Earnhardt News
2001 Season

Younger Waltrip ready to drive to victory lane
Ready to win
By Mike Fish, CNNSI

Michael Waltrip says that 2001 will be the year he gets his first Winston Cup checkered flag.

(January 19, 2001)
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, Michael.

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."

Waiting For Victory

Michael Waltrip's career statistics

Starts  Poles  Top 5s  Top 10s 
462  21  85 

Waltrip's 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 Michael is."

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.



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