With two full-time cars in the Sprint Cup Series and duties for NASCAR on Fox, Michael Waltrip has distanced himself from being a racecar driver.
This weekend at Talladega Superspeedway Waltrip wants everyone to know however, that he still knows what he’s doing. Waltrip will pilot his own No. 55 Aaron’s Alabama National Championship Toyota. With qualifying having been rained out Saturday morning he’ll start 14th based on his practice speed.
“I just always look forward to my chances to race at these tracks,” Waltrip said on Saturday morning. “I retired from racing full time a few years ago, but I’ve raced every plate race since then, so I feel like I still am up to speed on what it takes to be able to win and to run up front.
“We were fortunate enough to have a chance to win here last fall and I was able to lead the Daytona 500 this year in my first race of the season, so optimistic that we’ll figure out a way to get the No. 55 Aaron’s Alabama Toyota to the front when they throw the green flag tomorrow.”
Of his four NSCS career wins, Waltrip’s last came at Talladega in 2003, after which he popped out of the roof hatch. He’s also a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 and has always been considered a factor at the big tracks.
His plan on Sunday is to make sure he’s around at the end, take his time and be aggressive when it’s the right time, mostly because he has to readjust himself to being back behind the wheel of a racecar. Not having sat in one since February, while other drivers are used to the repetition, Waltrip will be familiarizing himself with the tiniest of details.
“Well, [Friday] was big – usually important for me because when you take off from Daytona until May, there’s so many things you need to orientate yourself with,” Waltrip noted.
“Something as simple as just being able to see the water temperature and the water pressure gauges in your peripheral without having to pay attention to them, understanding how the cars move when other cars come around you.
“I have to do a whole lot of visualization – like after practice yesterday, this morning, before I race tomorrow – I visualize what I saw in practice and what I think I’ll see during the race.”
In the season opening race, Waltrip drove for Swan Racing in the fan favorite No. 26 Toyota in honor of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, CT. He finished 22nd and led four laps. Sunday he’ll be in another favorite car as the colors of Alabama’s National Championship winning football team will be flying around the speedway.
Waltrip wants to keep with the winning tradition, something that on the last lap here in the fall looked like he might do before the ‘Big One’ broke out. Sunday will mark the 54th time he’s taken the green flag at NASCAR’s biggest, baddest and most unpredictable speedway.
“My last victory in NASCAR in the Cup Series came here at Talladega in 2003 and so I know how to win here,” said Waltrip.
“I think I was in a pretty good chance to win last fall, so the confidence helps a lot. It’s like when I play golf I know I suck and so the ball doesn’t go very good. But when I come to Talladega, I know what I’m doing and so therefore after all my focus and visualization on what I think I’ll see and how I’m going to do – then some laps the first 100 miles or so getting into the game – I feel like I’m perfectly prepared to go win the race.”