Daytona 500 Notebook: Waltrip's week ends with 30th-place finish at Daytona
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Michael Waltrip's tumultuous week ended with one of his worst career finishes in the Daytona 500.
The two-time race winner was 30th yesterday, finishing the season-opening race near the back of the pack after spending the last seven days at the forefront of NASCAR's biggest cheating scandal.
Waltrip started 15th and dropped back in a hurry, lacking speed and fighting an ill-handling car.
It was hardly the start he wanted for Toyota, the foreign automaker making its debut in NASCAR's elite series.
Then again, after the week Waltrip had, getting in the race and then finishing it without incident might have been an improvement -- and more than some expected.
Waltrip was docked 100 series points for tampering with fuel before qualifying. Crew chief David Hyder was fined $100,000 and kicked out of Daytona International Speedway. Team director Bobby Kennedy also was expelled from the Great American Race.
Ty Norris, the team's general manager, said yesterday that Hyder was still under contract and that company officials planned to meet Monday to "decide how to move forward."
"We will complete any and all investigations before we make any decisions," Norris said.
NASCAR impounded Waltrip's primary car, forcing him to miss two practice sessions and sending him into a backup ride for qualifying. Nonetheless, he drove his way into the Daytona 500. Even then, Waltrip spun fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a qualifying race and drew boos from the crowd.
Fans showed more support yesterday.
They lined up for photographs and autographs before the race and roundly cheered him during driver introductions.
"I'm really thankful to be here," Waltrip said before the race. "A lot of times you forget that it's a privilege to be able to do this. I'm really honored that we're able to persevere and put all the problems we had behind us and be able to race here today -- at my favorite sporting event in the whole world."
The six drivers penalized for illegal modifications before the Daytona 500 -- NASCAR's biggest crackdown on rule-breakers -- had mixed success in the race.
Elliott Sadler (sixth), Kasey Kahne (seventh) and Jeff Gordon (10th) posted top-10 finishes. Matt Kenseth (27th) led six laps and was running strong near the end before an accident knocked him out.
Michael Waltrip (30th) and Scott Riggs (37th) were non-factors.
It was considerably different than last year, when Jimmie Johnson won the race after crew chief Chad Knaus was thrown out of Daytona International Speedway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. came to Daytona locked in a contract squabble with stepmother Teresa. Now he's apparently not happy with his engines.
"We didn't bring a good bullet to the fight," Earnhardt said yesterday after he was taken out in a crash. "We didn't have everything we needed to have. We're normally a lot better than this, and it's very frustrating to try to get out there and make things happen when the car just won't cooperate."
Even before he was taken out in a crash, Earnhardt just wasn't his usual self at Daytona. He said he made his share of driving mistakes and added that although the engines seem powerful, they don't perform as well as they used to in traffic.
"We've had really, really good stuff down here," Earnhardt said. "We need to look back. We used to be really good."
After a rough debut week in the Nextel Cup series for Toyota, the automaker failed to place a car in the top 20 on yesterday.
Dale Jarrett finished 22nd, followed by Waltrip in 30th. Dave Blaney (34th) and David Reutimann (40th) both were caught in accidents.
Lee White, senior vice president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development, said Toyota's victory in the Craftsman Truck Series on Friday and a second-place finish in Saturday's Busch Series race salvaged what was otherwise a difficult Daytona.
"In spite of all the turmoil throughout the week, we still had a good weekend at Daytona," White said.
NASCAR remembered former drivers Benny Parsons and Bobby Hamilton Sr. on yesterday, racing the season-opening Daytona 500 with tribute stickers on most of the cars.
The majority of the 43-car field had black-and-white stickers located near the driver's side window. The top half of the sticker was white with black letters, displaying the initials "BP" and "1941-2007." The bottom half was black with white letters, showing the initials "BH" and "1957-2007."
NASCAR also observed a moment of silence for the two late drivers in the pre-race drivers' meeting yesterday, and made Phil Parsons, Benny's brother, an honorary starter.
Parsons, the 1973 Cup champion and an award-winning NASCAR broadcaster, died Jan. 16 from complications stemming from a brief battle with lung cancer.
Hamilton, the 2001 Talladega 500 winner and was the 2004 Craftsman Truck Series champion, died Jan. 9 after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with head and neck cancer last February.
Roush Fenway Racing has filed a formal appeal of the penalty assessed to driver Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 team last week and is awaiting word on a hearing date.
Team president Geoff Smith said yesterday the team isn't disputing the team committed an infraction or that it deserves some sort of punishment.
But Smith said the 50-point deduction is excessive for what Smith considered a relatively minor penalty -- especially considering crew chief Robbie Reiser's fairly clean reputation in the garage.
"Fifty points for this is unprecedented and unnecessary to address the behavior issues they're worried about," Smith said.
Smith called the penalties NASCAR gave to Jeff Gordon and Michael Waltrip a "very light scolding" for far more serious offenses.
Crew members for Jeff Burton and Mike Wallace both were injured on pit road yesterday. They were treated and released from the infield care center. ... Several VIPs from the sports world attended the race, including Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning -- whom NASCAR president Mike Helton introduced as "that other Manning guy" in the pre-race drivers' meeting -- St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier and Atlanta Braves stars Chipper Jones and Mike Hampton. ... Actor Nicolas Cage, singer Kelly Clarkson, Five for Fighting's John Andrasik, fashion guru Melissa Rivers and country music group Big & Rich, who sang the national anthem, were on hand for the Great American Race. Cage was the grand marshal, and Clarkson performed a pre-race concert. ... NASCAR heartthrob Kasey Kahne was announced as the latest addition to the Gillette Young Guns, joining Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson.Glenn Smith, Associated Press
Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip's bad week has finally come to an end.
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First Published February 19, 2007 12:00 am