Wal­trip wants to ‘walk away proud’

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - MARK LONG

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — Michael Wal­trip tries not to get too nos­tal­gic or re­flec­tive at Daytona In­ter­na­tional Speedway.

“It’s too emo­tional,” Wal­trip said Wed­nes­day.

The two-time Daytona 500 win­ner will make his 30th and what he ex­pects to be his fi­nal NASCAR start in “The Great Amer­i­can Race” on Sun­day. Wal­trip signed a on­er­ace deal with Pre­mium Mo­tor­sports, to say good­bye at the track that has pro­vided him tri­umph and tragedy. Wal­trip won the Daytona 500 in 2001, the same day his car owner, Dale Earn­hardt, was killed on the fi­nal lap, and again two years later in a rain-short­ened race.

“I have faced a range of emo­tion that hu­mans prob­a­bly aren’t de­signed to face, and it all hap­pened within 10 sec­onds,” Wal­trip said. “So that’s hard to think about and it’s hard to fig­ure out, but I love Daytona. I’ve been com­ing here since I was a kid, so ev­ery time we talk about com­ing to Daytona, I get a big smile on my face, which is crazy, but that’s rac­ing.”

Wal­trip has a lofty goal for his fi­nal race. He wants to run up front and fin­ish in the Top 10. If that hap­pens, the 53-year-old driver would “walk away proud.”

One prob­lem: He was 35th in pole qual­i­fy­ing Sun­day, hardly the kind of speed needed at one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks.

“Un­less our strat­egy is, ‘We’ve got them right where we want them; they don’t even know we’re here,’ then we might be in a lit­tle bit of trou­ble on this one,” Wal­trip said. “But I’m look­ing for­ward to try­ing.”

Wal­trip an­nounced last month that this would be his ca­reer fi­nale be­hind the wheel. He didn’t want to go out with last year’s Daytona 500 run, in which he got into a mi­nor wreck and fin­ished 30th.

“I just didn’t want to quit like that,” he said. “I went to Tal­ladega (last year) and we got a 12th-place fin­ish and I ran up front a lit­tle bit and then I de­cided we would just try to have one more com­pet­i­tive run down here this year. You’ve got to quit some­time.”

Daytona seemed like the per­fect place to end his ca­reer. He won four times in 32 years around NASCAR, with two of them com­ing at its most fa­mous track. That one of his wins came on one of the worst days in NASCAR his­tory, he can’t do any­thing about that.

“It’s just what I live with,” Wal­trip said. “I wouldn’t call it haunt­ing. It’s just my life . ... I think we have a num­ber of days when we’re born that we’re go­ing to live. Ev­ery­body has that num­ber and that was Dale’s day, and me win­ning was the per­fect per­son to win be­cause I just wanted to give him the credit. I still hon­our him by giv­ing him the credit.

“As I get older, as you think about your day com­ing up, it’s a pretty good day when you’re watch­ing your two cars drive off to win the Daytona 500 and then you’re in heaven right af­ter that. Ob­vi­ously, I wish I could have got a hug from him and ev­ery­thing had have turned out dif­fer­ent, but that’s just not the way it was meant to be.”

He ac­tu­ally got to cel­e­brate the sec­ond one, although the 200-lap event was short­ened to 109 by wet weather.

“I know I got the tro­phy and the cheque, and they didn’t shorten ei­ther one of those,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously, I would rather the high­light of my Daytona 500 win be like (Denny Ham­lin last year) when he makes that beau­ti­ful move and wins the race, but you know, that’s just not the way it is. I know on that day the fastest car won the Daytona 500.”


Michael Wal­trip would like a Top-10 fin­ish in his fi­nal NASCAR race Sun­day.

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