Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Michael Waltrip to Hang Up Helmet after Daytona 500

By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor

Heading into February’s season opening Daytona 500, the drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will all be looking forward to their chance to win the “Great American Race” before embarking on the remainder of the 2017 season, but for two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, next month’s race will be his last behind the wheel.

Waltrip notoriously went winless in the Cup Series for the first 16 years of his career before finally breaking through for his first win in the 2001 Daytona 500 while driving in his first race for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. The Owensboro, Kentucky native would follow his 2001 Daytona 500 triumph with two more wins at Daytona in the July 2002 race and the 2003 Daytona 500. Along with those three Daytona wins, Waltrip also won the fall race at Talladega in 2003.

After leaving Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to start his own team following the 2005 season, Waltrip continued to drive full-time through 2009, but never found the same success behind the wheel and transitioned to a part-time schedule in the years to follow, mainly driving at the restrictor plate tracks of Talladega and Daytona while focusing on his efforts as a team owner with his Michael Waltrip Racing team.

Though MWR folded at the conclusion of the 2015 season, Waltrip was still able to race in 2016 for BK Racing and Jay Robinson.

With 29 Daytona 500 starts under his belt, Waltrip announced on Thursday that he would be driving in his 30th and final Daytona 500 for Premium Motorsports in a No. 15 Toyota that will be sponsored by his longtime sponsor, Aaron’s, in a “Thanks Mikey” paint scheme.

“I can reflect on my career with a lot of emotions and one company that has been there for me is Aaron’s. 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 makes my heart smile thinking about all the great things we did together,” said Waltrip.

“The Daytona 500 in a lot of ways defines a racer’s career and I am proud to have been able to win our sport’s most prestigious race twice. I have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows at the Great American Race. But when you are a NASCAR driver who has the privilege of racing here, you love Daytona no matter what happens. In my 30th and final Daytona 500, I am just going to enjoy every moment and be happy that Aaron’s has given me one more opportunity to hoist the Harley J. Earle trophy.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.

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