By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Michael Waltrip had a puncher’s chance and gave it his best shot on Sunday.
The two-time Daytona 500 champion announced last month that the 59th edition of ‘The Great American Race’ would be his last in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition.
However in his 30th appearance of the event, the 53-year-old Kentucky native made the most the moment and drove to an impressive 8th place finish at the same track that broke his 462-race winless streak.
After starting the day in 30th,Waltrip avoided disaster in the crash-laden event that brought out eight cautions for 40 laps and one red flag, which stopped the race for 17 minutes.
The end of the race was a fitting summary to the race as a whole – survival. The closer to the end it got, the closer Waltrip came to the front and broke into the top 10 with just 30 laps remaining.
On a day that saw only 26 cars running at the finish, the final 10 laps were built-in anticipation as fuel mileage played the role and competitors at the front began to fade.
As cars fell off the pace, Waltrip drove the No. 15 Premium Motorsports Toyota to his first top 10 at the 2.5-mile superspeedway since 2009.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a great memory you know to have a top 10,” said Waltrip.
“I had so many times I was in the middle of a crash and just missed it. So, you do a good job and you get lucky both. At the end I just lost the draft and that is unfortunate because I was able to weave my way past people. I had a really, really good handling car.
“I’m thankful that I survived and I’m thankful for being able to run upfront and I’m happy about the finish. I’m ready for it to be my last one so it’s going to be a good one to remember it by.”
The former team owner, who has a part-time schedule since 2010, took in the appreciation from friends and family, but added that it was nice to take it to the NASCAR regulars one last time.
“I’m so thankful because everybody just kind of let me do my thing and run my last race and my sponsors were so nice and my friends were really kind to kind of send me off and just blessed to not tear my car up,” said Waltrip.
“I passed some of those guys we talk about on Sunday’s so now I can rub that in a little bit.
“That feels good.”
In nine Camping World Truck Series races, Waltrip scored one win (Daytona 2011) and four top 10s. His Xfinity (formerly Busch and Nationwide) career ends with 11 wins, 105 top 10s and 14 poles in 279 appearances.
A winner of the 2001 and ’03 Daytona 500, Waltrip ends his Cup career with four wins, 132 top 10s and four poles in 784 starts.