Waltrip Still Happy As NASCAR Owner

Friday, April 20th 2007, 7:08 am
By: News On 6

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ Michael Waltrip has been through tough times before.

That is a big reason why the two-time Daytona 500 winner is far from ready to throw in the towel as his new team goes through something more than simple growing pains in NASCAR's Nextel Cup series.

``I've done this a long time and I lost a whole bunch of races in a row before I won one, and there was always times during that part of my career where I would lose my confidence,'' Waltrip said Thursday at Phoenix International Raceway. ``Then, I would do something good and I'd say, 'I can do this.'

``I've been very, very proud of my mental attitude toward what I'm faced with.''

What he has been through so far this year is a cheating scandal, an embarrassing personal accident and on-track failures that might have crushed some first-year team owners.

``I'm doing well,'' Waltrip said. ``I'm happy. I love being a car owner. I really do.

``I want to make a difference. I want to have this team succeed because I've always envisioned it as being a team that was built as a race fan, which is what I am, for race fans. And, oh yeah, by the way, we're going to have fast Toyotas, too.''

Waltrip, looking a bit haggard and a little thinner than when the season began, acknowledges he took on a huge task in jumping into Cup with a three-car team in Toyota's first year in the series.

Asked if, knowing what he knows now, he would still go with three teams, Waltrip said, ``Heck yeah.

``All the problems we've had, we more or less brought on ourselves. We know that the model in this garage area is four teams, to be able to spend effectively and be able to compete against the team that have those types of resources.

``It doesn't have anything to do with how many teams we have, it has to do with some of the turmoil and problems we've faced since we started this endeavor back in Daytona.''

Waltrip's team was caught cheating at Daytona, resulting in a big fine, a points loss and crew chief David Hyder and team director Bobby Kennedy suspended indefinitely by NASCAR.

Then, earlier this month, an embarrassed Waltrip was charged with reckless driving and failing to report an accident, both misdemeanors. Waltrip said he fell asleep at the wheel of his personal car and woke up to find it overturned in a ditch.

On the track, little has gone right for Michael Waltrip Racing, either.

Waltrip has not qualified for a race since the season-opening Daytona 500. He missed again Thursday at Phoenix, qualifying 38th out of 50 drivers and ninth out of 15 drivers vying for eight spots in the 43-car field.

Rookie teammate David Reutimann did make it on time qualifying 25th. He has now made five of eight starting fields but has yet to finish better than 33rd in a race.

The third Waltrip driver, Dale Jarrett, has driven in all seven previous races and will start Saturday night, too. But he had to use the fifth of six allowable past series champion provisionals and has not finished better than 22nd in a race since Daytona.

``We haven't done a very good job of complementing Dale Jarrett,'' Waltrip said. ``Reutimann and I don't get to race much and he's out there pretty much on his own. First of all it hurts me worse for (sponsor) NAPA because I know they trusted me and they wanted me to do this job for them and we haven't been able to perform for them.

``Then it hurts me worse to sit on the toolbox and watch Dale Jarrett out there running terrible. That's not what he's all about.''

Asked if he has considered putting another driver in his No. 55 Toyota Camry, Waltrip said he has ``considered everything in the world that could make this team successful.

``But, other than considering it, it hasn't gotten all that far with me because I believe I have the right people in place in management. I feel that I've got the best shot of anybody I know around here of getting this car in the race. So I want to be that guy who gets in it and goes and tries to do that.''

There have been a couple of key changes, though.

This week, Waltrip made Buddy Sisco, formerly Reutmann's car chief, his crew chief.

Waltrip has also reduced his race-weekend TV jobs.

``We just had our post practice deal in there and talked about things we might change and things we might do,'' Waltrip explained. ``I've taken my focus from running off and doing TV shows and doing things like that at the racetrack to being right here with my guys all the time. Hopefully, that will pay dividends as we go forward.''

That doesn't make Waltrip particularly happy, though.

``I wish you knew how much I love doing TV,'' he said. ``It makes me happy doing it. It's a relief, a release. Some people going hunting, some people go boating, some people go on vacation. I like to do TV.''

But Waltrip said he realizes that he has to manage perception as well as reality.

``I have to make sure that the people that are paying me to race my car are comfortable with who I am and what I do as far as my attention to the details goes,'' he said. ``We've certainly got a big hill to climb, but I'm into it, I'm engaged and I love the opportunity that is here for us if we can just turn this thing in a good direction.''