MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Waltrip will start 12th in Sundayâ€™s 43-car field. The 37-year-old driver from Owensboro, Ky., scored a season-best third-place finish on April 9 at Martinsville. He stands...
MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Waltrip will start 12th in Sunday’s 43-car field. The 37-year-old driver from Owensboro, Ky., scored a season-best third-place finish on April 9 at Martinsville. He stands 24th in the series standings and will be making his 440th career start in Sunday’s 600-mile NASCAR marathon. Waltrip, aka known as “Marathon Michael” after participating in the Boston Marathon on April 17, says he plans to run in another 26-miler later this year and wants to break the four-hour mark. He talks about his team, Sunday’s race and other NASCAR-related topics.
“When we drew first before practice ever started, I was OK with that (being one of the first cars to qualify Wednesday night). I’ve studied the numbers in the past, and it doesn’t appear to be a great disadvantage going first here with the time qualifying takes place. I didn’t think it was going to hinder us that badly. Maybe it wasn’t that perfect, but it wasn’t bad enough where we needed to give up. I had a real good attitude toward it. Then it started raining. Then they send the blow dryers out there and Dash cars are bouncing off turn four. When I left to go qualify, you’ve got to think about all that stuff. You’re running 200 mph and by the time you get back to turn one, you’d better make sure you realize everything that’s gone on. When I came off turn four to get the green, my car had stuck real well in three and four, and I was pretty confident we’d be OK. I pretty much put that behind us and ran that lap. It was as good as I could have hoped for under those circumstances, but I didn’t think it would hold up that good. I knew what I had picked up, and I knew a lot of other people probably would, too. Quite honestly, we probably wouldn’t have been 12th, but Terry Labonte had his little bit of trouble and that set three or four of them back anyway. We had a solid effort last night, and I’m looking forward to Sunday. “Look at the qualifying order, Terry went and then a couple of them had trouble. Gordon went and wound up 14th. It was a weird qualifying night. It looked like going early might have been the way to go for awhile. Then some guys came out late and ran good. The conditions were neutral throughout.”
WALTRIP ENDED UP QUALIFYING 36TH FOR SATURDAY’S BUSCH RACE “I always wanted to own my own Busch team. I wanted to learn more about the business. When I got the team, sponsors I had all wanted me to drive. I started driving, and they still want me to drive. One day I would like to let somebody else drive it, and have a team I own. So far, we haven’t worked that out yet. As far as 300 miles on Saturday and 600 miles here on Sunday, it’s absolutely not a factor at all. You go out there and race on Saturday and you kind of get warmed up for Sunday. That’s about all it amounts to to me. It doesn’t hurt. You might learn a line in turn one or two, or you might see things that work for you in the Busch race and then you try them on your Cup car. Maybe it helps. It doesn’t always help, and it doesn’t always relate apples to apples, but it certainly is worth, if you don’t mind doing it, which I don’t. I’ve done it enough where it doesn’t bother me any, and I don’t mind doing it. It’s good experience.”
DISCUSS NEW OWNERSHIP OF WINSTON CUP TEAM “Everybody on the team is very excited about our new owner, Jim Smith. He owns the truck that Mike Wallace drives, and he’s been in racing his whole life. Racing is the most important thing to him career-wise. That’s what he loves, race cars. Bobby Kennedy (crew chief) has pointed out to me on several occasions things that he’s said or done already that Bobby really feels like is going to add to our program. I’m happy Jim is the owner. I think it’s really going to give me more resources to work with. He’ll go out of his way to find out what it takes to be successful in this business. He owns a company called Ultrawheels. They make aftermarket aluminum wheels, and they’re out of California. He comes over quite a lot. He came last weekend, and he was here Monday. He’ll be back tomorrow. I like that, especially when a guy knows what he’s doing and wants to be a part of it. He wants to help, and that means a lot. “I’m sure when you’re moving from Harrisburg to Mooresville, we might lose a couple of people. I love every guy on this team, I really do. I enjoy working with them. I hope they all come, but maybe we’ll lose one or two. That’s about it. Jimmy Smith is very impressed with Bobby Kennedy. He likes what he sees, the way he works with the people and the way he works with me. As far as I go, I’ve always looked at this as an opportunity to do the best I can do. I know I’m going to have Jimmy’s backing, and I’ve got Bobby’s backing, and I’m going to have that all summer long. If it gets to be August and we’re not happy with where we’re at, I probably won’t drive it again next year. I don’t foresee that happening. I think that what we’re doing is going to make our cars better. I would grade our performance up to this point as a B anyway. We’ve just had some problems. If we can eliminate the problems, and continue to work on our performance, I think we’ll do good and I’ll drive this car again next year. I don’t like to look much further ahead than that. I just want a chance. I want to do good, and I want a chance to do good with people that want to do good. The addition of Jimmy Smith was a bonus for me in order to make that happen.”
