO PARTS NASCAR NEXTEL Cup team is doing their best to positions themselves for a top-10 position in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship. Driver Michael Waltrip's ninth-place finish in Sunday's Tropicana...

Joliet, Illinois. (July 11) - The NAPA AUTO PARTS NASCAR NEXTEL Cup team is doing their best to positions themselves for a top-10 position in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship. Driver Michael Waltrip's ninth-place finish in Sunday's Tropicana 400 has the No. 15 team focused and other teams watching their progress. The team now owns eight top-10 finishes, seven of those coming in the last nine races including the NEXTEL All-Star race.

Waltrip piloted his NAPA Chevrolet from a provisional starting position into the top-25 by lap 29. A long green-flag run placed the NAPA team in the 22nd spot, one lap down to race leader and eventual winner Tony Stewart. When the caution flag finally waved, just short of the half-way point, the No. 15 over-the-wall crew did their jobs perfectly and quickly returning Waltrip near the front of the pack to try to get his lap back. This became the turning point for the NAPA team.

The hard work paid off. On the lap 126 restart, the cars directly behind Waltrip made contact causing the biggest wreck of the afternoon. Waltrip was in front of the leader when the caution flag waved and was given his lap back.

Waltrip and crew made chassis and air adjustments throughout the day as the track conditions tightened. Never completely satisfied with the performance of the car, the team stayed attentive and were diligent in their efforts to make the NAPA car faster and faster. Waltrip eventually maneuvered the No. 15 car into the top-10 and finished ninth.

"Positioning Michael up front on that (lap 126) restart was a huge part of how we were able to score another top-10," said crew chief Slugger Labbe. "Michael was up on the wheel and the team had their heads in the game. It was cool to have a bad day and finish ninth."

"We battled all day long after a bad starting position," Waltrip said. "I think the highest position we held all day long was ninth, and we took that with just two laps to go, so it wasn't an easy hill to climb. We didn't have the car handling like we needed it to, but we were better than most and persistent. I am happy with the communication between Slugger and me, and I am proud of the whole team and their effort on pit road. They were flawless on pit road again and helped me gain positions every time we came in to pit."

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points battle tightens as team's focus of the coveted 10th position. The NAPA team wants that spot more than anything else right now - along with at least eight other teams. Currently in the 18th position, the No. 15 car is 75 points out of 15th and 213 points out of 10th, it may seem far fetched to reach the top-10 in seven races, but the NAPA team continues to close the gap.

Waltrip and team have more than just the top-10 to motivate them. NAPA AUTO PARTS announced today they will continue their sponsorship of the No. 15 team and driver through 2005.

"Driving the NAPA Chevy the last four years has been the best time in my racing career," Waltrip said. "NAPA embraces our sport as much as any sponsor in the industry. Their dedication to NASCAR and DEI is unmatched and I am the lucky guy that gets to represent them.

"The guys that make up the No. 15 team complete the NAPA package. I never thought I would meet anyone that was as dedicated to winning as I am. Slugger has a 'win at all cost' attitude, which has saturated the NAPA team. As a driver, that is all I can ask."

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series has a weekend off before heading to Loudon, N.H., for the New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Michael Waltrip