A year and a half ago, Michael Waltrip was successfully wooing employees, a very eager foreign auto manufacturer, and several high profile sponsors to sign onto his new racing team. The pundits predicted that with the backing of both Toyota and cash-rich sponsorship, Michael Waltrip Racing was going to be a contender in Sprint Cup right away, maybe even winning a race or two. 46 races later, Michael Waltrip’s three Cup teams are barely in the Top 35, and that is an improvement over last season. Two major sponsors, Burger King and Domino’s, have departed. Another, UPS, is very likely on its way out, leaving only the ever-loyal NAPA and Aaron’s, at least for now. Performance that is well below the expectations of big sponsors and a heavily invested automobile brand, combined with ethical incidents raising questions about his leadership, have led to the current bleak situation for Waltrip’s team. So as usual, the pundits were wrong.
Values of gas and opinions aside, when things get really messy, writer/editor wise, I am sometimes forced to drop the dreaded journalistic F-bomb! No, not that one (in this case, anyway); but sometimes, it becomes necessary to remind them that long before I became their journalist, I was, in fact, a fan first. I remind them that the very concept for this wonderful column was conceived in the inner sanctum of a gloomy, yet gloriously smoke filled tavern, in the middle of a cornfield.
Technically speaking, we’ll be at the quarter pole mark following the conclusion of the rollercoaster ride at Talladega this Sunday; but, with a brief pause in the relentless slog that is the Sprint Cup schedule, it’s a good time to put out eight thoughts and questions with eight races of the 2008 season in the books.
10. A Roush Fenway internal memo titled “How To Get Into And Stay In The Top 35” in Michael Waltrip’s back pocket.
I’m definitely feeling a lot better about our performance in the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine so far in 2008, especially compared to where we were at this time last year. Michael Waltrip Racing as a whole has made a lot of changes in the off-season and we are a different team this year, and it shows. I can’t begin to tell you how much easier it is for me to be locked in the Top 35 in points, it makes for a much calmer Friday afternoon.
After Tony Stewart’s verbal assault on Goodyear gained support amongst a number of high-profile fellow drivers (albeit not quite as aggressively as Stewart), some journalists suggested that the time just may be ripe for the formation of a drivers’ union. Unions are great! I come from a long-line of union guys that have walked the lines in hopes of gaining a livable wage, safer work conditions or medical insurance. There’s no bigger supporter of labor unions than me. However, the odds of NASCAR drivers answering the call of solidarity and organizing themselves in unity to defend themselves against the “man,” under the union banner are next to none; and for any number of reasons.
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members, and the car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Denny Hamlin’s car sputtered on the final restart, allowing Jeff Burton to storm into the lead.
1) Can’t Get Much Simpler – Last Friday’s rainout of qualifying for the Food City 500 required NASCAR to fall back to its rulebook for determining the lineup. It’s one of the more complex plans ever created, so let’s see if we can work through it together…
As the sun set over Bristol Sunday, Dale Jarrett took off his driver’s helmet for the final time. The dimming sunlight was a fitting backdrop for a career coming to a halt; for at 51, one of the most respected drivers the NASCAR garage has ever had was ready to pass the torch of elder statesman. Halfway across the racetrack, the sun was rising on Jeff Burton in Victory Lane. At 40 years old, Burton nabbed his first Bristol win in 29 tries, tiptoeing to triumph at a track that tends to make mincemeat out of men who drive the right way. But the Virginian not only survived, he thrived; beating younger teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer to the line, Burton became the first 40-something victor here since Rusty Wallace back in 2000. What’s more, he didn’t have to lay a bumper to a single guy in the process, a strategy that spoke volumes about the way he drives. Looks like Jarrett has a place for that torch after all.