Michael Waltrip Gears Up For His Final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Raceby Camille Jones February 22, 2017
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Michael Waltrip will take the green flag in Sunday’s Daytona 500 for the final time in his NASCAR career as he marks his 30th start in the prestigious event.
The 54 year-old driver has competed in at least one race every season in NASCAR’s premier series for 32 seasons. He will continue to work in NASCAR as a race analyst for FOX once he hangs up his helmet.
“It’s my 30th and final one,” said Waltrip during Wednesday’s annual Daytona 500 media day. “I just thought it was a cool place to run my last race. I’ve been thinking about calling it a day over the last couple of years and this just seemed like the perfect time to do it. So I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go out there and compete one last time and then sort of slow down.”
Waltrip will make his 784th and final start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series behind the wheel of the No. 15 Aaron’s Toyota for Premium Motorsports.
The two-time Daytona 500 Champion has seen plenty of success on restrictor plate tracks, and he looks to capitalize on that success in his final start. After winning the Daytona 500 in 2001 on the same day as the tragic passing of his team owner, Dale Earnhardt Sr., he went on to win the race for a second time in 2003.
“Anyone that has experience here and has sponsors is going to get a call to run again,” Waltrip said. “This was a deal we put together internally with Ty and I, and Aaron’s, to run my last race. We picked Premium Motorsports with Jay (Robinson, owner) to put our sponsor on and he’s got some good folks over there and we’re looking forward to racing with them.”
Why has Waltrip waited until now to hang up the helmet? He wasn’t ready to end it without a final performance that he could be proud of.
“When we ran last year’s Daytona 500, it didn’t go well,” Waltrip said. “I didn’t want to quit like that.”
Waltrip continued and said, “I went to Talladega and we got a 12th-place finish and I ran up front a little bit. Then I decided we would just try to have one more competitive run down here this year. You’ve got to quit sometime. The partnership with Aaron’s has been important to me. They could wrap their arms around us doing a final race together and they made a commercial that aired on FS1 (Fox Sports 1), so I’m thankful for that.”
The Aaron’s sponsorship has meant more than a paycheck to Waltrip over the years. He looks forward to sharing his final moments in a race car with the company that has given him the opportunities to race for almost two decades.
“They’ve been my sponsor for I think 18 years,” he added. “So a bunch of the folks that work there are going to come down and celebrate my last run together. That was kind of important to me to share it with them.”
Photo Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images