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One of stock car racing's most colorful characters, Michael Waltrip, is pondering his future

  Michael Waltrip: the clown-prince of stock car racing? Well, he's certainly unpredictably zany at times...and now finally a successful owner-driver (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   By Mike Mulhern

   When Michael Waltrip did 'Hannity,' the Wall Street Journal, Fox Business News and Forbes on a whirlwind media tour in New York City a few days ago, it might well have been a defining moment in his long NASCAR career.
   That, just a couple weeks after flying to Dubai to drive a Ferrari....
   He credits new PR man Drew Brown for the packaging.
   Not that Waltrip can't handle his own PR, of course. His career as a driver may be filled with ups and downs (remember the Bristol crash, and all those DNS in 2007), but his PR talents have never been questioned.
   When you think about colorful characters in this sport, Waltrip jumps to mind. He always has an opinion; and he is willing, even eager at times, to crawl out on the limb and look, well, sometimes silly. And he loves it.
    Michael Waltrip certainly has a most unusual personality. Zany at times, to be sure.
   Ironically this most recent flurry comes while Waltrip is still up in the air about the rest of his career behind the wheel.
    Waltrip, though just 46, says he's cutting back on his driving this season. Just how much, he doesn't know. He's hired Martin Truex Jr. to take the ride he's had since forming Michael Waltrip Racing as a three-team Cup operation in 2007. Maybe that's just to give more time to prepare for the Boston Marathon....
    Teammates Marcus Ambrose and David Reutimann have helped Waltrip's operation take some big steps up over the past season. And Waltrip has stuffed the team roster with a lot of impressive talent, including crew chief Pat Tryson, coming over from the Roger Penske-Kurt Busch team, and Formula One's Steve Hallam.
    In fact Waltrip has been presiding over one of the strangest teams in NASCAR, an unusual collection of personalities, from classic old-school to Formula One grade. Throw in David 'the franchise' Reutimann, and 'wild man' Ambrose.....well, it would make an interesting movie. "I've been real lucky to have the people I've had," Waltrip says.
    And then of course there is Waltrip himself, with his self-proclaimed 'goofball' personality. He is a unique creature in this sport, to be sure, and quite willing to make fun of himself.
    But it's been a long, hard road for Waltrip and general manager Ty Norris to get this point of respectability.
    It takes a brave, brave man to try to startup a NASCAR business these days. And that first year was, well, pretty disappointing, to say the least. Week after week Waltrip and teammates failed to qualify, in a painful stretch.
   Things got so bad that at one point Waltrip had to sign on a business partner, international financier Rob Kauffman (Rome and London). Then UPS took its sponsorship and split. And even last year's breakthrough Cup tour victory, by teammate David Reutimann at Charlotte in the 600, came in a rain-shortened race.
    "Every race team has to have a solid business plan. And Rob has put in a solid business plan for us," Waltrip says
    Landing Tryson was a brilliant move. "Getting Martin was a brilliant move too," Waltrip said. 
    "Pat says we're really in a good spot. He knows he can communicate with Bobby Kennedy on the shop floor; he knows he can communicate with Steve Hallam.
   "I think the story here is diversity. And you can't get much more diverse than Bobby and Steve."


   Crew chief Pat Tryson (L), and Martin Truex Jr., the man replacing Waltrip at the wheel (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

