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NASCAR Seeks Broader Audience with New Film and Netflix Show

It’s been well documented that over the last few years NASCAR’s TV ratings have been consistently trending downwards. This could loosely be traced back to when Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon retired in 2015.  Since then, a handful of the sport’s superstars have departed from full-time racing and as a result fans are following.

It now appears NASCAR is seeking help in the form of Hollywood entertainment in hopes of drawing in a greater population of race fans.

Television icon and avid NASCAR fan Kevin James is taking his comedic talents to Netflix in 2020 for the new multi-cam sitcom The Crew. The new sitcom will feature James as an old school crew chief who is resistant to the inevitable advancements of modern day technologies. When the team owner steps down and leaves his daughter in charge, these changes are implemented rapidly – and naturally, the two don’t see eye-to-eye.

The Long Island Native will not only be starring in the show, but he will be teaming up with longtime production partner Jeff Sussman to serve as a co-executive producer. NASCAR will also have a hand in crafting the show with a pair of senior executives also producing alongside James and Sussman – Senior Executive of Digital Operations, Tim Clark and Senior Executive of Entertainment Marketing, Matthew Summers.

The only other name attached to the project is sitcom writer Jeff Lowell, who has worked on hit shows such as Two and a Half Men and The Ranch. There is no word on who will be taking on the pivotal roles of the team owner and his daughter (let the Leah Remini rumors commence).

NASCAR may have hit a home run with this pitch, because the potential for success is seemingly enormous. Netflix has been the most dominant company in terms of streaming and entertainment services since 2013 and their success just keeps growing. It was reported that in the second quarter of 2019, there were 151 million subscribers worldwide using Netflix’s streaming services – that’s A LOT of eyes that will likely be tuning into The Crew. But what’s the allure?

For starters, James is a massive comedic TV icon. James broke onto the scene with the wildly successful show, The King of Queens, which aired for an astounding nine years. Sussman served as the producer for all nine seasons with James, so there is a high probability that the duo can recreate some of their chemistry and television magic with The Crew.

It also helps that James is known to be a huge fan of NASCAR who rarely misses a race. This should bring forth an authentic and passion-driven performance from the actor, in addition to his knowledge of the sport. We also have NASCAR’s ties to the show. With a pair of the sport’s senior executives playing a heavy role in the production of the Netflix comedy, this should ensure that  the sport shown in a truthful light.

Lastly, although no other casting news has been confirmed, it would not be out of the ordinary to see some of James’ friends such as Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade make a cameo on the show. The group of friends are notorious for making appearances in each other’s projects. And don’t count out driver cameos! The film Logan Lucky which premiered in 2017 showcased the (brief) acting talents of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Carl Edwards.

Between James’ and Netflix’s popularity and the infinite possibilities stemming from NASCAR’s involvement, the sky seems like the limit for The Crew. The bottom line is, if the show is done right, NASCAR could be seeing a dramatic increase in viewership over the next few years.

The Crew is slated to premiere on Netflix in 2020 with no official release date.

Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Making the jump from the small-screen to the silver screen, Michael Waltrip‘s documentary, Blink of an Eye, premiered in theaters worldwide this week. The documentary is an adaptation from Waltrip’s critically acclaimed and “New York Times Bestseller” book which examines Waltrip and the late Dale Earnhardt’s friendship.

After snapping a 462 race winless streak in the biggest race of the year, Waltrip’s triumphant euphoria comes to a screeching halt within seconds after finding out seven-time champion, team owner and his best friend, Earnhardt, passed away after getting involved a wreck on the final lap of the same event.

For those who have not read the book and do not know the story, Waltrip is able to articulate his damning range of emotions with ease. Seeing how Waltrip’s story translates from writing to the big screen should be nothing short of spectacular, especially with help from Emmy-award winning director Paul Taublieb at the helm.

With the combination of Waltrip and Taublieb’s storytelling coupled with one of the most heartbreaking stories in sports history, audiences should expect a full-on assault of their emotions in theaters. This is a drastic – and much needed – change in direction for how NASCAR had been previously portrayed by Hollywood.

Blink of an Eye should showcase NASCAR in a devastatingly serious manner. Prior to this we’ve only recently seen the sport shown in a comedic and childish light with films such as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Logan Lucky and Pixar’s Cars trilogy. You would have to turn back the clock 29 years to find the last time NASCAR was shown in a non-comedic light with Days of Thunder.

Not to say there’s anything wrong with the sport being shown in a comedic or youthful light. This is great way to bring in a new generation of viewers and comedy almost always sells (especially in the form of Will Ferrel and John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights). It’s just nice to see the sport being taken seriously instead of one big joke.

People want to watch characters (or athletes) they can relate to. Witnessing and listening to Waltrip’s story through his words offers audiences a raw and honest look into the minds and lives of these athletes and ultimately gives them something they can both sympathize and empathize with.

It will be interesting to see if Waltrip’s documentary can generate enough Oscar’s buzz to be considered a nominee for “Best Documentary” in The 92nd Academy Awards. The story is certainly there and with Taulieb directing, Blink of an Eye could be NASCAR’s broken Cinderella story for the sport.

If the documentary can indeed earn a nomination at the Academy Awards, it could have potential to draw an even broader audience from the cinema community. This could then spark a NASCAR trend in Hollywood and with that the possibilities are infinite.

The popular trend in the film industry is currently reboots and sequels. Whose to say we can’t get a Talladega Nights or Days of Thunder sequel? After all, Tom Cruise is returning for a Top Gun reboot – a film which premiered 33 years ago. So why couldn’t he return as an older and wiser Cole Trickle?

Personally, I’d love to see Waltrip’s story told in a more cinematic way, much like the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s Rush.

What are your thoughts on NASCAR’s outreach through television and cinema? Would you like to see reboots, sequels or certain stories told through the big screen?

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS……. Michael Waltrip

There are certain moments in motorsports where fans remember they were in the exact time that they occurred. One of those being the 2001 Daytona 500, the sight of Michael Waltrip’s first career victory and the death of Dale Earnhardt.

Now fans will have the chance to get a closer glimpse into the day, through a new documentary titled Blink of an Eye, which tells the tale of triumph and tragedy. In the same day that Waltrip broke his 462-race winless streak by winning the Daytona 500, his best friend and car owner lost his life in the Super Bowl of motorsports.

Waltrip, along with others connected to the events, take the time to recall not only that day, but the events leading up to and afterwards. You can view a trailer for the movie by clicking here.

Recently, Waltrip took the time to speak with POPULAR SPEED about the upcoming movie.

POPULAR SPEED: So everything came together initially with the book you wrote, so how did you come up with the idea to write that?

MICHAEL WALTRIP: It was 10 years after that tragic day that Dale passed and I was going to run the Daytona 500 that year and I was talking to a buddy of mine, who said I should write a book about the 2001 Daytona 500. I guess I’m one of those people who haven’t talked much about their problems. I was one of those kids that mom and dad would be like, ‘you’ll live, fall down and skin your knee, you’ll be alright’. I just never thought about talking about that day so much in so much detail, but my buddy said it might be therapeutic and something that I might enjoy. So we agreed to do the book and the process was really fun for me.

I met a gentleman named Ellis Henican. Ellis wrote the book with me and when it was all done, I handed it to the publisher and said, ‘Well, if anybody buys the book, I can’t help that, but I know every word in that book is said how I wanted to say it’. Ellis really let me tell the story, probably more so than most times when you have a ghost writer. It was more him showing me how to put the content into place, but it was my words. But when the book was all done, I was happy about it.

So about two or three years ago, Mitch Covington from Monster Energy, he read the book and said, ‘You have to tell this story to our sales board. This story is about overcoming adversity, and fighting through tragedy, and winning, and keeping your head up and keeping going.’ So we put together about a 40 minute speech, gave it at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas with video screens; Bon Jovi had played on the stage before so it was set-up to do a nice job for this presentation. When I was finished with the speech, there were these big hairy tattooed guys that came up to me and said, ‘Man, you made me cry. That was quite the speech’.

The owners of Monster were there and they loved it, and said that they needed to make it into a documentary. That’s sort of the process that it’s gone through, and how we got to where we are today. Just like the book, the documentary is done really well and told perfectly. I’m really proud of everybody that put it together, and everybody that had anything to do with my career that day in Daytona – they’re all in the movie. There’s not a piece missing that we can say that we couldn’t do it. I mean, Richard Petty is in it, my brother Darrell (Waltrip), Richard Childress, Mike Helton, my ex-wife Buffy. I’m proud of it and can’t wait for the world to see it.

POPULAR SPEED: So what was it like going through the process in putting the documentary together, and working with everybody to put together as you wished?

