Sears Point: Michael Waltrip race report

Sonoma, Calif. (June 28) - Michael Waltrip endured 110 winding laps at Infineon Raceway, in the beautiful valley of wine country, to bring home his third top-five and his sixth top-10 finish in seven races. Waltrip's mid-season streak has moved...

Sonoma, Calif. (June 28) - Michael Waltrip endured 110 winding laps at Infineon Raceway, in the beautiful valley of wine country, to bring home his third top-five and his sixth top-10 finish in seven races. Waltrip's mid-season streak has moved him from 30th to 18th in the Chase for the Championship since the second week in May.

Replacing the engine on Friday after qualifying caused Waltrip to start the Dodge/SaveMart 350 from the 40th position. He would not stay there long. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet was stout and Waltrip took the No. 15 car forward, fast. He entered the top-15 after only 25 laps and found the top-10 by lap 50.

Waltrip's spotter, Joey Meier, told Michael his car looked good in the turns and he was the only car with the ability to pass on the high side in turn seven. The caution flag waved on lap 67 and one lap later, the NAPA pit crew flawlessly executed a four-tire pit stop. The team entered the pits in the ninth position and returned to the race track in sixth place sandwiched between two road racers on the restart.

Waltrip held off Boris Said and closed in on the No. 39 car of Scott Pruett. He worked his way to fifth before Rusty Wallace ran out of gas on the final lap. Waltrip benefited from Wallace's unfortunate circumstance, finishing fourth with point's leader Jimmie Johnson on his tail.

"I couldn't make any mistakes," Waltrip stated. "I had to drive a perfect race and I knew that. You can't come from the back to the front twice, so I just kept my head down and kept digging. I really liked my set-up. We came up with this set-up during Friday's practice session and I knew we'd be good. You can just feel a good car when you've been doing it for as long as I have. I was fortunate not to make mistakes. I drove a smart race with a set-up I knew I was going to be fast."

Jeff Gordon led 92 laps en route to winning the Dodge/SaveMart 350. Jamie McMurray finished second followed by road racing expert, Scott Pruett, Michael Waltrip and Jimmie Johnson respectively. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th after rebounding from two spins.

Jimmie Johnson spread out his point's lead over Dale Jr. by 27 points. Waltrip jumped four positions to the 18th spot. He is 96 points out of 15th and 281 points out of 10th.

"If we hadn't had that deal in Pocono (accident with Rusty Wallace), I think we would already be top-10 contenders," Waltrip said confidently. "But, if we have four or five more races like this, we'll become top-10 contenders. It's not out of reach yet, so we'll just keep working it."

The NEXTEL CUP SERIES heads to Daytona International Speedway for the Pepsi 400 on Saturday night. Waltrip has won at least one race in Daytona each year since he joined the Dale Earnhardt, Inc. stables in 2001. Waltrip won the Pepsi 400 in 2002.

The race will be broadcast live by MRN and FOX will produce its last race of the 2004 season on Saturday night beginning at 7:00 p.m. (EDT).

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Boris Said , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray