Michael Waltrip hot at Atlanta Sunday - almost too hot ATLANTA, Ga. (March 15, 1999) - There were times on Sunday during the Cracker Barrel 500 that Michael Waltrip was hot, picking up positions as fast as the rundown could be updated. But...
Michael Waltrip hot at Atlanta Sunday - almost too hot
ATLANTA, Ga. (March 15, 1999) - There were times on Sunday during the Cracker Barrel 500 that Michael Waltrip was hot, picking up positions as fast as the rundown could be updated. But then for awhile, "hot" took on a whole new meaning as rising oil temperatures stared the driver of the Philips Chevrolet right in the face.
Waltrip started the 325-lap event in 24th position, but wasted little time moving toward the front. After a pit stop-adjustment 25 laps in, Waltrip blazed his way to the 11th position during the next 60 laps. That advance started with Waltrip's Mattei Motorsports teammates gaining him two spots on pit road, setting the tone for what would be the team's best overall pit work of the season.
"Those guys pulled off some great stops today - especially that first green flag stop," said Waltrip.
From that point on, Waltrip settled in between the 10th and 15th spots on the racetrack, fine tuning his ride for the stretch run. However, as the day wore on, concern in the Philips pit began to mount over a rising oil temperature that reached a critical mark with 200 miles left. The crew worked with the car every available opportunity, removing tape and debris in an effort to keep Waltrip in the mix until the end.
With 75 laps to go, Waltrip and crew chief Bobby Kennedy agreed on a conservation strategy, which proved to be invaluable. Riding 13th in the field, Waltrip backed off until he could race by himself, comfortably ahead of the 14th place car of Kevin Lepage. The clean, cool air gave the Philips Chevrolet the best chance of living to see lap 325, which as it turned out, would be one of the most satisfying laps of the day.
With 20 to go, Waltrip brought his machine to the pits for two tires and a splash of fuel, returning with great track position following his team's 6.8-second stop. As he had done earlier in the day, Waltrip began picking off his competitors one-by-one, pushing the engine concerns out of his mind. Waltrip went after every position that time would allow, putting him in 11th as he took the white flag. He had stalked 10th place running Tony Stewart for the final five laps, trailing initially by the length of the backstretch. But with only 1.5 miles left, Waltrip closed to the rear deck of Stewart's machine. With Stewart as the only obstacle between himself and a 10th place finish, the veteran took a high line through turn four, making the pass that earned him his second top 10 finish in four starts this season.
"I pulled inside Tony going down the backstretch, but I felt like my best chance to get by him was going to be on the high side through three and four," said Waltrip. "I just tried to keep my momentum up, and it worked out. That last run was the best we had been. Our Philips Chevy was good on old tires all day. At times, we were better than the leaders on old tires. After we came in and got those last two tires, we were as good as we had been sometimes on four."
Waltrip now stands ninth in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, just 23 points out of sixth position.