WALTRIP: Well, the content is sad and is something that makes me cry, whether I’m being interviewed for the documentary or just living my life. There’s no way that I can talk about that day and not get emotional. For me, it was nothing new or different. It was just a camera that I was telling it to, instead of a buddy or a friend. The thing that I was most proud of was listening to Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., and hearing Richard Petty, and some of my heroes that helped me even understand more about that time in my life.

About a month ago, I was on Dale Jr.’s podcast and we talked more about the 2001 Daytona 500 and the emotions and everything that happened that day than we have in 18 years. So it was certainly worth being able to have that moment with him, and that was a result of the documentary. I’m really thankful for him, who he is, and how much he was honest and you could just tell that he was living the same thing that I am living.

POPULAR SPEED: What do you hope fans take away from the movie when they get a chance to see it?

WALTRIP: I think there’s two reasons from the beginning that I wrote the book, and the goal is the same here. I wanted people to have more appreciation and more respect and admiration and honor Dale. I wanted people to understand more about Dale and how special the Intimidator was when he wasn’t at the race track. I wanted to honor Dale and then I wanted to inspire people. No matter what happens, you can overcome it.

You’re not a loser until you quit, and what is amazing to me is I had lost 462 straight NASCAR races, and when I woke up on February 18, 2001, I told my friends and family around me that they aren’t beating me today. There’s no way they’re beating me today, and that’s because that’s where Dale had me. He had me believing that I would win that race, and that’s what I went and did. To have that person believe in you, it can make a whole difference in your world, and when I took the checkered flag that afternoon, I thought it was the best day ever. Then an hour later, I learned that it might be the worst day ever in NASCAR. That range of emotion is pretty tough to handle, and that’s what life put on my plate, and that’s what I had to deal with it.

I hope that anyone that watches the movie and they haven’t won, or are trying to win, or they have tragedy in their life that they’re dealing with, I can help them. They can say, ‘Well, he did it, I can do it’.

POPULAR SPEED: You’ve spoken about your friendship with Dale Earnhardt. If there’s just one story that you can share from that time together, what would it be?

WALTRIP: There’s many just about friendship and some of the fun things that we did, whether snorkeling in the Bahamas or fishing. A funny story is that he had a big farm with a big fence around it, and I had a little farm with a big fence around it. He told me to come over and he’d give me a deer, and I could put the deer in my field. So I said that was exactly what I wanted to do, in getting a couple deer for my pasture.

So I go over to his house and this deer was in its mom’s belly and this mom got hit by a car. This farmer got out and saw this Mamma deer was dying and pregnant, and he delivered the baby. They bottle fed it, so the baby thought it was a pet. So Dale gave me that deer so it would be protected as it hadn’t been raised to be out in the wild yet. So he loads it up in the back of my truck in a little cage carrier, and I’m getting ready to drive off. He grabs me by the collar and he says, ‘If the police pull you over, you do not know where you got that deer.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ He goes, ‘You can’t be driving deer around town. It’s illegal.’ I said, ‘Okay, let me get this straight. I can shoot this deer between the eyes, but I can’t give it a ride?’

We got a big laugh out of that. The deer wound up at my house and we raised it for a long time, and I eventually let it out into the wild and I’m sure the deer is wandering around the hills of North Carolina today.

POPULAR SPEED: Now going back to 2001, what was it like for you putting the deal together to drive for Dale, knowing that he had that faith in you?

WALTRIP: Whether we were on the back of a boat or hanging out at his farm, he would always say to me – I drove for him in the 80s in his Busch car, and again in the 90s I drove a couple of races for him. He always told me that I would win in Cup if I drove for him. I would always say, ‘Well damn, let’s do it. What’s the hold up?’ But circumstances never worked out. There was no ride, no sponsors – the timing wasn’t right, I guess. But he had said that for years – that if I drove for him, I would win.

Late September of 2000, I was on the farm and Buffy, my wife at the time, yelled at me and told me to call Dale as he couldn’t find something. So I called him up and he told me, ‘Get over here. I have to tell you something’. So I went to his shop and he said, ‘We’re going have a third team, NAPA is going sponsor it, and I want you to be the driver.’ I was just amazed. I’m 38-years-old, and these days a 38-year-old with a record like I had could not get a top-ride. I don’t know if I could’ve gotten a top-ride if it wasn’t for Dale.

