INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 5, 2000) - For several years, Darrell Waltrip has had to endure an endless barrage of criticism suggesting that his time in stock car racing had come and gone. On Saturday, he answered everyone by letting his driving speak...
INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 5, 2000) - For several years, Darrell Waltrip has had to endure an endless barrage of criticism suggesting that his time in stock car racing had come and gone. On Saturday, he answered everyone by letting his driving speak for him.
After starting on the outside of the front row at the Brickyard 400, Waltrip overcame some pit-stop problems by working his way back through the pack to finish 11th. Waltrip, who plans to retire after the 2000 season, hadn't finished that high since a sixth-place showing at Pocono in June 1998.
"The fun meter was way up there today," Waltrip said after he climbed from his No. 66 Route 66/Big Kmart Ford. "There's people who have been saying I need to quit and I shouldn't race anymore and all that kind of stuff. Now there's just a shadow of a doubt. Maybe they'll reconsider that."
The three-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion is a winner of 84 races, but none since September 1992, prompting some people to suggest he had lost the ability to compete on stock car racing's premier circuit.
The 53-year-old driver's so-called "victory tour" had become a litany of qualifying and race-day struggles, marked by repeated provisional starts, missed fields and an inability to finish anywhere but several laps down and in the back half of the grid.
"It's been kind of boring," Waltrip said after Saturday's race.
In recent weeks, however, there has been evidence of a change. Waltrip was coming off his best finish of the season, a 22nd at Pocono, and he shocked everyone by nearly winning the Bud Pole at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Troubles on his second pit stop Saturday dropped Waltrip to 29th for the restart, but when the race went back to green, he used the next 37 laps to surge to 13th.
He spent the rest of the day running anywhere between ninth and 13th.
Waltrip said he purposefully never asked what happened on the pit stop that dropped him so far back in the pack.
"When you have something not go well, the driver has to be real careful," he said. "He can just hurt the morale so bad if you start raising Cain. So I didn't ask. I just knew we had a good car, and I felt like we would work our way back somehow, and fortunately we did."
Waltrip shrugged when asked what has changed for his team in recent weeks.
"Everybody's getting better on this team," he said. "They keep working hard and changing things around. The cars are getting better, and the driver seems to be maturing a little bit as well."
The new, improved Waltrip hasn't escaped the notice of his competitors.
Rusty Wallace, who led four times for 110 of the 160 laps and wound up second behind Bobby Labonte, said he thought he would test Waltrip early in the race, but instead found himself unable to keep pace.
"He ran better today than I've seen him run in a long time," Wallace said. "I'm happy for him."