With illegal spoiler Waltrip slingshots past Sadler for win
Michael Waltrip came to Daytona International Speedway this weekend looking to honor the memory of his good friend and former car owner Dale Earnhardt, the man who gave Waltrip a chance to drive and helped him to his first career Sprint Cup victory in a race that ultimately cost Earnhardt his life.
Exactly 10 years from the fateful day, using lessons learned from Earnhardt - a 34-time Daytona winner - Waltrip pulled a slingshot move on the final lap to win his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in Friday night’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona.
Waltrip, driving a Toyota adorned with the same no. 15 he won with 10 years ago, shot past leader Elliott Sadler on the high side as the two entered the tri-oval on the final lap of a green-white-checkered finish to grab the victory by half a truck-length.
Clay Rogers came home third, followed by rookie Miguel Paludo and Kyle Busch.
Afterwards, an emotional Waltrip struggled to put into words how much it meant to win a race on a day where everyone’s thoughts were on the memories and legacy of the late great seven-time NASCAR champion.
“God bless Dale (Earnhardt) and his family and his fans,” said Waltrip. “I came here to celebrate his life with my black truck and my No. 15 car, I didn’t come to celebrate a win. This feels really good. I’m thankful for this.
“Ten years ago I stood here and I thought it was the greatest day ever and it turned out to be the worst day ever. I just wanted to come back here this year and honor Dale (Earnhardt) and thank him and give his fans something to cheer for with the No. 15 car, the No. 15 truck and the honorary paint scheme. I wanted to thank him and his fans.”
Driving in just his ninth start in the truck series and his first since 2006, Waltrip was one of the few drivers left standing after two multi-truck crashes took out many of the top contenders, including defending series champion Todd Bodine, who got caught up in both crashes.
After an uneventful race marked by just three cautions, the first “Big One” reared it’s ugly head on lap 75 after Travis Kvapil cut down a tire and spun in front of Bodine, eventually collecting 14 trucks, including Ron Hornaday, Jason White and Johnny Sauter.
Later, with four laps to go, another crash coming through the tri-oval took out another 10 trucks, among them Austin Dillon and Aric Almirola as well as Kyle Busch, who was able to repair his truck and rejoin the fray.
The resulting melee brought out the red flag and left only a handful of trucks unscathed, with just five machines rolling with unblemished sheet metal.
At the front of the field, Sadler and Waltrip, who had been paired up for much of the last half of the race, jumped out in front of the field at the start of the three-lap overtime session and raced nose to tail until coming out of turn four on the final lap, when Waltrip finally stepped out to the high side and motored past Sadler.
“He made a great turn out of turn four. I tried to block him a little bit, but I was guarding against the inside. He had a lot of momentum.,” said Sadler. “When I went into turn three, I jammed the brakes trying to get him off my bumper, I said, I'm in trouble. Came off four, he got me, made a really good move. That's the way it is.
“I went to Victory Lane to congratulate him. I watched the special today right before the truck race. That's what I told him in Victory Lane, You know, if anybody deserves to win a race today, you do. You race like you're supposed to. You won the race. You're the best driver tonight. You deserve to be able to celebrate tonight and cherish this moment.”
For Waltrip, it was a fitting tribute to a man who took a chance on an 0-for-462 driver to pilot his racecar.
“Yeah, this day, it was hard. I've been emotional all day long,” said Waltrip. “You know, someone said, I can't believe it's been 10 years. I said, ‘Well, I can. I live it every day’.
“It's been really emotional. But I knew as soon as they threw the green flag it would be all about racing, and I would put all that out. If you read my book, you know that racecars seem to focus me and a lot of things in life don't. So I just was determined to win the race for him.”.
* Denotes Rookie
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