From early September to the last corner of the last lap in the Daytona 500, it was the best time of my life. My family was doing well, I was confident, and just going to the shop and listening to Dale about how we were going to do things, and seeing all the parts and tools that I was going to have to race with.

I couldn’t wait for the Monday morning debriefs, whether I won or lost. I think Dale had the attitude that I was really good driver, but I hadn’t done a really good job at managing my career, and he was going to take that over. The Monday morning after I won was going to be great, but I was looking forward to the Monday mornings when we didn’t win just to hear his guidance.

Unfortunately, I never got to have a Monday morning meeting.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Daytona, The “Land of Opportunity,” Lives Up To Its Epithet Again

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Daytona International Speedway has always been called the “land of opportunity” for NASCAR’s underdogs, and the 59th annual Daytona 500 was not any different.

A.J. Allmendinger finished third, Aric Almirola finished fourth, and Paul Menard finished fifth. What do all three drivers have in common? They’re all Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans with one career win.

Also in the top 10 was Michael Waltrip, who announced that Sunday’s race would be his final career start, and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who finished eighth and 10th, respectively.

“Typically a car that’s beat up isn’t going to do that,” Bayne told POPULAR SPEED about finishing 10th. “It’s cool to get a top 10 out of a wrecked racecar.

“We didn’t get many of the results we thought we would this week. We thought we had a car that can qualify on the front row and we thought he had a shot win the Duel. We weren’t bad, but the goal was to win.”

Menard said the event was one the wildest races he’s ever been in and noted how his Richard Childress Racing No. 27 team overcame the obstacle of going to a backup car to finish in the top five.

“On Friday during practice, I actually thought it was a little better than our primary car,” Menard said. “There’s a lot of new faces on my team, and Matt Borland is a new crew chief, and we came out of the gates swinging.”

Almirola led two laps as he and TriStar Motorsports’ Cole Whitt led the field to green with less than 50 laps remaining. Both their leads were short-lived, but captured the attention many fans, particularly those who would have wanted to see the No. 43 return to the winner’s circle for the first time since July 2014.

“We had a solid car all day,” Almirola said. “It wasn’t the car we needed to contend for the win. I’m just so proud of everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports. I’m so proud of Ford Motor Company for going to Victory Lane.”

Whitt ran out of fuel as the race concluded and wound up 18th, but he led three laps as well.

“We had a little bit of damage, but mostly, we stayed out of trouble,” Whitt told POPULAR SPEED. “It was a good day. We were running in front of the 15 [Waltrip] when we ran out of fuel coming to the white flag off of Turn 4, but all in all, we had fun.”

With this being Waltrip’s final 500, he felt “fortunate” to end his career on a high note.

“I had so many times I was in the middle of a crash and just missed it,” he said. “I’m thankful that I survived and I’m thankful for being able to run up front, and I’m happy about the finish.

“I’m ready for it to be my last [start] so it’s going to be a good one to remember it by.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

MILNER: Daytona 500 Win Not Best Way to Start a Career

As we approach the 59th Daytona 500, several (relatively) new names are among those touted as potential winners of the race.

To date, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, and Daniel Suarez will be among those competitors who will take the green flag at Daytona without a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win. Each of them has a solid shot to pick up that first win in the biggest race of the 2017 season.

Dillon has found the plate tracks and drafting to his liking, as the only driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the four restrictor plate tracks last year. Elliott, for the second time in as many years, sits on the Daytona 500 pole, a year after a very successful rookie campaign where he seemed on the cusp of a win several times.  Suarez could use the momentum of his XFINITY championship and help from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates to propel him to victory.

While all three drivers would present a great story should they break into the win column with a Daytona 500 victory, the question might be “should they?” After all, getting the first career win in the Daytona 500 hasn’t always led to great career dividends for their predecessors.

Seven drivers had their first Cup Series win in the Daytona 500. With one exception, none of them went on to record more than a scattering of wins throughout their career. Trevor Bayne, the Cinderella Story of 2011 with a Daytona 500 win in just his second career start in the series knows that all too well. Bayne will be part of the field on Sunday still awaiting his second Cup win.

Elsewhere in the field, Michael Waltrip is another driver who got his first Cup win in the 2001 Daytona 500, albeit a little further along in his career than Bayne. After starting his career with 462 races without a win, Waltrip would win two Daytona 500s (2001 and 2003) but only four wins overall.

