Waltrip's driving days may not be done yet
August 14, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Michael Waltrip added a full-time driver, but lost a ride.
Brian Vickers’ move into Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 car full-time beginning next season makes things a little uncertain for the two veterans with which he’s shared the ride the past two years. One of those is the team owner, who piloted the vehicle at Talladega in the spring and at Daytona in the summer, and is slated to be back behind the wheel at Talladega this fall.
“I’m out of a ride right now. I’ve lost my ride. Darn it,” Waltrip said playfully at the announcement that Vickers would go full-time “… If we can come up with a sponsor that wants me to run Daytona or Talladega, I’m still open to running Daytona and Talladega. But that’s about it. I like going out west to run the K&N car, I’m going to do that a couple of times this fall. Maybe race the Ferrari a little bit. But really would like to race the Daytona 500 if we could figure it out.”
A two-time Daytona 500 champion, Waltrip has started at least three Sprint Cup Series events each year since 1985. Although he’s scaled back his driving duties markedly since moving into team ownership, Waltrip occasionally wheels a K&N Pro Series or Grand-Am Sports Car entry in addition to a few Sprint Cup events. He ran this year’s Daytona 500 in a car fielded by Swan Racing.
His primary focus now is running a team that this season is trying to place Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for a second consecutive year. As for driving next season? He’s not ruling anything out.
“My job is make sure these three cars are funded and are as well-prepared to go to battle as they can possibly be,” Waltrip said. “Who knows. We still have some open inventory on Clint’s car, so if we find a partner that wants to sponsor Clint in a few races and wants to run the Daytona 500 …. I’m kind of hoping that might be the case, (that) there’s someone that would take some of Clint’s races, and sponsor me, too.”
A larger question mark for 2014 is Mark Martin, who was not at the announcement earlier this week, but is driving the bulk of the schedule in the No. 55 car -- 24 points events, including this Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Michigan International Speedway. Although Martin has unveiled no firm plans for next season, the 54-year-old has intimated that he’s more likely to compete some rather than retire from driving altogether.
Both Vickers and Waltrip heaped praise upon Martin for his role in helping to transform MWR into a championship contender. It’s no coincidence, Waltrip said, that MWR’s breakthrough season was the first one after Martin arrived. While Waltrip left open the possibility that Martin could have some role with his organization going forward, any concrete plans for next year remain an unknown.
“We’ve talked a lot. We haven’t made any formal decision. But he certainty has his his footprint all over our company with the role he’s played the last two years. Not only driving the car, but his commitment to physical fitness. We built a new gym, and he helped direct us in the building of that. He’s just been a huge, huge part of where we are today,” Waltrip said.
“When he showed up, he had just gotten out of Rick (Hendrick’s) cars, and he said, ‘These cars are good, you can win in these cars.’ (The year) ’12 was sort of our defining year. We ran for a championship. We had two cars in the Chase. We hadn’t done anything like that. I think Mark’s confidence in our equipment gave Clint confidence in our equipment, and it rejuvenated Martin’s confidence in our equipment, and we had a pretty good year.”
With Vickers bound for full-time competition, Waltrip and Martin have even joked about splitting a ride of their own for 2014.
“I told him, ‘You want me to go get a sponsor? Maybe we’ll share something else?’” Waltrip said. “He said, ‘You let me know what we’re doing, and we’ll figure it out from there.’”