NASCAR-WCUP: Waltrip Rides Four Leaf Clover to 12th Place Finish
15 June 1998
It could have been the fast Dale Earnhardt Inc. car that also finished fifth at California, or it could have been the team's 16- and 17-second pit stops, or it could have been the three-time Winston Cup champion's driving ability or it might have even been the small 4-leaf clover that he carried in his drivers' uniform.
But, whatever the reason, it's the result that counts most to Waltrip.
"That wasn't great, but it was pretty good," Waltrip said as he climbed from the Pennzoil Monte Carlo. Then seconds later he smiled and added, "you know that was actually really good."
Waltrip started and finished the 400-mile race in 12th position never really moving up in the field unless it was under a pit stop sequence and never really dropping back in the field. In a race with only two caution flags that saw Mark Martin pass Jeff Gordon in the late stages to claim the victory, the 51-year-old Waltrip held his own throughout the day.
"We were really good at the start and raced everyone pretty hard," Waltrip said. "But, in the last part of the race we just got tight in all that traffic."
The highlight of the day saw Waltrip race around then leader Gordon on lap 118 when a caution came out for debris on the track. The Pennzoil Monte Carlo had fallen down a lap a few laps before and Waltrip was able to pass Gordon and keep him behind as they crossed the finish line.
The move enabled Waltrip to return to the lead lap and when he came into the pits, the DEI crew turned a 16.33 -second pit stop - it its best pit stop of the year - and returned Waltrip to the track in 8th place. With only 12 cars on the lead lap, crew chief Philippe Lopez decided to bring Waltrip in a few laps later during the second and final caution period of the day. The move enabled Waltrip to stay on the track about 10 laps longer than the leaders on the final pit stop sequence - a strategy that would have paid dividends if another caution had fallen during those 10 laps.
The gamble failed, but it enabled Waltrip to lead a lap - his first of the year - before he pitted. Waltrip returned to the track only falling down a lap with less than five laps remaining in the race.
A fast car and fast pit stops weren't the only bullets in Waltrip's gun on Sunday.
Waltrip carried a four-leaf clover in his uniform given to him by Karen Masencup, the team's scorer. Masencup's 74-year-old father found the clover before the Texas race and asked his daughter to give it to Waltrip - his favorite driver. Masencup forgot her father's request and Waltrip crashed on the second lap. She remembered before the California race and a few hours later Waltrip finished fifth.
"I guess it didn't work quite as good as California, but it worked today," said Masencup after the race.
She said her father has a few more four-leaf clovers in his yard and plans to give Waltrip a new clover on Sunday when the Pennzoil Monte Carlo returns to action at Pocono International Raceway.