Darrell Waltrip Atlanta sunset

Time for Waltrip to ride off into the sunset By Marty Smith Saturday morning, Darrell Waltrip admitted his prolonged NASCAR Winston Cup Series career had dragged on far too long. In fact, it's gotten so bad he likened it to a root canal. "I...

Time for Waltrip to ride off into the sunset
By Marty Smith

Saturday morning, Darrell Waltrip admitted his prolonged NASCAR Winston Cup Series career had dragged on far too long. In fact, it's gotten so bad he likened it to a root canal.

"I just can't wait to get it over with," he said.

Sunday, Waltrip will fire up a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racecar for the final time, concluding a storied career that spanned nearly three decades and included some of racing's most memorable moments. Many feel Waltrip should have retired long ago, when he was still in his prime and would be remembered for greatness, not futility.

10 years ago, Waltrip was winning races and running up front every week. Now, he's lucky to run up front at all. Waltrip is well aware that an old DW is not the DW of old, but walking away from all you've known for 40 years is next to impossible.

"I've been anguishing about this, not just this year, I've been anguishing about this for several years wondering when this day would finally come, knowing that it probably should have come a lot sooner than it has," Waltrip said. "So many things have gone through my mind, but as I get ready to run this last race the biggest thing is that it's finally behind me."

His career may be over, but Waltrip may not be over his career for quite some time.

"I think the bigger issue for me and most drivers and athletes in general isn't what happens this weekend, it's what's gonna happen to me next February - when I show up at Daytona and I walk in that garage area for the first time in 40 years without any place to go," Waltrip said. "No car, no team, no hauler, no driver's lounge, no uniform, no helmet - maybe even no problems. That's when I'm really, really gonna get that empty feeling inside because I've been doing this ever since I was 12 years old. It's a way of life."

Starting next week, much of Waltrip's daily regimen will change. He'll trade a seat behind the steering wheel for a seat behind the television camera. There could be no more perfect fit for Fox Television's new approach to racing analysis. Waltrip has always been a straight shooter, and is never one to back down from a question, no matter how controversial.

"I've been pretty open and pretty honest all my life," Waltrip said. "It's been detrimental to me at times, but I believe in the end it's who I am and what I am. You ask me a question about just about anything and I'll share my opinion with you. I've always been brutally honest with most everybody and I've always told more than I probably should.

"One of the things that somebody told me some years ago was, 'You talk too much.' Well, I knew that. But they went on and said that's how you get yourself in so much trouble. But I always take it one step further. My Momma always told me that was so you would see it my way and that's probably true, but nonetheless, I've enjoyed working with everybody all through these years and I've never held back anything.

"You ask me a question, you're gonna get an answer."

So DW, why didn't you retire earlier?

"The joy of driving a race car is something that you have a passion for," Waltrip said. "The joy of driving a race car, a good race car, and the excitement of that and the feeling of that is something that I will always long for. I don't think it's something I'll ever lose. I don't think it's something that will get away and I'll never want to do again. I'm always gonna be sitting up there watching a race longing to be in that race.

"Yesterday was the first time I've been on a racetrack probably in the last couple of years, that I was just out there for the pure enjoyment of driving my car. I felt pretty confident I would be in this race. We've worked really hard over the last 10 weeks to save that provisional for this one, so I could come here and not have to walk around with the burden of making this race. I pretty much knew I'd be in it, so I just really enjoyed myself yesterday.

"Everybody was upset with, 'Well, Todd (Bodine) qualified fifth and Todd did this.' I said, 'I don't care what Todd does. He's fighting for his future. I'm done. I'm history. I'm toast.' So, he better do good if he wants to stay in this business. So, this weekend I just want to enjoy myself. I don't want to talk about how fast my car is or how sorry it is, I just want to have a good time. I wish it was sunny, a nice day. It looks like it might not be, but I wish it was so I could just kind of bask in the sun a little bit."

Waltrip has had his time in the sun. Now it's time to ride off into the sunset.

-nascar.com-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip