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NASCAR WCUP: Misleading Talladega result leaves Michael Waltrip disappointed

27 April 1999

Michael Waltrip
TALLADEGA, Ala. - Philips Chevrolet driver Michael Waltrip played several different roles on Sunday during the Diehard 500. He started the day as the optimist, and then spent the majority of it as the contender. But when the race ended, he was forced to accept his role as the unlikely 18th place finisher.

Waltrip entered race knowing he would be a factor. In the first race with his new team at Daytona, Waltrip ran well and pocketed a fifth place finish, and he felt confident he could build on that momentum at Talladega. Early on, he appeared to pick up right where he left off in the season-opener.

He began the event in 10th position and spent the early laps protecting himself in the tight, two-wide racing that defines restrictor plate racing. But after letting things settle down a bit, Waltrip started to show his strength. He made a steady move toward the front, working the draft to perfection. On lap 68, his strength and patience paid off as he took his car to the point.

Waltrip led the next 23 laps in impressive fashion. He was the first car in a four-car breakaway that included Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart and eventual winner Dale Earnhardt. As the race entered its second half, Waltrip relinquished the lead, but stayed in the hunt. He spent most of the day in and around the top five, eventually returning to the lead one more time on lap 151.

The final caution flag of the event led to a restart with 15 laps to go. Waltrip, running 11th at the time, knew he had plenty of time to get to the front if he could just find the right line among the tight pack. It seemed he found the line he needed, moving to seventh with nine laps to go. But during those final circuits, lapped traffic battled with the leaders, and Waltrip found his line and his momentum blocked, which allowed several cars to stream by.

"People just cut me off," said Waltrip. "I got cut off and had to get out of the gas twice. I was all the way up beside one lapped car and he turned left on me and I had to get on the brake. It's just unfortunate how it all worked out. The goal at the end of the race is to have a chance to win and we got shuffled out.

"No question we were competitive. We were smart enough and fast enough to miss the wrecks and get to the front. We had a good set-up in the car, so I'm real proud of the pit stops and the team. I'm just a little disappointed in the result."

Waltrip now stands 15th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings after nine of 34 events. He and his Mattei motorsports teammates return to action this weekend in Fontana, Calif., for Sunday's event at California Speedway.

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