Michael Waltrip will hang up his helmet and firesuit for the final time after this weekend’s Daytona 500.
The two-time Daytona 500 winner will call an end to his career after more than 30 years in NASCAR’s top level that included four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins, 11 XFINITY Series wins and one Camping World Truck Series win.
Waltrip made his first foray into NASCAR’s top level in 1985 driving for Dick Bahre’s team. Waltrip ran five races with a best finish of 18th at Michigan International Speedway. Just two years later, he made his debut in the Great American Race finishing 22nd.
Waltrip’s first several years in NASCAR’s premier division wasn’t so illustrious. He had what he always called an “0 fer” streak of not winning races, but his first big break came in 1996 with the legendary Wood Brothers Racing. Although he didn’t win a points race that year, Waltrip won the prestigious All-Star Race without even winning a points race.
The next big break came from his friend and one of his heroes, Dale Earnhardt, in 2001. Earnhardt’s Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated was looking for a driver for his No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet for the full season, and the then 38-year-old was chosen for the job. It was in the 2001 Daytona 500 that Waltrip would lose his “0 fer” streak and visit victory lane for the first time in a points race. However, Waltrip would also lose his hero in a last lap crash that tragically cost Earnhardt his life.
As Waltrip’s driving career progressed, he would visit victory lane two more times at Daytona, including in the rain shortened 2003 Daytona 500. Waltrip would also win at Talladega Superspeedway in the fall of 2003.
In 2007, Waltrip formed his own premier series team where he began his transition from full-time driver to owner. Although, the transition into ownership was tough for Waltrip who faced several financial problems and a fair share of scandals at the beginning of the 2007 season. The team would eventually break through to victory lane for their first of seven wins with David Reutimann at the 2009 Coca-Cola 600.
It was in 2010 that Waltrip began to scale back his schedule where he mostly just competed in the races at Daytona and Talladega.
Over the next several years, Waltrip would visit victory lane in the Truck Series, come close to a few Cup wins and see his team shut down. Even through his team’s demise in 2015, Waltrip continued to persevere.
The 2017 Daytona 500 will be Waltrip’s final race. He’ll drive for Jay Robinson’s Premium Motorsports in the familiar No. 15 Aaron’s Toyota. With photos adorning the car reflecting Waltrip’s long career, the chance to drive the No. 15 at the famed speedway is a fitting send-off for one of NASCAR’s most popular personalities.