NASCAR will take this Easter weekend off before resuming next weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Darrell Waltrip won 12 Cup Series races at Bristol, including seven straight from 1981 to 1984. Now a color analyst with Fox Sports, Waltrip was a recent guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM to discuss the state of the sport and more.
Q: What has been your reaction to the implementation of stages?
A: "It's been good for us. I think there was some apprehension from fans and the media as far as how this would play out, but if you look at our races, like in Martinsville, these guys get real serious when it gets to one of the stages. You see some really aggressive racing all the way through the pack as they try and get some of the playoff points, and I think it's made our television show a whole lot better.
"It gives us points in the race to build up to or look forward to. The finishes were always exciting, so there was never a problem with that, but a lot of people who had been tuning in and tuning out are watching to see what's going to happen, because it's been so unpredictable. The drivers are embracing it, and I think the fans are starting to like what they are seeing. I think it's a big hit."
Q: Yet NASCAR ratings continue to struggle. What can be done about that?
A: "If it was just NASCAR, you might say, 'We have a problem here,' but ratings are down across the board. The only thing we can do is provide great racing. Our shows are great and bring more coverage every week to the fan at home, so there is not a whole lot we can do.
"We're really just a prisoner of the race. If the race is exciting, then people tune in and watch."
Q: Does NASCAR suffer more than other sports from fans romanticizing about how things used to be?
A: "That's not a bad observation. Our sport is 60 years old, so it isn't as old as football or baseball, but it has gone through some incredible changes through the years as far as technology, which we're taking advantage of like never before. The cars are safer than they were 20 years ago, and our tracks are safer with the barriers.
"People remember Dale (Earnhardt) and me and Rusty (Wallace) and Bill (Elliott) from back in the day, but there is a lot of young talent today that fans will eventually embrace. Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson are really good young drivers who I think will be able to fill the shoes of some of our veterans who are retiring as we go forward."
Q: What is the one thing NASCAR most needs to change, and why?
A: "Our schedule is too long. We start in February, and we don't end until the week before Thanksgiving. We compete against baseball and golf, and at the end of our season we compete against the NFL, and you're going to lose when you compete against the NFL. I would like to see us find a way to start the season a little earlier and compress the schedule to where we could end in the latter part of September."
Q: What would the Darrell Waltrip of 30 years ago say about your recurring roll of "Darrell Cartrip" in the animated "Cars" movies?
A: "He would have said, 'No way.' It's amazing the things I've been blessed to do. I've met presidents and flown on Air Force One. I've been married 48 years and have two beautiful daughters, and I get to do something I love even to this day."
Q: Do today's drivers have the charisma to keep the sport popular the way you guys did?
A: "This sport has evolved so much. I had one sponsor, whether it was Tide or Western Auto, that I had to keep happy. These drivers today are pulled in so many different directions. They have a different sponsor every week and a different group of people they have to take care of, and I think that's why you've seen Tony Stewart and Jeff (Gordon) and Carl Edwards walk away. Dale and I weren't under the microscope like these cats are today. We could get in a fight, and nobody would know about it. Now there are 24-hour NASCAR news stations.
"Sometimes I think less is more, because there are times I feel like we are overexposing this sport. NASCAR is trying to keep the tracks happy, and the tracks are trying to keep the fans happy. Everybody is trying to keep sponsors happy, and you get pulled in too many directions. It's almost unmanageable."
Q: Turning to our rapid fire, if you had not been a driver, what would you have been?
A: "An attorney."
Q: Who is the best driver of all-time?
A: "I am."
Q: Who is or was the most underappreciated driver?
A: "Terry Labonte."
Q: Who has better hair, you or Jeff Gordon?
A: "Jeff is a rock star. It's been fun being with Jeff. He's 45 and I'm 70. We're from two different worlds."
Q: What's on the bucket list?
A: "Maybe two or three years more of doing this TV gig and then kick back. Stevie and I went to a race on our honeymoon, and we've been going to races ever since. She wants to go to Ireland and Scotland."
Q: Take "Cars" off the board, and what's the best racing movie?
A: "I thought 'Days of Thunder' was pretty good, but I've watched 'Talladega Nights' more than all the others put together."