BRISTOL, Tenn. - A day after it was announced that Darrell Waltrip would end his broadcasting career this year, the three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion sat down and spoke with the media about his legendary career behind the wheel and in the television booth.
“Some people have thought that this was a spur-of-the-moment decision, something that I decided to do over the last two or three weeks,” Waltrip said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he won 12 times. “That is so far from the truth. ...
“Anybody that’s done what I’ve done, whether it’s a driving career or a TV career, you can always look back and say ‘maybe should have done something different, maybe I should have thought about this or maybe I should have thought about that.’
“This is my home. For 60 years of my 72 I was holding on to something. I was holding on to a steering wheel for 30 years; I let go of that wheel and I grabbed on to a microphone. And I held on to a microphone for another 19 years. I’ve always been holding on to something.”
Waltrip, along with Mike Joy and former series crew chief Larry McReynolds, made up the original booth talent for FOX Sports when the network began NASCAR coverage in 2001. The move to television came after a driving career that saw Waltrip win series championships in 1981-82 and 1985 as well as 84 races.
In 2016, three-time series champion Jeff Gordon joined Waltrip and Joy in the booth.
As a racer in the early 1970s, Waltrip rocked the established stars of the day almost from the moment he arrived on the scene. By the end of the decade, he was winning multiple races and contending for championships. He was both loved and loathed as a competitor by fans and fellow drivers alike.
His career as a broadcaster was equally notable as he quickly helped merge two very different eras of the sport, identifying seamlessly with the older established followers while teaching a younger audience the ins and outs of NASCAR.
Mike Helton, vice chairman of NASCAR, noted that Waltrip has made “a remarkable impact on a lot of people personally but on our industry in general.
“I count my blessings as I get older about those that I have been able to share my career with, but you’re right there among the top,” Helton told Waltrip. “You’re a remarkable person.”
Waltrip will remain in the booth for the remainder of the FOX portion of the 2019 racing season, which concludes June 23 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
A replacement has not been named.
“They say you get what you give,” Waltrip said. “Well, I gave a lot. But I got a whole lot more in return.”
The speed has been present nearly every race. There is no disputing that, as Ryan Blaney has had a fast car capable of contending in all seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races this season.
But while Blaney has had speed and led the third-most laps, that speed has not translated into winning. Instead, happenstance and miscues have contributed to what Blaney acknowledges has been a frustrating season heading into the Food City 500 on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“There are moments you get frustrated at it,” Blaney said. “You just wish stuff would stop happening.
“The good thing is we’ve had speed all year. Honestly, I think we’ve had cars good enough to win almost every single one of them — at least have a shot at them.”
Blaney’s season began by crashing-out of the Daytona 500, a race he spent the majority of running up front before being collected in a multi-car accident with 10 laps remaining. Then came consecutive 22nd-place finishes at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where again Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford was among the fastest cars on the track but mistakes and luck prevented him from contending.
Then came last week, when the gremlins that inflicted Blaney to start the season returned at Texas Motor Speedway. He was leading when his car began billowing smoke, later diagnosed as a parts failure that caused the water to leak out and caused the engine to blow. In a race where he led 45 laps, Blaney finished 37th.
“We had that run there of really good finishes like we finished where we had been running,” Blaney said. “I wouldn’t say it’s relieving, but it was nice to finally actually not have anything go wrong in those races. And then, you look at last week leading the race and a part falls off and we end up blowing up. That part is frustrating.”
Saturday’s Alsco 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race brings additional incentive for four drivers — the series’ seventh race is the first for this year’s Dash 4 Cash bonus program.
Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing No. 2 Chevrolet), Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota), Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 98 Ford) and Michael Annett (JR Motorsports No. 1 Chevrolet) qualified for the opening round of the program based on their respective finishes a week earlier at Texas Motor Speedway.
The highest finishing Dash 4 Cash-eligible driver in any of the four races — consecutive stops at Bristol, Richmond (Va.) Raceway, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Dover (Del.) International Speedway — earns a $100,000 bonus.
The drivers agree on one thing — competing in a Dash 4 Cash event is very similar to NASCAR’s season-ending playoffs. The goal is to win the race but finishing ahead of the other qualifiers will be enough to collect the six-figure bonus.
“At the beginning ... you still want to win the race,” Bell noted. “But at the end of the race, if you’re not in position to win, then it really changes. It almost kind of relates to the final four at Homestead because you’re only racing three other competitors.”
Reddick says his approach is the same as it would be for any race, but that “you kind of look at it like a cutoff (elimination) race.
“I’ll pay closer attention to Chase and Michael than I have in the past ... obviously me and Christopher have been pretty even about everywhere we’ve gone this year.”
Said Annett: “I definitely think it comes into play when it’s not your day, you can turn it into it and not necessarily have to win the race. That’s the biggest thing — taking chances that you probably wouldn’t for a fifth- or sixth-place finish.”
NATALIE DECKER READIES FOR NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES EAST DEBUT
Natalie Decker, 21, will make her NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, competing in the Zombie Auto 150 for DGR-Crosley. A native of Eagle River, Wis., Decker recently returned from Spain where she was one of 28 finalists competing for 18 spots in the new all-female W Series.
While she failed to make the final cut, Decker said the experience was unforgettable.
“It was amazing and so wonderful,” Decker said. “I’m so happy I did it. I have a lot to learn in road racing; I had never done that before.
“It was really cool to get that experience and I learned a lot. Maybe one day I can race an F3 car, but I really don’t want to do that now. I really want to focus on (NASCAR). I really wanted to do the W Series just because of what they were doing for women and being a part of that.”
Decker has made three starts for the DGR-Crosley team this year in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Her best finish was 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Bristol’s fast, high-banked, 0.533-mile layout left a quick impression.
“When I first pulled in, I was getting dizzy just trying to look at everything,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine what it would be like when I got out on the track.
“It was totally different. I come from short-track racing, but this is a whole new level of short-track racing. I’ve raced at Slinger Speedway (in Wisconsin) and that’s a really banked track but this is just totally different.”
NASCAR HALL OF FAMERS WALTRIP, ALLISON TO SERVE AS PRE-RACE DIGNITARIES
Legendary racers Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison will serve as pre-race dignitaries for Sunday’s Food City 500. Allison will give the command “Gentlemen, start your engines,” while Waltrip will wave the green flag from the flag stand to officially start the race. The two NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers combined for four Cup Series championships and 168 victories. ... John Hunter Nemechek (GMS Racing) paced the first of two Xfinity Series practices at BMS while Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing) led the final session. ... Harrison Burton, son of former NASCAR Cup driver Jeff Burton, is making his Xfinity Series debut at Bristol. The youngster was seventh fastest in the opening round and 13th in the latter session. ... BMS officials announced a multi-year extension with race sponsor Food City on Wednesday. The regional grocery chain has held the naming rights to the spring MENCS event since 1992. It is the second longest race entitlement in the series. Coca-Cola has been the primary sponsor for the annual Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway since 1985.
—By Kenny Bruce, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.