TALK ABOUT TEAM CHEMISTRY “It’s important. When you come to the race track, when you see your guys, you need to smile and that smile needs to be real. You need to feel that way. That’s the way I feel about my guys. I like seeing them. I like being with them. When you have that kind of attitude, it makes you better. It makes you better than if you walk in and see one of your teammates and say, ‘there’s that so and so.’ That can’t be good. Nothing good can come from that. That’s what I like about this team. These guys make me smile, and I’m excited when I come to the track. One of my favorite things to do is unload the car and start working on it, trying to make it handle, trying to go faster. That’s a big part of this job. I like the people that I have here. Jim Mattei is still a part of this team. They’ve 50-50 partners, but if Jimmy Smith decided tomorrow that he wanted to switch to Indy cars, Mattei would say OK and that’s what we would do. It’s Jimmy Smith’s team to run.”
DISCUSS HOW YOU VIEW ROOKIES WINNING RACES “It’s not disheartening at all. I have the same opportunities to succeed in this business. Dale Jr. was very successful with his dad’s Busch team, so they moved up and they moved in. I didn’t expect him to win two races and The Winston, which doesn’t count by the way, but it’s impressive for sure. I don’t look at Dale Jr. and say, ‘oh man, he just started and he’s already won’ and get mad at him about that. I just work real hard to make sure that I’m getting better every day and working smarter and harder so I’ll have an opportunity to win. I’m not worried about what Dale Jr. is doing or what Tony Stewart is doing. I’m worried more about what Mike’s doing.”
IS THE EXTRA 100 MILES ON SUNDAY REALLY A BIG DEAL? “It’s really a big deal from a mechanical point of view. Asking one of these engines to do what it does for 500 miles is enough. Put another 100 on it, and it’s definitely a factor. We’ve seen guys in the past leading at 500 and not finishing at 600. You’ve got to say it’s a factor. As far as the driver goes or setup wise, it’s no big deal at all. Straining on the car for another hundred miles is hard on it.”
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN MARATHON MICHAEL? “I ran my first marathon in December 1999. I just did it for the heck of it. I knew I could finish it. I called Greg Wilson, Waddell Wilson’s son, and he’s done Ironman Triathlon stuff. I asked him what I need to do, how I needed to prepare. I did just what he said. I ran the runs he said. I ate the foods he said, and I drank what he said. When that race started in Kiawah Island, S.C., I knew I was going to finish. I just didn’t know how long it was going to take me. When I run, I kind of run like an old fat guy. I take my time and run down the road. I just try to keep somewhat in shape. When I started that marathon, I didn’t know how long it would take me to make it, but I knew I would finish. It ended up taking me four hours and 15 minutes. My goal was four hours. After it was over, I said I might run another one some day. “The one of my buddies called and said he could get me in The Boston Marathon. Everybody would like to do that. The racing season had started, and I started worrying more about my race car than my body. I still continued to run, but not like I had prior to Kiawah. As late as Wednesday prior to Talladega, I was thinking that maybe it would rain out Talladega and I wouldn’t have to go do it. I knew I wasn’t where I needed to be. I went up there anyway and did it. It took me four and a half hours. Now, I think, I’m going to run one more. I’m going to run one in Tampa Bay in December, I think. It will be my last attempt at four hours or less if I do that one. My thinking is if you complete a marathon in more than four hours, there’s absolutely nothing athletically that accomplishes at all. If you run one less than four hours, maybe just a smidge of athleticism would have to be involved, and that’s my goal. “On a normal week, I run about 20 miles a week. That’s usually about four times a week, five miles a trip. If you’re going to do a marathon, sometime prior to it, you might make about a 20-mile run. I did that before Kiawah. I didn’t before Boston. A week or so before it, you should run about 10 miles. I did that before both. Then you should make a couple of five-mile runs two or three days out, and then rest a couple of days prior to it. I started running one day about three years ago. I was feeling particularly fat after Thanksgiving. The Charlotte Observer 10-k is in January. My pilot (Don Cloninger) walked in the office, and I told him we were going to start running so we could run in the 10-k. He had run any, either. We ran in that 10-k in January, and we ran in it the following January. I guess that was ‘97 and ‘98. In ‘99 they moved it to May and we didn’t run it. We ran the marathon in Kiawah. We live near each, and we work out together. He’s a little wiry guy. He looks like a runner.”
DISCUSS SATURDAY NIGHT’S MISHAP OUTSIDE THE TRACK “That’s just like life. Of course it affects you. It’s a little more personal because the folks who were on that bridge were here to watch us do what we do. It affects you a great deal. You just pray for the best and know that when something like that happens you hope the folks in charge are prepared. They obviously were here. That’s a good feeling. You don’t ever forget stuff like that. I don’t. Any time stuff like that happens it kind of etches a mark on your soul, and you think about people more. I think that’s why when you get older you get a little more sensitive or a little bit more compassionate. As time goes on and things like that happen, you feel it more.”
IT’S YOUR BROTHER’S LAST 600. WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HIM DO WELL? “I like to see him do well every week. I wish he could have won at California before he quit. I don’t really have any more special feelings here for the 600. I feel that way for him every week. I want him to do well, and I want him to enjoy his last year. What I didn’t forget when Darrell started his victory tour was he was going to have one last year in the sport and he’s going to run the whole series and call it his victory tour and celebrate his 84 Winston Cup wins and his three championships. The fans love DW. You saw it at California when he qualified well. They went crazy. I didn’t forget that’s what this is all about, a celebration. A lot of the media has though, and they want to make fun of him for not running well and not qualifying good. I think that’s unfortunate.”