Waltrip takes the fifth in 500 By Brett Borden DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 1999) It may take Michael Waltrip a little while after the Daytona 500 to realize the significance of his top-five finish, but once he does his mood should improve...
Waltrip takes the fifth in 500 By Brett Borden
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 1999) It may take Michael Waltrip a little while after the Daytona 500 to realize the significance of his top-five finish, but once he does his mood should improve considerably.
"It was disappointing. I felt like I had a really strong horse and I let the 28 get up under me," said Waltrip, referring to a late-race pass by Kenny Irwin in turn four at Daytona International Speedway that took him from third place to fifth in the closing laps. "It cost us a chance to win. The difference between what (race winner) Jeff Gordon's doing and what I'm doing is a lot."
But so is the experience of their respective teams. Gordon has been with the Hendrick Motorsports organization full-time since 1993. Waltrip has been with the Mattei Motorsports team less than four months. Waltrip and Mattei hooked up late last season, then had to sweat it out over the off-season before Philips Consumer Electronics and Klaussner Furniture put up the sponsorship money to fund the team.
"Prayers got answered," said Waltrip of the late sponsorship deal. "We prayed a lot during the off-season that our sponsorship situation would work out. I'm fortunate I've got a car owner in Jim Mattei who gave us enough money to work with until our sponsor came on board. He was spending money like crazy even when we didn't have everything worked out yet."
Waltrip had everything worked out on Sunday. Starting 13th, he ran in the top-10 for most of the second half of the race, climbing all the way up to second-place Dale Earnhardt's bumper in the late going. Irwin and Mike Skinner got by him at the end, but he still finished in the top-five, which makes him a part of the Winston "No Bull 5" million-dollar bonus program for the next eligible race -- the Las Vegas 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 7.
"I guess that's a good thing, isn't it?" said Waltrip of his finish. "I can be happy when I get back to my motorhome and look at the entry blank at the money Bill France and Daytona Speedway have put up. It's probably a couple or 300 grand. That'll make me feel better, but right now I'm disappointed.
"Two months ago if we would have said we'd be in the top-five at Daytona we'd have had trouble looking you in the eye and saying that. It's a great way to start a season."
And it's a good sign that this team is headed in the right direction. Waltrip said that the communication level is encouraging, even after one race.
"The car was off in handling on Thursday (in the Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Race)," said Waltrip. "I told the guys what needed to be done and they did a great job of getting it done. There was just great communication there. I had a great car. We might just shine it up and take it to Rockingham. At least we know we have one good car."
One good finish does not a season make, but it sure makes the season look a whole lot shinier.
Source: NASCAR Online