Michael “Did You Hear About My Sponsors?” Waltrip
2006 Ride: No. 55 NAPA Dodge
2006 Owner: Waltrip-Jasper Racing (Doug Bawel)
2006 Crew Chief(s): Derrick Finley (Feb.-May), crew chief by committee (Richmond-May), Joe Shear (May-Aug.), Tommy Baldwin Jr. (Aug.-Nov.)
Stats: 33 races, zero wins, zero top fives, zero top 10s, 37th in points.
Best Finish: 14th (Talladega, Oct.)
High Point: While there weren’t any notable high points on the track for Waltrip in 2006, he did score plenty of high points in his dealings off the track. Already aligned with Toyota, in May Waltrip announced the signing of former NASCAR champ Dale Jarrett to drive the second car in his stable of Camrys for 2007. A month later, the team scored big on the sponsor front when UPS opted to follow Jarrett to MWR, while Burger King and Domino’s Pizza came aboard to sponsor the team’s third entry. In December, the final pieces fell into place; with the announcement of David Reutimann to drive the car, along with the addition of crew chief Matt Borland from Penske Racing, the budding organization now has three teams with which to do battle next year.
Low Point: Waltrip the team owner had a good year… but Waltrip the driver didn’t fare as well. He scored the lowest number of points (2,350) since his rookie year in 1985, finishing 37th in the final standings. He started off with a mediocre 18th-place run at Daytona, atypical for a man who’s won two of the last six Daytona 500s, and things quickly went south from there. Six finishes of 30th or worse in the next 10 races put the team deep in the standings, light years outside the Top 35 in owner points and in dire jeopardy of missing races. Ironically, the first race Waltrip’s team did miss came on the weekend of his 43rd birthday, an unwelcome present Michael won’t soon forget. Derrike Cope and McGlynn Racing helped out, turning over the seat of the No. 74 to Waltrip so he and NAPA could still run the 600. He finished 41st in that race, but the damage of missing the field in his own car was too much to overcome; things never got any better the rest of the year. Waltrip eventually failed to qualify for three more races in 2006, including the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis and the season finale at Homestead.
Summary: It’s best to say that 2006 was a building year for 2007, when Waltrip switches from Dodge to Toyota. With only three top-20 finishes, it’s hard to find anything positive to say about the team’s performance this past year. But the business-savvy Waltrip did make plenty of seemingly positive moves towards building his team’s future.
2007 Outlook: With Toyota’s deep pockets for 2007, you would have to assume things will only get better for Waltrip in the coming year. But 2006’s problems won’t be magically wiped away when the season starts at Daytona. Waltrip will still be dogged by his poor performance in the early part of the new season thanks to his 38th-place finish in owner points. The pressure will be high for the team to qualify each week on speed; with the number of new teams and the uncertainty about the Camry, that might be a big hurdle for them to overcome, as an early DNQ would throw a monkey wrench into the rest of the year. At least in 2007, the team will have factory support, something they did not have in their only season running Dodges.