Bristol Motor Speedway and Darrell Waltrip will forever be linked in the history of NASCAR as the Kentucky native visited victory lane at the world’s fastest half-mile track a dozen times in his Hall-of- Fame career. His domination at the track also included a record seven consecutive victories between 1981-84. He is indeed a legend at the east Tennessee venue and race fans are reminded of his deeds every time they walk into the track as part of the grandstands are named in his honor.
Darrell was there for Sunday’s running of the 20th Food City 500 as he was in his usual location behind the microphone in the FOX broadcast booth, but on this race day, it was his younger brother Michael that upheld the family name. Michael’s career behind the wheel in the Sprint Cup Series will never be confused for that of his brother’s, but it seems that even though Michael may still attempt to start a race or two each year, he is starting to make his mark in the sport as an owner.
It has been a long slow climb for Michael Waltrip Racing since it became the lead organization for Toyota when the manufacturer first came into the sport. There have been a couple of victories with former driver David Reutimann, but it hasn’t been until now that the organization has been competitive enough to not only win races but also maybe become a player in the Chase.
Sunday at Bristol might have been the high-water mark for the MWR as all three of its teams finished in the top five for the first time in the organization’s history. Martin Truex Jr. finished third, followed by teammates Clint Bowyer in fourth and Brian Vickers in fifth.
Truex Jr. and Bowyer are fulltime drivers for MWR, but this was the first start of the season for Vickers in one of Waltrip’s Toyotas. Vickers is scheduled to drive a total of six races this season and the remainder of the races in the number No. 55 Camry will have either the veteran Mark Martin or Waltrip behind the wheel.
The Bristol results also showed up in the overall point standings as Truex Jr. sits in fourth place, 18 points behind leader Greg Biffle, and Bowyer in eighth is 31 points out of the top spot. Even though the season is just four races old, these two drivers have gotten off to the kind of start that at the least should give them the opportunity to run for a spot in the Chase.
The same can’t be said for the driver everybody thought would start the season strong and become a contender for wins and one of the 12 spots in the Chase. Kasey Kahne made the longawaited move to Hendrick Motorsports after last season, taking over the No. 5 Chevrolet that had been driven by Mark Martin for the last three years.
Kahne has been competitive throughout his career and has found his way to victory lane while driving equipment that really hasn’t compared to what he will now get every time the green flag waves. Unfortunately, good equipment doesn’t guarantee success in this sport.
Only 15 laps had gone off the board on Sunday when Kahne found himself caught up in a wreck that forced him to take his Chevrolet behind the wall for extended repairs before limping back out on the track. He ended up 37th on the day, but maybe more important was that he was only able to pick up seven points towards making the Chase field. His Bristol finish was just a continuation of what has been a miserable start to the season as he finished 29th at Daytona, 34th at Phoenix and a season-high 19th at Las Vegas. The four finishes now have him in 32nd place in the points, 66 points out of the Chase.
Being that far out at such an early stage of the season may now have forced Kahne and his crew chief Kenny Francis to rethink how they are going to approach the remainder of the races leading up to the Chase. Sixty-six points out at such an early stage may now have the team start trying to accumulate as many wins as they can in hopes of grabbing one of the two wild card spots in the Chase. It will not be like they weren’t going for wins already, but now they may be forced to roll the dice and gamble when they normally would settle for just a good points day.
Event: Auto Club 400
Track: Auto Club Speedway (2-
mile D-shaped oval, 14 degrees of
banking in the turns)
Date: March 25, 3 p.m.
Defending Champion: Kevin