Daytona 500: Michael Waltrip press conference, Part I

An interview with: MICHAEL WALTRIP, Winner Part 1 of 2 Moderator: Michael Waltrip, your second Daytona 500 victory. This is a two-part question to get your opening remarks. Talk about your feelings, waiting out the rain delay, ...

An interview with:
MICHAEL WALTRIP, Winner

Part 1 of 2

Moderator: Michael Waltrip, your second Daytona 500 victory. This is a two-part question to get your opening remarks.

Talk about your feelings, waiting out the rain delay, the celebration of your second 500, and also the pass that you made on Jimmie Johnson.

Michael Waltrip: The rain delay deal was pretty cool. I never really imagined that it would actually work out and keep raining. I thought it would quit and we'd have to go back to racing.

I told Buffy, I said, "That's fine.  I think I can win if we
do that.  We led the most laps, we're leading now.  But I don't want to.
I want it to stop right now.  We've won it right now."

It did rain. I was so thankful for the fact that we were leading when the rains came. It's crazy enough to try to figure out a way to win the Daytona 500. But who would have ever thought you had to figure out a way to win it after 109 laps.

So, I mean, I just feel blessed that we were in the right place at the right time.

As far as the pass goes, I had a plan. I hoped that Junior would jump the 33, and that Jimmie would try to race Junior, I could get over to the left behind Junior ahead of the 33 and get by Jimmie.

You know, it worked. That's exactly what happened.

But you can only really control what your car does. You know, I couldn't control whether Junior would jump the 33 and get ahead of him where I could fit in there, or Jimmie Johnson would try just to lay back and get behind Junior.

I couldn't make those guys do that.  But that was my plan,
and it worked.  I got lucky there.

Moderator: We'll open it up for questions.

Q: With the way the weather was developing, did you assume whatever happened on that restart was going to win the race?

Waltrip: I didn't assume it would be the race. I knew, just like on the first lap of the race when I attacked and got the lead, I knew it was important to lead. I knew the best chance to pass would be on the start.

Really my mentality was just to get the lead, not to think that -- I mean, they had a caution, you know, then it started raining. None of that was ever factored in. The main thing was just to get to the lead. That was my only thinking.

Q: You said in Victory Lane something about Dale Earnhardt's heart was in this place, and that's why winning here is so special to you. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Waltrip: Well, I've been coming down here ever since I was five years old, watching speed weeks. I would drive down in the back of a Chevy with my parents, hang on that fence and watch Darrell.

A lot of my life, a lot of things that are important to me, are encompassed in speed weeks. The history and the significance of this race took 45 years to build. I feel like at least for the last 30 some of those years, I've been right here watching it grow.

When Darrell won it, that made it more special. When I won it, that made it more special. And when Dale Earnhardt won it in '98, it made it more special.

So when he lost his life, that's just another chapter in the book of Daytona. You know, I loved Dale. He was my friend, so that made it even more endearing to me that he was doing what he loved to do and had that wreck.

It didn't make me hate Daytona at all. I think it just made me understand that he was doing what he wanted to do when he had headed off.

I think everybody hopes to be able to do that when they leave this world. I think if you ask Junior, this place is more special today to us because of his father. So what's cool is when you're at DEI, you understand that Dale wanted fast restrictor plate cars. That was his gig. He knew it took a fast car to have success here. People just have a little bit more bump in their step when they get ready to come to Daytona. They knew they better have, that's what Dale would expect. So many times his presence is felt at that place to where people are still motivated and driven by Dale's, what seems to be, presence.

Q: Back to the restart. When Junior got such a good jump on the 33, Fittipaldi, did that surprise you? It almost looked like it might have been by design. Was there anything worked out at all or was it just by chance?

Waltrip: No, I didn't expect it. I just knew that Dale Jr. wanted his lap back and would be ready. I knew Christian hadn't raced here much, and might not be.

So while it was luck that it worked, I also, you know, had a little bit of fact to back up my thinking. Then the main thing was, could I get in the hole fast enough, see if Jimmie had have left off, got behind Junior, then my fate would have been sealed.

There was a point going into Turn 1 where he could have probably forced over, but I was close enough where he couldn't tell. That was my main concern, was if Junior did get a great start, would Jimmie throttle off and try to squeeze in a hole, I wanted to squeeze in.

