Daytona 500: Michael Waltrip press conference, Part II

An interview with: MICHAEL WALTRIP, Winner Part 2 of 2 Q: You've driven well, been very competitive at so many tracks over the years. Your only point wins are right here. What do you think is the reason for that? Waltrip: I won a Busch...

An interview with:

Part 2 of 2

Q: You've driven well, been very competitive at so many tracks over the years. Your only point wins are right here. What do you think is the reason for that?

Waltrip: I won a Busch race last year at Michigan, dominated the Busch race in Atlanta and Rockingham some. I almost won some races at Darlington and other places earlier in my career, Atlanta. It just didn't ever work out.

I feel like I am wrongly called, you know, only able to race on plate races. I don't think that's fair. It will just be a matter of time before I prove that that's not valid.

I don't worry much about it. People have got to talk -- it's like when I won the Winston, I mean, the Winston is one of the biggest nights of the year, it's huge. The first thing someone asked me was, "This isn't a points race." When Jeff Gordon wins it, ask him if he gives a crap whether it's a points race or not. It's the Winston (laughter).

I think that we will fare much better this year at other tracks. We're prepared to do so. But it ain't a bad place to win until you can get everything else worked out.

Q: You've been in a lot of these Daytona 500s. Did this have a strange feel, didn't feel like there was any continuity, bizarre things happening?

Waltrip: It did to me leading up to it because, you know, I think the drivers were all a little bit nervous about not being able to pass. Then Dale Jr. comes from the back and wins the Shootout. The first 125, everybody was lined up in a line, nobody passed except entering pit road. "Yes, there it is." Second race, we raced all over the top of each other.

I don't think the competitors had a good feel or idea as to what to expect exactly today other than it was important to be in front.

Mine and Slugger's realization of that, significance that we put on that, I think is the reason why we won the race, because we got gas-and-go one time, we just got two tires. We were not going to spend any more time on pit road than absolutely necessary.

The only thing we knew for sure was we needed to be in the front. I took pit on four tires yesterday, had a great car, got it wrecked. I wasn't going to let that happen today. Thankfully the car was handling so well that I didn't have to worry about putting tires on it. I could just go on down the road. It was loose, which everybody was pushing. My car was push. Gave me a lot of options as far as what I wanted to do with my pit stop strategy.

But, yes, it felt crazy because I don't think anybody really knew what to expect. Wound up to be typical, with the exception of the rain. But I heard that it hadn't had one shortened by rain since 1966, so I felt pretty good, like we might be due. When we were sitting down there and it was raining, you know, I thought maybe it was time to put another one shortened in the books.

Q: You've experienced so many ranges of emotions here, with the victories, the setbacks. Does this kind of close the chapter in a way for what happened two years ago? Do you feel like this victory was all your own?

Waltrip: That chapter will never be closed. That's just part of my life. It's a part of who I am. That will never be considered a great race because of what happened.

But, you know, I'm okay with that.  I'm at peace with what
occurred that day.  When I won last July, it felt good to party here and
celebrate and win.  When I won today, it felt the same.

But I will never close that chapter. I'm thankful for that. I think God has placed on me a real consciousness of how I got to this point. That's just another piece of the story, and I'm thankful that I have that consciousness. I never want to close a chapter on any part of my life - especially not when it comes to losing my friend like that.

Q: Regardless of whether he was your teammate or not, the 8 had the other fast car on the track. Was it good to see him sitting on the inside line thinking, "If I can get ahead of this 33, I'll be hard to beat"? Was that part of your strategy?

Waltrip: Well, y'all go ahead and make another note that it is still raining, so...

The decision was not premature. We could still be setting there, and in a minute they would proclaim me the winner again (smiling).

No, I wasn't happy to see the 8 have problems. I was happy that he was in that position because I knew that it might be my chance to get the win, or get the lead. But, like, I almost was beating myself up a little bit. We caught the 48 going down the back straightaway. The 8 tried to push me around him. But I didn't have the run that I felt necessary to pull -- I could have probably cleared the 48 and been leading at the caution, but I just didn't feel comfortable with what we had together as a duo clearing the 48. This is on the restart prior to the one that I got the lead.

Junior tried to push me by the 48 to get his lap back. I didn't go. Junior dove to the outside. The caution flew. I didn't feel good about making that move. I didn't think I could be successful at getting us both by the 48 and I didn't want to bring a whole bunch of other guys up into the mix, you know. So I laid behind the 48. Junior shot to the outside. The caution came back. I kind of rode around under caution because I thought it was going to start raining, the 48 was going to win, I thought, "Man, I should have tried that."

