Las Vegas: Michael Waltrip race report

Waltrip Settles for 22nd after Seeking Jackpot Las Vegas (March 3) - Slot machine players were not the only ones looking for the big payoff in Las Vegas Sunday. 43 NASCAR Winston Cup drivers including NAPA's Michael Waltrip were also looking to...

Waltrip Settles for 22nd after Seeking Jackpot

Las Vegas (March 3) - Slot machine players were not the only ones looking for the big payoff in Las Vegas Sunday. 43 NASCAR Winston Cup drivers including NAPA's Michael Waltrip were also looking to hit the UAW-DAIMLER CHRYSLER 400 jackpot.

The odds looked good for Waltrip after qualifying fifth for the third race of the 2002 season. Waltrip was Chevrolet's top-qualifier, the only Monte Carlo in the top-10.

"It's a really fun track to drive when you've got your car right," said Waltrip. "You just really go. We were trying to be on the front row. (Jimmy) Spencer and I have really big feet and this is a track where if you've got big feet to just lay on the gas. What a great driving car. We had a pretty good lap. Anytime you go out and do your job and you wind up that close to the front, you can't complain. I'm happy. I like this track and I'm just looking forward to racing Saturday and Sunday."

The NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevy fell quickly back in the field at the start of the Winston Cup race. The No. 15 car was "way too loose" according to its pilot. "I am going to spin out if we don't get this car fixed fast," radioed Waltrip to his Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI) crew on lap six. "I can't turn the wheel at all in the center of the corner. It's too loose."

The caution flag waved on lap 10 when Bobby Hamilton hit the wall. The NAPA Chevy had fallen back to the 21st position in the opening laps and was determined to tighten up the car. Crew chief Slugger Labbe called for four tires and a track bar adjustment. Waltrip pitted and returned to the race in the 33rd spot as not all cars chose to take advantage of the caution to pit.

The car still did not feel right to Waltrip on lap 29. "Something feels wrong in the back of the car. The car is way too loose under the throttle and is bouncing around more than usual." Labbe asked Michael to hold on to the car and the crew would fix him up during the next caution. The caution flag waved on lap 59. Unfortunately, it waved because the right front tire blew on the NAPA car going into turn three.

Waltrip saved the car from hitting the wall but could not keep the car from loosing a lap to the leaders. Michael went directly to the pits where the NAPA Monte Carlo received four fresh tires and an air pressure change. Waltrip restarted the race 37th, one lap down.

The lap times continued to improve for the No. 15 team. Waltrip passed eight cars in eight laps, but was unable to get to the front to get his lap back.

"The car is much better," said Waltrip, "but I am still a little loose and something still feels wrong in the back of the car."

After much deliberation, Slugger called Michael back into the pits to change the right-rear shock and all four tires during a caution. Waltrip once again returned to the track with a field of cars in front of him. In the remaining laps, Waltrip moved 13 positions to finish 22nd.

"No one gave up today," Labbe commented. "We had a goal today of no mistakes in the pits and we accomplished that goal. We truly worked as a team and we'll return as a team to the shop and find out what went wrong in that car. Michael did a great job of holding on to the racecar and gaining as many positions as he could after that tire went down."

With three races completed, Waltrip is 17th in the point standings, gaining three spots from last week. Waltrip trails Dale Jarrett by nine points and the tenth position by 75 points.

The NAPA team and the Winston Cup Series visit Atlanta Motor Speedway this coming weekend. Tune into PRN and Fox for Sunday's ATLANTA 500 starting at 1:00pm ET.

-dei-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Hamilton , Dale Jarrett , Michael Waltrip