Earnhardt News
2001 Season

Q&A with Winston Cup driver Michael Waltrip

(January 30, 2001)
Q: You've got a new ride with Dale Earnhardt Inc. this year, so there's reason for you to be optimistic for a new year. But how do you keep a positive frame of mind when another season has passed and you haven't been able to get that first Winston Cup win?

A: I always try to figure out where I am. To know where you want to get, you have to know where you are. I try to be realistic with my goals. But I always hope to accomplish a lot of things when the year starts.

I don't know that they're a whole lot different this year. I just have some things that I desperately want to accomplish this year, and those are burned real clearly into my mind. I will start out with those in mind.

Whether I win a race or not, if you don't ever have a chance to win one during the year that's a pretty crappy feeling. You just want to go out and run well enough to hopefully be in a position to win a race, to lead some races. I have a couple of goals, more top-five finishes than I've ever had, real personal goals. You just kind of set things out there for yourself and try to knock them down.

Q: Have you ever thought about getting to the end of your career without winning a race?

A: I have never looked at going out without winning. I have never one time thought I would. I always said, when I started a season, that if I couldn't win that season, just give me something to build on. Let me have some finishes, do what it takes so maybe next year I could win. I have never one time thought it wouldn't happen.

I started racing NASCAR in 1985 and I have been at it ever since. I haven't won, and I accept a lot of that responsibility for myself because I should have been good enough to make a difference somewhere along the line and got us to victory lane. It didn't happen.

But there are guys in Busch racing who're there forever and can't win. In my second start at Dover, I won the race. I won the Dash championship. I have a decent career in Busch.

I am not intimidated. I am not scared of this task at all. I welcome the opportunity because so few people get the chance they think they really need, and I think I've got it.

I am just real thankful Dale (Earnhardt) believes what I believe, that I can do the job. The guys who are lined up behind me, my crew, the ownership, and my teammates, all of those things make you really confident. I can't wait.

It's funny, you're not going to hear one driver say, "Well, I guess I'll go to Daytona, then we'll go to Rockingham, but we didn't do so good last year. …" Everybody can't wait, everybody is excited. I am more excited I know it.

Q: Do you still learn a little something every time you go out after more than 450 career starts?

A: I like to watch films of races and read my notes. I think the more I know when I get to the race track, the fewer surprises I am going to have when I pull out on pit road.

I am real particular about taking notes. If I didn't win the Daytona 500, I have got to be smart enough to know there was a reason why. Did my car not handle well? Did the engine not run? Did we pull the wrong gear? The more I know about it, it will keep me from making the same mistakes twice.

Q: When you look at the attention and pressure placed on young drivers, like your new teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., these days, how do you think you would have stood up against that?

A: Dale Jr. just came into this deal, and if I had walked in here as a rookie and been swamped with the questions and the following he has gathered, I might have been burned out, too. But I have been doing it a long time.

I say all of the time, I have so much respect for them. Have you ever seen them try to walk from their trailer to the bathroom? It's like a Pigpen walking around with all of that dirt on him, that's what it looks like. They can't do anything. If that doesn't burn you out, it's because you're Dale Earnhardt and you've done it your whole life and so you understand it and know how to prepare for it and deal with it. If you're Dale Jr. and you just walked in and all of a sudden you're mobbed with it, I can certainly understand how he got burned out.

Q: You came close to winning a couple of times early in your career. How different would that have made things for you?

A: I hate to say this, but I would not have been as grateful and thankful as I needed to be if I had started winning races in 1991 and 1992, and I almost did. I think I would have expected a lot and I think I would have had a chip on my shoulder and I would have thought I was something. You go through a few years like I have and it makes you very humble and you just want to get to the next race, thinking maybe I can get there and make something happen. You just yearn for your next chance.

Q: For you it's not just about winning one time and then being done with it, is it?

A: No. It's about going to the track and unloading your car - I spent all the way up until 1998 up in the good side of the garage, near the good cars. You get out of the car and you're parked next to Rusty Wallace or Dale Earnhardt and people are noticing that you're there.

I've spent the past couple of years on the other end, when you're down there with guys who just come in to run a race every now and then. That's not where you want to be.

I almost won Darlington. I led it all day long and the last pit stop took us a minute. We finished third and when that day was over I got out and told a crowd of reporters it didn't matter, I would get more chances. Lo and behold, that win hasn't come since then.

I am kind of thankful it didn't. I don't care if I win one race, I won The Winston and nobody seems to care about that. I want to be consistently competitive, week in and week out. I want to be a part of the story. I don't want to be an afterthought. I don't want to be on the end of the garage I am on.

I promise you that if I can't do that, I don't want to do this job any more. I want to be where Steve Park is right now. He's just what I need. I need to look in his eyes and see what's there and know the respect his team has gathered and get right in behind him. That's my goal.



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