For Michael Waltrip, the final 10 races are the final act, as he prepares for a part-time ride in 2010.
Waltrip is handing over not only a full-time ride but a sponsor in NAPA that has been loyal to not only Waltrip but to the organization as a whole.
NAPA moved from a well-established Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Waltrip and his struggling, young organization that was started from the ground up.
NAPA watched the organization struggle and now as they build toward the future.
The future really does start this week, as this team prepares for not only the rest of 2009 but next year.
Sunday marked Waltrip's 750th career start, a incredible accomplishment in a sport where you can be the "It" driver one year and without a ride the next.
On Friday, Waltrip struggled in qualifying trim; he ran a fast lap of 20.2 seconds. Running 24 laps he was sitting 31st on the speed charts.
Waltrip had an early draw for qualifying going out fifth. He had a decent qualifying that scored them 21st in the lineup.
A decent starting position should have given them something to build off.
In the second practice of the weekend, the team was working on race trim and finding the handling and setup for the car.
They ran 26 laps and their fastest lap was on lap 16. They ran 20.5 second lap was good enough for 19th on the charts. Signs of improvement as the practice wore on.
With final practice coming up like everyone else, it’s all about race trim and getting a game plan. Waltrip, though, struggled in final practice.
They ran only 22 laps and their fastest lap was his second lap of the final practice. With a time of 29.8 seconds, Waltrip was only 38th fastest at the end of the hour.
Not a good way to head to the green on Sunday, struggling with the handling of the car late in practice.
After the green flag waved on Sunday the car quickly started slipping backwards.
On Lap 23, Waltrip told his crew chief the “car is as bad as it could possibly handle.” He was loose in, chattering in the center, and too much air in the front tires.
On Lap 34, Waltrip was 33rd and was in danger of going a lap down.
Just a handflul of laps later, he was one lap down.
When the first caution came out, he was 33rd and one lap down; after air pressure adjustments he came out exactly in the same position.
On the second caution for debris, the car was still loose, but it had good drive off and better in the center.
Waltrip was frustrated but they were the first car one lap down and were hoping for a quick caution to get them back on the lead lap and back in the hunt.
The cars’ handling, though, had them going backwards, and they went down two laps.
On lap 168, Waltrip got caught up in a chain-reaction wreck with Joey Logano and Elliott Sadler causing slight damage to the car. Waltrip was able to change tires make repairs and stay just two laps down.
With no other cars one lap down, they were in line to get one of the laps back if a caution came out. When caution came out, they got the lucky dog and were the second car one lap down, behind Scott Speed.
They soon fell back down two laps; effectively their day was over.
Waltrip was never able to get back on the lead lap, and with a poor handling race car, the results was a 27th-place finish and the first car two laps down.
It has been a long time since we have seen Waltrip run up front consistently and contend for wins.
Sunday’s like this have come to often for Waltrip and has made his choice to go into semi-retirement a little bit easier.
Waltrip is looking ahead to Dover and rebounding from another poor finish.
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