Derrike Cope, still active in the XFINITY Series and undertaking a limited Cup schedule in 2017, will be forever remembered for being in the right place at the right time. When Dale Earnhardt, Sr. blew a tire on the final lap of the 1990 Daytona 500, Cope went from potential runner-up to Daytona 500 winner. What is not as widely recalled is the Daytona 500 was one of only two wins in Cope’s Cup career (the other being at Dover later that same year).

1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton logged four career wins over six years while 1963 Daytona 500 winner Tiny Lund had five career wins over 20 years). Mario Andretti’s win at the 1967 Daytona 500 was his only NASCAR win, but then his racing resume isn’t exactly light on other accomplishments.

With two Daytona 500 wins serving as his first two career victories, Sterling Marlin is the exception to the rule. Marlin won back-to-back Daytona 500s in 1994 and 1995, the first of ten wins in a career that spanned 33 years between 1976 and 2009.

However, as stated, Marlin is the exception, not the rule. Perhaps, if you count Dillon, Elliott or Suarez (or Ryan Blaney, Danica Patrick or Austin’s brother, Ty Dillion to name just a few) among your favorites, perhaps you will want your driver to wait until Atlanta before getting that first win.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Waltrip Ready for 30th and Final Daytona 500

Every race car driver’s dream is to race in the Daytona 500. Michael Waltrip has been fortunate enough to run twenty-nine of them dating back to 1987.

For Waltrip, the Daytona 500 has been a part of his greatest accomplishments and tragedies as a race car driver. In 2001, he snapped a 462 race winless streak in winning the Daytona 500; in that same race, his team owner and seven-time Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash. Waltrip also went on to win the Daytona 500 again in 2003 in a rain-shortened race.

When the checkered flag flies on this year’s Daytona 500 next month, it will mark the end of Waltrip’s career as he competes in his 30th and final 500. Aaron’s, who has been a partner of Waltrip’s for 17 years, will serve as primary sponsor for his final NASCAR race.

“We can’t wait to watch Michael compete in his last race with the same flair and thrills he’s been known for throughout his amazing career, and it will be a nostalgic moment to see him and the Aaron’s logo flash across the finish line together,” said John Robinson, Aaron’s, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer. “Michael has been a great sportsman and partner to Aaron’s.”

The car will be prepared by Premium Motorsports, carrying the familiar No. 15 Waltrip took to victory lane twice in the Great American Race.

“Although Michael is competing in his last race, Aaron’s is extremely fortunate to continue working with Michael and we know racing fans will enjoy seeing him at future appearances and at Aaron’s stores across the country,” said Robinson.

Waltrip, who has four career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins, hasn’t raced full-time since 2009. He has continued to compete part-time in the Cup Series with Aaron’s as a primary sponsor.

“I can reflect on my career with a lot of emotions and one company that has been there for me is Aaron’s,” said Waltrip.  “I started working with Aaron’s almost 20 years ago with some commercials and six XFINITY Series races when I had a team behind my house.  We have been together ever since and it makes my heart smile thinking about all the great things we did together.”

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Michael Waltrip Walks the Walk and Talks the Talk

LONG POND, PA. — When Sprint Cup races air on FOX, Michael Waltrip scurries down pit road before the engines start. With a camera operator in tow, he conducts spontaneous interviews with drivers, just moments before they climb into their cars.

The Grid Walk — it’s a humorous and almost always awkward segment in FOX’s pre-race coverage, but how did it come about?

“The folks at FOX thought that it would be good to go and say hello to the drivers before they get in the car and show what it is like as the best in the world get ready to battle,” Waltrip told POPULAR SPEED. “They want to see what light moments or serious moments might transpire before [the race], so our production staff came up with the idea and the fans seem to enjoy it.”

The walk is typically an unpredictable affair. Earlier this year, Waltrip caught a Hail Mary pass from Peyton Manning after the retired quarterback fumbled the football on pit road at Bristol.

In 2015, he had two incidents while attempting to interview Denny Hamlin. At the April Texas race, Waltrip tried to hand Hamlin a taco, but it spilled on the No. 11 car and Waltrip fled the scene, leaving the mess. Two months later at Pocono, Waltrip again tried to approach the Joe Gibbs Racing driver but was attacked by what looked like a Sasquatch, who was Hamlin’s “bodyguard,” before he could talk to him.

