Younger Waltrip ready to drive to victory lane
Ready to win
By Mike Fish, CNNSI
(January 19, 2001)
Michael Waltrip says that 2001 will
be the year he gets his first Winston Cup checkered flag.
As Darrell Waltrip heads to the broadcast booth promising
candor and a tell-it-like-it-is approach, nobody gets a free pass -- not even his brother,
The kid brother of the Waltrip family is driving for a
new owner this season, Dale Earnhardt, and Michael Waltrip is under the gun to get his No.
15 NAPA Chevrolet down victory lane. That's a bold path for the likeable, still-active
Waltrip, who has gone 462 Winston Cup starts without a victory since debuting in 1985. But
driving for a solid owner and a team that features Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Park,
there are no more excuses to fall back on.
"This is it," said Darrell Waltrip, debuting this
season as a FOX analyst. "That's the way I look at it and I think Michael feels the
same. I hate to say that about him because I don't want to put undue pressure on the guy,
but that is where he is.
"The thing about Earnhardt, whether you like him or
don't like him, he knows how to put a team together. When I drove for him (in 1998), if I
said to Dale, 'I need five brand new cars and I got to have a new car for this weekend and
we don't have one in the house' -- he knew I got to have it. So Dale being a driver and
successful, it really helps accelerate everything he does. It's helped him with Park. It's
helped him with his son. And it'll help him with Michael.
"What Michael has got to do is concentrate, focus and
get in there and drive his fanny off to the very end of the day, and see if he can make
something of this deal. Everything is there. It may take him a race or two or whatever to
get up to speed with the people, but he has the ability. Of all the guys who haven't won a
race, I think he's the best."
That's a distinction Michael, 37, wants no part of.
"I don't know how many people watched racing 10 years
ago," Michael said, sensitive to questions about his recent struggles. "I used
to be pretty good."
Waltrip's career statistics
best finish was at Pocono
in 1988, where he finished second.
But the days of being a promising driver are history. The
sport is rife with younger drivers, fresh-scrubbed kids like Earnhardt Jr., Casey Atwood
and Matt Kenseth, and whether Waltrip admits it or not there has to be a sense of urgency
approaching the 2001 season.
He says his burning goal is for more top-five finishes than
his five in 1990. If he can just put himself in contention, then he thinks the elusive
victory may be his.
"Everything in this sport is about what you have done
for me lately," he said. "The last few years there hasn't been a whole lot for
me to be proud of. This is my best opportunity to win races in a very long time."
The reason for his brother's mediocrity, Darrell says, is he
hasn't put himself in position to drive for an established, winning team. Now, he has with
Earnhardt. And the owner's demanding ways might be what the younger Waltrip needs.
"He's at point like where I was when I drove for Junior
Johnson (1981-86)," Darrell said. "It wasn't whether I was going to win or could
I win, it was I better win. That was the way Junior left it. And I think that is where
Darrell retired from the sport after last season with 84
career wins, tying Bobby Allison for third all-time. To his regret, he struggled to keep
his own career going in recent years and hasn't been much help to his brother. He's told
Earnhardt he's available to help his team, or anything to get his brother a win.
"Being in the booth calling his first win -- that would
be hard to top," Waltrip said.
T h e E a r n h a r d t C o n n
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