Q: You had so many struggles in your career. The only race you had won really didn't count. You've come to DEI, you have three wins, including two in the Daytona 500. Can you talk about that?

Waltrip: I had so much fun in the winter of 2000/2001 getting ready to drive for Dale. He'd say, "You'll win in my cars. You better win in my cars, my cars are good, you'll win in them."

I was just in awe of the fact that it worked out for me to get in such a great ride. You know, I was just thankful that Dale -- Dale might have been the only one big enough in this world to get me this ride. Anybody else might not have been able to pull that off, short of somebody -- you know, I might have struggled along for a long time. I was good enough to start, you know, 462 races, which I always finished decent in the points. A team never did better after I left; they always did worse.

So, you know, people that were insiders would say -- would probably tend to say, "He can do the job if he gets in the right situation." But it was pretty big that Dale started a team and convinced our sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, that that's what we needed to do.

I'm not thinking many people could have went to NAPA and explained that they wanted to start a new team and put Michael in the car and have them buy it.

Q: Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick said when they saw the 8 car go out, they saw everybody push harder. How did that affect you when you saw Junior having problems?

Waltrip: It just inspired me. It just made me say, you know, they say we can't win without teammates. Dale Jr. won on Saturday without me. It inspired me to win today without him, just to show people that, you know, they don't all know what's going on exactly.

Q: With all the attention being put on your teammate throughout the week, then later in the week the little verbal sparring between Dale and the RCR drivers, did that allow you to do what you needed to do without really getting distracted, you were able to work in the background a little bit?

Waltrip: I don't think we are -- I don't think I am ever distracted by anything. I understand what I have to do in order to be successful, and I try to make sure that I'm mentally, physically, perfectly ready to do the job.

When you're winning races, then you're happy. So I would have rather won every race like Junior did, and today. But it didn't affect me one way or the other. I thought it was kind of interesting that those folks got to arguing back and forth. I didn't really see any sense in all that.

You know, you don't get these opportunities very often, to come to Daytona and be in the position that Dale junior and I were, or Jeff Green and Harvick and Robby were. So I thought that we should have just been relishing in the fact we had that opportunity and not arguing with each other.

But if Jeff Green is on the pole and nobody's really paying him any attention, I guess he finally decided he better say something so everybody would know he's here.

Q: For a long time during the second rain delay, you sat out in the pit box with your wife, without any umbrella, cover. Why? What were you thinking? What was going through your mind?

Waltrip: We just were enjoying a day in the rain in Florida. She was setting there. When I saw her, I just wanted to join her, ask her what she was thinking. We tried to call Helton to tell him that the state troopers and all the folks that worked the track were probably going to be tired if we waited much longer. I don't think we have his real number. I don't think he wanted to hear from us.

We just were goofing off, laughing about the opportunity that we had here to be winners of the Daytona 500. That's when we talked about, you know, we don't need it to go on, we won, let's just stop now. Then I tried to explain to her that I'd win it anyway because I wanted to comfort her, but I didn't really know if I would or not.

Q: With all that this race means to you, the history of this place, were you getting nervous?

Waltrip: No, I wasn't nervous. I try to be a person that doesn't worry about the weather because it either is or it isn't, it's going to be what it's going to be, so I don't ever try to predict it. I didn't know if it was going to keep raining or not.

I looked over that way. Some big clouds coming. That made me smile. I watched Bob Stokes, Christian Dodd, all the folks on the Weather Channel today, weather expert Paul Colson (phonetic) and they seemed to think it was going to rain in Daytona, and once it started, it would be a lot. I'm a fan of the Weather Channel. I think it's funny that they can make a living talking about the weather, when I don't even really understand. It's like, "Let's go to Salt Lake City. It's sunny again in Salt Lake. Let's switch over to Reno, see what's going on over there."

I guarantee, you Paul Colson (ph) hadn't been able to sleep two days because of this storm heading up the East Coast. That's big, when they get a storm, they have something to talk about. That's my thought on the Weather Channel. Not really relevant, I'm sorry (smiling).

Part II

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Jeff Green , Jimmie Johnson