Desire wins out over bad luck for Michael Waltrip at Sears Point SONOMA, Calif. (June 27, 1999) - For several weeks, Philips Chevrolet driver Michael Waltrip has been looking for a sign-any sign-that his luck would turn around in the 1999...
Desire wins out over bad luck for Michael Waltrip at Sears Point
SONOMA, Calif. (June 27, 1999) - For several weeks, Philips Chevrolet driver Michael Waltrip has been looking for a sign-any sign-that his luck would turn around in the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Sunday at Sears Point Raceway, Waltrip may have gotten that sign-and then some-as he drove to a well-earned 10th place finish in the series' first road course event of the year.
Waltrip, who started 11th, overcame one setback after another on Sunday, fighting his way back from as far down as 31st position. His troubles began early and returned often during the 112-lap race.
Beginning with the drop of the green flag, Waltrip discovered he could not shift into second gear, making it very difficult to turn good lap times with only his top two gears available. He faded to 16th during the opening stages of the race as he worked with the problem, and eventually figured out a way to overcome it. With that issue addressed, Waltrip's lap times improved. But, as quick as optimism returned, it disappeared as Waltrip reported he was out of fuel. What deepened the concern was the fact he had run out unexpectedly more than 10 laps early, and he was sitting more than a mile from pit road.
But, once again, he managed to overcome, this time thanks to fellow competitor Kyle Petty, who gave him new life by offering up a push all the way back to the pits. When he arrived, his Mattei Motorsports crew filled his tank, and also sourced out the cause of the poor mileage. The culprit: a broken overflow valve, which allowed fuel to pour freely out of the tank as he circled the 1.949 mile circuit. The fix: a shop rag and some duct tape.
As the race went through its middle stages, Waltrip settled in and slowly worked toward the front. It appeared his tumultuous afternoon had calmed. But with 19 laps left, the craziness resurfaced when Waltrip "flat-spotted" a set of tires maneuvering around one of several late-race incidents. He came to pit road for a fresh set of tires, and returned to the lineup in 22nd position. As the field prepared for the lap 98 restart, the call went to Waltrip from crew chief Bobby Kennedy: "Take no prisoners."
Waltrip answered the challenge and quickly reeled in three spots. But, once again, trouble struck in front of him as Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek got together in turn 11. Waltrip again suffered flat-spotted tires after locking up the brakes to avoid the crash. But, with only nine laps remaining and 30 cars still on the lead lap, coming to pit road for a tire change was not an option. The team decided to gamble, and Waltrip sharpened his focus on a charge to the front.
With five laps to go, Waltrip restarted in 15th position and quickly gained two more spots. Then, another incident on the racetrack, and again, Waltrip dodged a bullet as his car made contact with a tire from one of the protective barriers that had spilled onto the racecourse. But, he escaped with minimal damage and lined up for the lap 109 restart in 11th position.
With the help of a late race spin in the final three laps, he picked up one more crucial spot, and went on to pick up his first top 10 since March 14.
"That was tough," said Waltrip. "But, when you think about how this day could have turned out, it's pretty satisfying. I really appreciate how hard this Philips team worked today. They did what they do best, and helped us get a good finish."
With their third top 10 finish of 1999 under their belt, the team now takes momentum and optimism back to Daytona for Saturday night's running of the Pepsi 400. Daytona provided Waltrip and his mates with their best finish of the season back in February, when they placed fifth in the Daytona 500.