The segment isn’t scripted, but Waltrip makes an effort to greet friends along the way.

“It’s about 90 percent just winging it,” Waltrip said. “Now and then, there are some people I just want to say ‘hi’ to, and they’ll be kind enough to spend a moment or two.”

It ordinarily serves as a time for Waltrip to be loose and social with fans and competitors, but he knows that he can’t act comically every time he’s on the air.

“On Memorial Day weekend, you would just want to be thankful for the men and women who pay the ultimate sacrifice,” Waltrip said. “That’s not a time to be silly; that’s a time to be appreciative because that’s a serious moment.”

The walk complements Waltrip’s personality — it’s positive and creates a friendly atmosphere for viewers. Circumstances alter how the NASCAR broadcaster presents it, but he always finds pleasure wandering with the microphone.

“Every week, I seem to find someone new that makes me smile,” Waltrip said. “Like Bryson Byrnes talking to Dale Jr. at the All-Star race, and he told Jr. he might go to jail [for stealing the case with one million dollars.] And Jr. said, ‘I made it this far without any jail time’ — that really made me laugh.”

Ultimately, Waltrip’s goal is to entertain race fans and let drivers connect with them through television. He’s amiable in front of the camera, and the racers are kind back to him.
“The drivers are taking some time for the fans, and that’s what it’s all about,” Waltrip said.

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Uncategorized

Michael Waltrip Racing Hopes to Dance to the Front in Chase

By Michael Guzman (JOLIET, Ill.) — @ClintBowyer and @BrianLVickers may have missed the inaugural, win-centric Chase for the Sprint Cup, but the team’s namesake and quirky team owner Michael Waltrip (@mw55) says he isn’t worried about it.

Waltrip has plenty to worry about these days as he is set to dance in front of millions on Monday night as he makes his debut on Dancing with the Stars. The 51-year-old Kentucky native has certainly kept busy since stepping out of the NASCAR cockpit on a full-time basis in 2010, including becoming a best-selling author and driving a Ferrari in the World Endurance Championship.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner believes that his team will return to the level it had achieved prior to suffering a setback during the off-season. Even with NASCAR’s new playoff system presumably being wide open, Waltrip is glad this year played out the way it did.

“If we were in the Chase, I don’t think you’d be talking about us being champions, and that’s what the Chase is all about, being a champion.” Waltrip said on Friday. “So, we would have tiptoed into the Chase, but we know that over these next 10 weeks, we continue to improve our cars and continue to improve the engines, we can build momentum and race through these 10 races and win and be ready to be championship contenders in 2015.”

Much of MWR’s struggles have been attributed to the overall lack of power produced by Toyota Racing Development (TRD)’s engine package this year. Waltrip, though, was the first major team to feature Toyota support at the Sprint Cup level, and the team owner remains confident 2015 will see a significant rebound out of team and supplier.

“I’m so proud of Vickers and Bowyer for their constructive help towards what the engines feel like at specific points on the race track. This one has more power, well it doesn’t feel good at this RPM, it feels better at that.” Waltrip said. “We’re total partners and I wouldn’t be racing without them and we know we’re with the right manufacturer.

“We believe the will have the best engines in 2015 and beyond and we’re going to help them to continue to provide feedback so they can get there.”

The 2014 Chase may be treated as a large testing session for MWR, but the numbers have shown the team should not be counted out of victory lane contention due to a poor campaign this season. That started at Richmond last week, but Bowyer hopes the solid run will transfer to Chicago, where he has amassed seven top-10 finishes during the last eight races and ran sixth during Friday’s lone practice session.

“(Richmond) we finally executed like we needed to. Everything came together. We’ve had flashes of that throughout the year but Saturday it showed… “I’m happy with the way we performed at Richmond. That’s what this team is capable of.”

“This team has done a good job for our first year together” Vickers added. “We’re going to go out and try to win a championship next year, and there’s still 10 races left this year where we can win some races and get some top fives and top 10s. Everyone at MWR has done a really great job giving us some really great cars the last month or two, stepping up our downforce and car potential and its showing in our performance.”

Vickers may not yet be acclimated to his new team, but for Bowyer the standards and expectations are that much higher. Despite not having the yellow trim that signified he was championship eligible, he nonetheless still has the confidence of a winner and a contender.

“I wouldn’t say that we are ready to compete for a championship right now but we are going in the right direction and we will use the rest of this year to get a win and get ready for next year.”

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