A lot of times -- maybe I was just being a little too critical, a little hard on myself. Maybe it wouldn't have worked. When we went back to racing, I knew I had to jump early. I knew that there was going to be two things that would happen: i could get the lead and Junior could get a lap back. I would have liked to see him get them both back. Y'all know, I've been a team player. I'll always be a team player. There's too many people that work so hard in order for DEI to be successful for me to have -- for anybody to have a chip on their shoulder and not want to help each other.

Q: When you were pondering the end of this race because of the rain, did you think it might go into the night or did the drivers have an assurance?

Waltrip: I mean, yeah, I knew that it could. But, man, we were going to race had that second shower not have come. It looked like it lightened up to the west and we were going to have some time to dry the track.

But I was surprised when they said, "That's it, it's official." But, you know, they had more information than I had. They knew what the radars looked like. Mike Helton and all the folks from NASCAR were in touch with the weather people. I knew that we could be here for a long time.

Like I said, I really wasn't going to worry about it. It was going to be what it was going to be. I was going to climb back in that car and try to lead some more.

Q: How hard were you praying for rain on that last lap?

Waltrip: I was praying for rain when we were under caution and we came by, they had the wreck cleaned up, and then someone said it was sprinkling on the back. I said to myself, "That would be a really good thing." When we went back over there, it indeed was.

But I have this deal, when I pray, I'm a goofball sometimes, and I just ask God to help me be smarter, a better person, forgive me of my sins, then I ask him what I want. I told him I'd like for it to rain for 40 days and 40 nights. That's just my heart's desire. I wanted it to rain. I think anybody else probably would have been the same way if they were leading; I just happened to be the one that was (smiling).

Q: Was this win a little disappointing because it was rain-shortened?

Waltrip: Oh, yeah, it's just ruining me (laughter). You know what I heard? They're still going to pay me the whole amount (smiling). That's kind of crazy, isn't it?

No, this is the Daytona 500. Wow, I mean, I about went -- I about couldn't talk earlier because I just tried -- I'm not smart enough to explain the significance of this event. I mean, this is Daytona, and this is the Daytona 500. I'm just honored to be the champion of it again. I mean, that's two. I'm just so thankful that we have a team and we did all the things to make it happen - no matter what the official distance is. We did lead the most laps, I think. We probably would have won it anyway, but I don't want to take that chance.

Q: Dale Jr. helped you on the final restart. Was there some discussion between your team and his, about him helping you out?

Waltrip: Well, I don't know what y'all were watching, but, you know, he didn't really help me. He just took off, and I got behind him. We didn't talk about it. You know, that wasn't -- if that had been anybody else, I would have got behind them and done it.

Just circumstantial that it worked out that way. I knew that he had a fast car, and I knew that I needed to get behind him because of it. But it didn't matter that he was my teammate. He darn sure didn't do anything to help me; he just did what he was supposed to do, and I took advantage of it.

You know, I think that people that are saying Dale Jr. helped me are missing -- that's not correct, that's not the proper way to state what happened. It turned out that he helped me, but it was not premeditated. I just took advantage of a situation.

Q: Tomorrow you'll be giving up that car. It's a win the race, lose the car. Is that the good, the bad of winning the Daytona 500?

Waltrip: We tested two cars, No. 14 and No. 21, when we came down here. No. 14 was the car I won Daytona with in July. No. 21 was a brand-new car.

I never asked Slugger which car we were going to bring down here for the Daytona 500 because they were equally as fast. I would have been fine with either one of them. I didn't really care which one he brought.

They can have No. 21, and we'll race No. 14 again. No. 14's got a pretty impressive record. She ran second at Talladega, she's ran fifth at the Daytona 500 last year, she won in July. She was leading a lot at Talladega in August or October, and she finished eighth. We'll have to bring her out, give her a chance to continue. I like her (smiling).

Moderator: Thanks. Congratulations.

Waltrip: Thank y'all so much for giving this event what it deserves. I know it's a lot of work, a lot of time on the media's part. I never will forget as a kid what it meant to me to get to see all the beautiful color pictures, all the stories in the Owensboro paper from Daytona. Same way. That daytona News Journal hasn't changed in 25 years I've been coming here. Always has that special section with all the pretty pictures, great stories. I wanted to tell y'all thanks for your commitment to the sport, to this event.

Part I


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Michael Waltrip , Mike Helton