DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A journey that has included parts of four decades and two Daytona 500 victories will come to an end on Sunday, when Michael Waltrip takes his final ride in The Great American Race.
Having first driven in NASCAR’s Super Bowl in 1987 for car owner Chuck Rider, Waltrip’s final hoorah in the 500 will come in its 59th running on Sunday, when he straps into the No. 15 Aarons Toyota for Premium Motorsports.
Waltrip, who said previously that Sunday’s race will be his final appearance in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, will be guaranteed to make his 784th and final Cup start, thanks to a NASCAR Charter that guarantees him a spot in the 40-car field.
He also emphasized that he felt Daytona was an appropriate location for the final sendoff of his premier series career.
“Yes, it’s my 30th and final one and I just thought it was a cool place to run my last race,” Waltrip said Wednesday during the annual Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona Int’l Speedway. “I’ve been thinking about calling it a day over the last couple years, and this just seemed like the perfect time to do it, so I’m looking forward to my opportunity to go out there and compete one last time … and then sort of slow down I guess.”
After a performance for BK Racing in last year’s 500 that saw him start 36th but only make his way to 30th after being involved in an accident during the event, Waltrip admitted that this time around, he just wants his chance to be a competitive one.
“When we ran last year’s Daytona 500, it didn’t go well,” he said. “We didn’t run good and I guess we got into a little bit of a fender bender and messed up the car and I finished 30th I think and I just didn’t want to quit like that. I went to Talladega and we got a 12th place finish and I ran up front a little bit and then I decided we would just try to have one more competitive run down here this year.”
Waltrip will have support from longtime sponsor Aarons, a lease-to-own retailer that has been with him for a majority of the last two decades, as well as a primary partner of his Cup efforts since 2010.
“You’ve got to quit sometime and the partnership with Aaron’s has been important to me,” he stressed. “They could (and did) wrap their arms around us doing a final race together. They made a commercial that aired on FS1, so I’m thankful for that and a bunch of the folks that have been with me — they’ve been my sponsor for … I think 18 years, so a bunch of the folks that work there are going to come down and celebrate our last race together. That was kind of important to me to (be able to) share it with them.”
The car that Waltrip will race this weekend carries a mosaic of images from Waltrip’s life and career built into the paint scheme, similar to a scheme that Joey Logano raced last fall during the NASCAR playoffs.
“I’m looking forward to carrying all these beautiful pictures … my mom and dad are on the side of the car, my rookie year racing Alan Kulwicki, a picture of me with another Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne … it’s just great.”
“When Richard Petty came by (during practice on Saturday), he said, ‘Make sure you protect that right rear corner, cat, because I’m over there on that one!’ I just want to thank Aarons, Diamond Resorts and SoCal Media group for coming up with the idea for the car. I’m just blessed.”
Continued on the next page…