CONCORD, N.C. (AP) â€” Down and seemingly out a day earlier, Darrell Waltrip was back in the Coca-Cola 600 Friday because of an accommodating driver and a last-minute business deal.
Waltrip failed to qualify for Sunday's race, but was still able to gain entry into the event when Carl Long, an aspiring Winston Cup driver, agreed to give Waltrip the seat in his car.
Long, 32, had just made the first Winston Cup race of his career when Waltrip, a three-time series champion, asked him to give up his spot.
Long was happy to oblige.
``I'm doing this for my future,'' he said. ``Who can help me get noticed? Darrell. Nobody knows Carl Long â€” Darrell's floor sweepers make more than I do.
``What I'm looking for is who can help me find a sponsor to get into Winston Cup. Darrell can.''
The deal was finalized Friday after a night of negotiating. Waltrip's Carter-Haas team made a pitch to Thee Dixon, who owns the No. 85 Ford Long occasionally tries to qualify for Winston Cup races.
Long had turned the 35th-best lap in qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600, guaranteeing him a spot in the race. But the team had used an engine geared for qualifying, and didn't have a suitable one to last for the entire 600 miles of the race.
So Carter-Haas offered Dixon its sponsorship for the race if Waltrip could drive the car. Waltrip, who has won the race a record five times, is retiring at the end of the year and desperately wanted into the field.
What Long received in the deal is unknown, but Waltrip said he was taking care of his ``new best friend.''
``You don't think I had to make a few promises, do you?'' Waltrip said. ``I will make it worth his time, not monetarily, but I'll take care of him.''
The attention Long is receiving might be enough.
Long knew the car, which once belonged to Jack Roush but was sold to Dixon at an auction, couldn't compete in Sunday's race. It's doubtful Waltrip, or the engine he'll put in the car, will make it a winner, but Long was feeling like one Friday.
``It's so hard to get a friend in this sport and I need some to make it,'' Long said. ``I heard Darrell call me his new best friend, so it looks like it's working out.''
Indeed it was, as Long strolled through the garage, stopping to talk to other drivers as his small crew looked on in amazement.
Only a day earlier, a security guard tried to chase Long and his crew chief out of pit row thinking they didn't belong. When qualifying ended and the garages closed, Long and his crew had to go back to Dixon's race shop to the spots on the floor they've been sleeping on while preparing for the race.
``We don't have a lot of money,'' Long said. ``If we need tools to work on the car, I have to buy them. If the crew needs food, we have to buy that, too. And if we need new tires, we have to beg the other teams for their throwaways. I'm hoping Darrell can help us work up from that.''
But Long also has to hope Waltrip doesn't wreck the car in Sunday's race. If he does, it will take weeks for Long and his crew of one full-time mechanic to rebuild it. Then he'll have to carefully plan which track to bring it to since his crew has to take vacation time from their regular jobs to go to the races.
If the car makes it out of the race intact, Long plans to load it into the hauler â€” which he also drives â€” and try to qualify it next week at Dover, Del.
``What a gracious thing this kid is doing,'' Waltrip said. ``Knowing what he has to do to even be here, then to make a race and let 'ole D.W. in his car, it's a nice exciting story.''