Michael Waltrip heads home after frightening day in Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. (Nov. 21, 1999) - Philips Chevrolet driver Michael Waltrip headed home to Sherrills Ford, N.C. Sunday night after being released from Atlanta Medical Center at 8 p.m. He was tired and ready to get home, but he still managed a smile...

HAMPTON, Ga. (Nov. 21, 1999) - Philips Chevrolet driver Michael Waltrip headed home to Sherrills Ford, N.C. Sunday night after being released from Atlanta Medical Center at 8 p.m. He was tired and ready to get home, but he still managed a smile as he fulfilled on more autograph request in the hospital parking lot before putting an end to the 1999 season.

Waltrip, who spent the majority of his day at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the top 10, sustained a slight concussion during a frightening incident on lap 197 of the 325-lap season finale. The 14-year NASCAR Winston Cup veteran silenced race fans everywhere as they held their collective breath until it was announced that he was awake and alert, and headed to a downtown Atlanta hospital for observation.

During the first 45 laps of the race, Waltrip found himself in a rocket. He started eighth, but as the cars started to string out on the 1.5-mile quad-oval, it was clear that he was the fastest car on the track. When lap 25 arrived, Waltrip was running second by a full second to leader Mark Martin. But just seven laps later, he took his familiar No. 7 Philips machine past Martin and stretched out a considerable lead during the next 12 laps until the caution flag flew for the second time in the event.

During the caution, Waltrip made no adjustments and took on four new tires. But when he returned to action, his car was "extremely loose," and he dropped back to 14th position. Showing great patience, Waltrip rode out the run without incident and without losing any further ground.

Waltrip's next four-tire change returned him to early race form as he pulled back into the top 10. When the caution flag flew just after lap 190, Waltrip was running ninth when he came to pit road for service. His Mattei Motorsports teammates orchestrated a 14.88-second four-tire stop that vaulted him to seventh on the restart. But when the green flag flew, things started to go very wrong.

During the first green flag lap, Waltrip reported to the car to be "very loose," and then the next time by called in "uncontrollably loose." As he passed by pit road on the front straightaway, crew chief Bobby Kennedy spotted the culprit, which was a cut left rear tire that was losing air. Kennedy called his driver to pit road and the crew prepared for a left-side tire change. But as Waltrip turned toward the pit road entrance, the concern shifted from the car to the driver.

Waltrip's car spun out of control as he came off the turn four banking and then slid back up the racetrack in front of the field. He made hard contact with the outside retaining wall, and then slid helplessly down in front of the car driven by Terry Labonte, who found himself with no where to go. The two cars made heavy contact, with Waltrip's car coming to rest near the bottom of the track. Waltrip had to be cut from his car before being transported initially to the infield care center. Labonte was uninjured and walked out of the care center after learning that Waltrip was awake and alert.

Waltrip finished the race in the 36th position and remained 29th in the final NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. For the season, the Owensboro, Kentucky-native posted one top five and three top 10 finishes, all during the first half of the season. It is only the second time in Waltrip's career that he has finished outside the top 20 in the final standings.

Waltrip and his teammates will now shift their entire focus to preparing a stable of NationsRent Monte Carlos for the 2000 season, which begins Feb. 20, 2000 with the running of the Daytona 500.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Terry Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Bobby Kennedy