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NASCAR-WCUP: Waltrip Knew What Was Coming at Martinsville

21 April 1998

Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip
Pennzoil Monte Carlo driver Darrell Waltrip knew he faced one great danger before Monday's rain-delayed Goody's 500 at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway.

More than 20 years of experience and 11 victories on the flat track taught Waltrip that no matter how good his Pennzoil Monte Carlo was in practice or qualifying, survival is the key to success in Martinsville.

"I said before the race that the only thing I was concerned about was getting crashed," Waltrip said. "I knew we had the car to finish really well."

Unfortunately, Waltrip's prognostication came true early and as it turned out often during the nearly four hours it took to run the race. When the day ended, Waltrip left the Virginia racetrack with a 40th-place finish, a crumpled race car and a lot of frustration.

The three-time Winston Cup champion began the race in 14th place and his hopes were high after posting impressive practice speeds on Saturday. In the final practice Saturday night, Waltrip was so pleased with the Pennzoil Monte Carlo he pulled the car in early after NASCAR timing showed Waltrip posting one of the ten quickest speeds.

"I think we are good," Waltrip said after practice. The key now is to take care of our equipment and get toward the end of the race, before we start really racing hard."

After enduring a day of rain showers on Sunday, the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team returned to the track on Monday ready for what was expected to be one of its best performances of the year. A season that included several crashes, injuries to primary driver Steve Park and a few missed races would now turn around at Martinsville where Waltrip has dominated over his long and storied career.

As the field took the green flag, Waltrip dove down to the lower and faster groove at the bottom of the racetrack and settled in for 500 laps. By the fourth lap, Waltrip and #99 car driven by Jeff Burton were side-by-side with Burton occupying the outside position. Then Waltrip's pre-race nightmare became a reality.

"The 99 bumped me in the right rear and turned me into the fence," Waltrip told the media after the accident. "It was a little early to be doing that kind of thing. I was on the inside trying to get going, trying to get single file and do a little racing. Burton just got into me coming off the second turn. He got me headed for the wall and I couldn't do anything. He gave me a shot in the right rear, right in the tires I guess."

The Pennzoil Monte Carlo slammed the inside wall and came to a rest. As Burton drove off, Waltrip informed the crew of the severe damage. For the next hour, the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team worked feverishly to repair the damaged racecar.

Eventually Waltrip returned to the track to log laps and gain a few positions. But, the nightmare got worse. Mark Martin, Burton's Roush Racing teammate who battled handling problems from previous crash, made contact with Waltrip sending the Pennzoil car into the outside wall in turn two.

The DEI team made repairs and Waltrip limped home to a 40th-place finish many laps behind winner Bobby Hamilton.

"I had a great race car. It's been great all weekend," Waltrip said. "I really feel bad for these guys. Every week it's a torn up racecar. I don't know what to tell them."

Crew Chief Philippe Lopez reminded Waltrip there are several more chances in the 1998 season.

"We'll keep getting you good cars and get you a pole so you can start in front and not have to worry about anyone else," said Lopez over the team radio.

"That might be what it's going to take out here," laughed Waltrip.

Waltrip and his Pennzoil Monte Carlo teammates return to action on the 2.66-mile superspeedway in Talladega next Sunday.

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