Martinsville, Va. – Michael Waltrip rallied back from being down a lap – three times -- to race his way onto the lead lap to finish 13th in Sunday’s running of the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The team’s perseverance moved the NAPA AUTO PARTS driver up four spots to 17th place in the driver and owner championship points standings.
“The NAPA AUTO PARTS team did a great job,” said Waltrip who lined up 21st after rain cancelled qualifying on Friday and washed out both practice sessions on Saturday. “I am proud of the job Bootie Barker (crew chief) and the guys did to prepare this car before it even rolled off the truck at Martinsville. That’s how this deal works. Build good cars and be prepared and the results will come. Now I want top-10 finishes really bad.”
Points leader Jeff Gordon led the 43-car field to the green flag. Shortly into the run, Waltrip got hung out on the outside line causing him to lose track position and by lap 17, he was in 29th place. Waltrip was able to get back into the favorable line and gain momentum. Then on lap 20, the NAPA driver was on the verge of picking up a position from driver David Stremme, when the No. 12 cut down on the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry. The move made contact with the No. 55 and sent it into the Turn 3 wall. Fortunately, the damage was minimal so during the caution on lap 23, Waltrip came down pit road for four fresh tires. He returned to the track in 42nd place, one lap down to the leader Jeff Gordon.
By lap 34, Waltrip’s lap times were very competitive and the NAPA team was anything but discouraged as NASCAR was going to throw a competition yellow on lap 40. The caution would enable Waltrip to regain his much deserved lap back thanks to the “Lucky Dog” pass. When the caution came out, Waltrip came over the radio and delivered a message to his team, “Let’s go get a top-10 and finish out this deal.”
The race went back to green on lap 48 and it did not take long for Waltrip to pick up valuable track position. On lap 65, he had picked off six positions to run in 36th place. The chance to gain even more spots on the track happened on lap 70 when Kyle Busch and Scott Speed got together in Turn 4. Barker told his driver to stay out and when the pit cycle was completed, the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota was scored in 17th place.
By the 150-lap mark, Waltrip’s NAPA Toyota was moving along well. He passed all the cars he could catch, but then started to lose front grip. Despite the handling deficit, Waltrip was able to race in 21st position and go door-to-door with Denny Hamlin who was the leader. Waltrip was fast but lost a lap to Hamlin. Fortunately, as he lost the lap, the sixth caution of the event came out on lap 254 due to an accident in Turn 4. Waltrip was the recipient of the free pass. Barker brought his driver in for service on lap 259 for an air pressure change, four fresh tires and fuel. He returned to the track in 21st position.
“My car drove better than I am used to at Martinsville,” added Waltrip. “I just needed track position to get back up and into the hunt. When I tried to really push it at the halfway mark, I was just a little too loose.”
When the 300th lap was recorded, Denny Hamlin was still in the lead and the NAPA team was in 20th position. Adjustments made helped tighten up the car for Waltrip, but he still needed a little more help with the drive off the corners. The long green-flag segment caused Waltrip to lose a lap, however, he remained focused and by the time the ninth caution was thrown on lap 428, Barker informed his driver that his lap times were very fast.
The green flag was once again thrown on lap 434. Jimmie Johnson was the new leader and Waltrip was in 20th position. The only other driver on his lap and in contention for the free pass was Reed Sorenson. Waltrip was able pass Sorenson and take over the 19th position on lap 443. His timing could not have been better as the yellow flag was thrown just four circuits later putting him back on the lead lap and in contention for the top-10 finish the NAPA team was shooting for.
“When my car drives like this, I just love it,” said Waltrip to his team over the radio.
Waltrip picked off four more positions to run in 15th place by lap 471. Meanwhile, the 12th caution of the race came out just two circuits later when Bobby Labonte spun on the track. Barker used the opportunity to bring Waltrip down pit road on lap 474 to bolt on four fresh tires. Waltrip returned to the track in 17th position and Denny Hamlin was the leader when the race went green on lap 478. The fresh tires and fast lap times enabled the NAPA team to pick up four more positions before the checkered flag waved. Waltrip crossed the finish line in 13th place.
Johnson scored the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500. It was his first victory of the season and sixth at Martinsville.. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., A.J. Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray.
Michael Waltrip Racing and its technical alliance with JTG-Daugherty Racing continue to produce strong results. Marcos Ambrose finished 14th. David Reutimann settled for 20th after the lapped car of Stremme spun out the No. 00 with less than 40 laps to go. It cost him a lap and a well deserved top-10 finish.
Next up for Waltrip and his NAPA Racing team is the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 5. Broadcast coverage starts on FOX at 1:30 p.m. ET. It also can be heard on PRN and Sirius XM Satellite radio networks.