    Waltrip, the kid brother of Darrell Waltrip, has been driving Cup cars since 1985. This 500 will mark his 760th start.
    And what a long, strange road it's been.
   Yes, he went 0-for-ever it seemed, until getting that first win...in the Daytona 500, no less...in 2001, in a car owned by Dale Earnhardt...in the race in which Earnhardt died.
    "The best time in my life, as a driver, was from September of 2000 (when Earnhardt signed him to run at DEI) until the last lap of the Daytona 500.  
    "When I walked around DEI with Dale, you could just tell that people wanted their cars to go fast for that man." 
    During his time at DEI Waltrip and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran at Daytona and Talladega like their cars were glued together, and at nearly every plate race they were the two to beat.
    However Waltrip hasn't won since Talladega in 2003.
    And he's won only four times in his career.
    But through it all, the Kentucky racer has maintained his cool, polished his image as one of the sport's best spokesmen, a good humor man at that, and an unabashed NASCAR point man.
    Waltrip says he doesn't plan on this Daytona 500 being his swan song as a driver. "No, I don't...but if it were, I could live with that. 
    "I've over-exceeded what 99 percent of kids that want to be race drivers ever could have hoped to accomplish. 
    "First of all, it just makes me thank God for the last 24 years I was able to show up and race my car. I had a sponsor, I had a team, I was healthy, I didn't wreck and hurt myself. 
     "To be able to say that, and have won eight races -- and especially won on the biggest stage we have, I'm thankful and happy. 
      "I also feel there are still some races for me to win. I think I can win this race, and certainly the one in Talladega."
      Making the leap from driver to owner-driver was a rather surprising move. Particularly in this era where team owners are struggling.
     That Waltrip has made a go of it is impressive, especially considering the competition he faces in this arena.
    "When I started my team, I knew I couldn't drive forever....but I could be a car owner forever," Waltrip says.
    In fact Waltrip may be able to be a NASCAR pitchman forever too. He does make some of the sport's best commercials.
    "A presence in front of the camera...a presence on TV shows," Waltrip says, "is important.
    "Michael Waltrip Racing needs a presence like that out in the world. 
    So he's booked on Showtime and Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader and My Name is Earl.
    "Whatever it takes to continue a 'presence.'"
   For a while there, back in the depths of 2007, it didn't look promising.
    "In 2007, we missed races, we barely survived," Waltrip recalled.
    "In 2008 we made every race....and I could have won two races. I ran second at Loudon. But we weren't that competitive; we were okay though. 
     "In 2009 we contended for a spot in the chase (with Reutimann), and we won a race. 
     "That's the kind of progression you want to see.
      "Now going into '09 we couldn't have said we're going to win and contend for the chase, we didn't have the background to back that up.
     "But as we look at 2010, and the additions we've made, and with the key people who have been with us since the beginning, we have to think we can race in this chase and we can win more than one race."
    Up and down, and now up again?
   Maybe so.
    "I raced cars for a long time and didn't win," Waltrip says.
     In fact that long streak became subject of some dark humor.
    Then, suddenly, Waltrip's fortunes dramatically changed, when Earnhardt picked him to lead DEI. "Luckily for me NAPA (then his then-new sponsor) started making some (humorous) TV commercials and I started winning races. 
     "All of the sudden I was a lot more popular than I'd ever been. 
     "Now the key to it was winning races --  You can be well-spoken, and you can be popular with the media, and a lot of fans can love you....but that will all go away if you don't put your car in victory lane."
    Which Waltrip concedes is the reason he's stepping out from behind the wheel: "because I haven't shown lately I have the ability to go win one of these darn races."
    So will this Daytona 500 be the next one for Michael Waltrip?
    "I believe in my heart I can win Daytona...and I know I can win Talladega," he says.
   "Winning is what it's all about."



  The Waltrips, Michael and Darrell, have a lot in common (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

great article

Thanks for respecting Mikey. :)

sure.....he's a good

sure.....he's a good dude...believe me....regardless of what clint bowyer says (LOL)

Michael Waltrip

Thanks for being so kind to Mikey.It will be fun to watch what he does in the future.I have been a Michael fan for a long time. MY waltrip stickers on my car get belly laughs and a few not so kind words, but he is still one of the most engaging drivers in NASCAR. Not only that I am a COLTS fan and after Sunday and all the snow we have had,I don't think I am going stick my head out for a few days. Thanks again. You Da Man!

well, sure, pardner....i've

well, sure, pardner....i've known MW since his baby grand days, and, i was at bristol that day we all thought he was dead.....so okay, he's no dale sr., but he has won the daytona 500 twice, and run the boston marathon....and he's funny as hell....when he's in the mood....

You scraped the bottom of the

You scraped the bottom of the barrel there Mike.

aw, come on, dude.... give

aw, come on, dude....
give mikey a break....could you run the boston marathon....i couldn't...and i'm a runner....and would you want to be a car owner in this cutthroat environment? i've got bill davis' number if you want to make a deal (grin)

He along with Kyle Petty

He along with Kyle Petty should have hung up their racing shoes 4-5 years ago. Even when Mikey got "hooked up" and won the restrictor-plate races, he wasn't very competitive at most other tracks. The money is too good though, and the ones that started off when it wasn't this good seem to hang on too long. If he was still running like Mark Martin I would think differently, but his time has long come to retire.

I still have a little respect for Mikey, but after he made David Hyder the scapegoat for the fuel tampering episode at Daytona in 2007 and Mikey acted like he knew absolutely nothing about it, I lost a lot of it for him. Hyder may have doctored the fuel, but the team owner/driver knowing nothing about it was just too good to be true.

okay, so i didn't buy the

okay, so i didn't buy the whole deal at daytona back then, with the purple stuff in the intake manifold....there's a whole story there that nobody got. all i got was hints here and there. and hyder's a good dude.
but mikey, well, it was his first race as owner-driver, and he's been working hard, so i'd have to cut him some slack....

I am done clicking on this

I am done clicking on this site. It's turned into the Waltrip, Danica, Brian France love a thon. YUCK

LOL: I'll be sure to pass

LOL: I'll be sure to pass this on to Brian. I don't think he has quite the same take on mikemulhern.net.... but we're trying (grin).

Quit now, while you're behind

You should have retired a long time ago. Darrell is the reason you got here, but he couldn't drive the car for you too. Seriously, for some reason, these sponsors like you, put drivers in your car that can be competitive and save your racing for the old timers races. I can't recognize the appeal, since you have all this money...get an education, start speaking in complete sentences, you will find that much more rewarding than running 39th every week.

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