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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ten years ago Michael Waltrip was taking his first checkered flag as his friend and team owner Dale Earnhardt lost his life in turn 4. Friday night, 10 years to the day, Waltrip was taking the checkered flag again at Daytona International Speedway, this time in the Camping World Truck Series.
After a wreck-filled race, Waltrip let Elliott Sadler drop in front of him on the green-white-checkered restart and the pair began to draft like Cup cars in the two-car tandem. Pulling away from the field on the final lap, Waltrip made his move to the outside as they came off turn 4, moving past Sadler’s No. 2 Chevrolet to score the win by 0.061 seconds, his first in the Truck Series.
From inside the car Waltrip screamed, “Come on baby, you got it! Hell yeah, Michael Waltrip. Hell yeah. February 18.”
Struggling to find the words to describe the emotions of standing in the same place 10 years after losing Earnhardt, Waltrip explained, “I came here to celebrate his life with my black truck and my No. 15 car, I didn’t come to celebrate a win.”
Emotional as it was, Friday night’s race was not without its controversy. Making the move to the outside of Sadler, it was clear the left half of Waltrip’s rear spoiler was laying flat and clearly not in a NASCAR-approved position.
What was striking was not necessarily the fact the spoiler had broken, but that the television coverage did not ask him about, did not address the issue – other than a mention by Michael’s brother Darrell, who was in the booth – and did not question NASCAR about how this may affect the truck’s post-race inspection.
“I just know if it had fallen off before the checkered, they would have black-flagged me,” Waltrip said. “I guess that last push, I think they said we went a second faster than we’d been all day long, then the constant beating on the back of the truck from the other trucks, then that last push with me on Elliott, all the air off his truck and my truck onto the back, just knocked it loose.
“I’m just so thankful it hung on till the checkered ’cause I didn’t even know it was an issue. I didn’t even see it till after the race.”
The only problem with the situation was the fact the spoiler did in fact fall down before Waltrip took the checkered flag. Yet, no television coverage, no comment from NASCAR, nothing.
It even led Kasey Kahne to Tweet:
RT @kaseykahne: I need to figure out how to get my spoiler to fall off if that's legal. Wow
— Lewis Franck (@LewisFranck) February 19, 2011
When asked to respond to Kahne’s criticism, Waltrip simply said, “It’s been a long day.”
“I asked him how he did that, where is the switch for that,” Sadler said following the race. “I guess it came down when we had the green white checkered. I mean, it definitely helps his truck as far as drag. When he pulled out, he went by me. I was like, ‘Wow, he’s fast.’ I tried to side draft off of him and I couldn’t.
“It definitely helped him. But I think he still would have won anyway,” Sadler went on to admit. “He made a really good move off of turn 4.”
“I didn’t know I could push Elliott all the way around there and I was able to do it,” Waltrip added. “I didn’t know I was able to do that, and I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for Kyle Busch, that’s how good he is. He taught me to win a race.”
What Waltrip learned from Busch was that the two-car tandem used in the Sprint Cup Series could also work for the trucks. After the top line failed to develop for much of the race, Busch attached to the rear bumper of the No. 84 of Chris Fontaine with less than 10 laps to go and shoved him all the way to the front.
“When I saw it was Kyle Busch, I wasn’t surprised at all,” Waltrip said. “I just said, ‘OK, here we go. This is going to be pretty intense.’”
“When Kyle got behind the [No.] 84 truck, he started doing the tandem like we’ve been seeing all week. They were coming on to the front,” Sadler said. “I really didn’t know what move I was going to make when I got there. I was playing it out in my head depending how fast they were going to get to me, whether I needed to leave Michael, move up. They came a lot quicker than I thought they would when they got hooked up together.”
While the move looked to be one of brilliance, the engine began to overheat in the No. 18 Toyota and as he moved up to get some air the field began to stack up. As James Buescher made a move to the middle with help from behind, the No. 32 of Brad Sweet got loose and triggered a 10-car pileup that collected front-runners such as Buescher and polesitter Austin Dillon.
This was the second multi-truck incident of the day, the first coming on lap 76 when Travis Kvapil lost a left-rear tire as the pack headed into turn 1. When the smoke cleared, 14 trucks had been collected in the incident. The most striking part of that wreck was the fact Donnie Neuenberger single-handedly took out four trucks by failing to slow down for the wreck ahead of him. Neuenberger drove into the back of Johanna Long, who then plowed Johnny Sauter, who collected Matt Crafton and Max Papis – all as Neuenberger continued to drive through the incident without stopping.
Thanks in part to the 29 trucks that were involved in the evening’s five incidents, a number of drivers were able to score solid finishes to start out the year. With Waltrip and Sadler dueling it out for the win, underdog Clay Rogers was able to come home third and emerge as the series points leader. Rookie Miguel Paludo finished fourth in his first Daytona race, while Jennifer Jo Cobb came home a career-best fifth, while Jeffrey Earnhardt – the grandson of Dale Earnhardt – scored a strong seventh-place finish.
Following the race, NASCAR announced they had taken Waltrip’s spoiler and will examine it further, but that it appeared to be a broken part and the win stood.
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