Daytona II: Michael Waltrip preview

Waltrip Hopes to Serve Notice in Victory Lane HUNTERSVILLE, NC - Florida real estate is quite possibly the most sought after parcels of land in the country, however, this weekend the most coveted spot in the state isn't along the Atlantic or...

Waltrip Hopes to Serve Notice in Victory Lane

HUNTERSVILLE, NC - Florida real estate is quite possibly the most sought after parcels of land in the country, however, this weekend the most coveted spot in the state isn't along the Atlantic or Gulf Coast. Instead, 43 men will race 400 miles Saturday night to raise the checkered flag in a small plot of land within Daytona International Speedway's 2.5-mile tri- oval. There is only one problem. Michael Waltrip owns the Gatorade Victory Lane and the landlord does not intend to lease. That leaves 42 disappointed tenants.

Driver of the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge, Waltrip's 21-year career in NASCAR's premier series is largely defined by his phenomenal success at the sport's most popular track. Since capturing the first victory of his NEXTEL Cup career at the 2001 Daytona 500, Waltrip has won more races at Daytona than any other driver on the series in the past six years. His three wins came in back-to-back-to-back years: 2001 Daytona 500, 2002 Pepsi 400, and 2003 Daytona 500.

With a Daytona victory in 2006, Waltrip would steer a NAPA-sponsored racecar into the track's winner's circle for a fourth time since the partnership was formed in 2001. The No. 55 NAPA Dodge will feature a Stars & Stripes paint scheme in the Pepsi 400 for the sixth consecutive year. A win would place the patriotic NAPA hotrod in Victory Lane for the second time in five years. One thing is certain, when the fireworks begin to crackle and explode above Victory Lane Saturday night, Waltrip hopes to park his NAPA Dodge in his favorite piece of property.

Michael Waltrip Fast Facts.

Michael Waltrip has won three races at Daytona International Speedway in 40 starts ranking him ninth among all-time drivers

Waltrip is one of only seven drivers to win at Daytona from outside the top-10 since 1990 (2001 Daytona 500 - 19th)

Waltrip will make his 41st start at Daytona International Speedway; Waltrip's best start at the track was second (2004) and his best finish first (2003 most recent).

Waltrip's average starting position in 40 starts at Daytona International Speedway is 16.175; his average finish is 19.725.

Waltrip has three wins, six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes at Daytona International Speedway. He has led 346 laps at the 2.5-mile tri-oval; fifth among active drivers.

Waltrip is one of only three drivers to compete in all 74 restrictor- plate races since the 1988 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season; 37 of those races were held at Daytona International Speedway.

In 74 restrictor-plate starts, Waltrip has four wins, 13 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes. He has led 534 laps during those events.

Owner Points: After 16 starts, Waltrip is currently two points behind 36th ranked Cal Wells, owner of the No. 32 car. He is only 99 points out of the top-35 and a guaranteed starting position in each event.

Waltrip's best start of the 2006 season came at Talladega for the Aaron's 499; he qualified in 21st position. Waltrip's best finish of the 2006 season came at Daytona in the Daytona 500 where he finished in 18th position.

After 16 races, Waltrip is currently 35th in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver points standings, 1,245 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. He is 76 points behind 34th ranked Sterling Marlin.

NAPA AUTO PARTS driver Michael Waltrip on the Pepsi 400...

What are your thoughts and earliest memories of Daytona?

"This track has become a part of me over the years. I jog around this racetrack. I think about driving through that tunnel. It becomes a part of you. When I won the Daytona 500 in 2001 it became a bigger part of me, and then again in 2003. I feel like my whole life to some extent has been woven around this place. When I was eight years old we used to load up in the back of our Chevrolet Impala. I used to lie up in the back windshield and sleep while mom and dad would drive all night to get us here in time for the 125's on Thursday. I remember looking at all of those action shots in the Daytona Beach News Journal. It's something I have dreamed about since I was a kid."

What's it like to return to this track after having such success?

"After winning here before, you come back with a fire. You knew what it meant to win that last one and you want it more than maybe the other drivers out there. The coolest thing was after I won the first one in 2001 when I came back in 2002 they started saying 'You're the defending champion in this event.' And I said 'You're right I am!' I wasn't prepared for that type of feeling that it gave me. But it definitely made me that much more driven to come back and win."

What is your game plan for Saturday night?

"My plan is to qualify better than we have this year and try to figure out how to stay up front. The closer I am to the front the more confident I am that I won't be in a crash. Unfortunately, he who is first will be last, and he who is last will be first over the course of this race, so you are going to be in the middle at some point. You just try to minimize the time that you spend in the middle of the pack. If there is a point in the race where your car isn't good, it's okay to go to the back. It isn't going to hurt you. But if you go to the back, you eventually have to go through all that mess to get back to the front. So once I am up front, I like to stay there."

-wr/jr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Michael Waltrip , Sterling Marlin , Jimmie Johnson