Commentary

Team comes first for Waltrip

Updated: June 26, 2009, 12:38 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Call me Jimmie Johnson. Halfway through grilling my turkey burgers, and … I ran out of gas.

Marty,

With all the talk about Martin Truex Jr. and Michael Waltrip Racing, and now they're putting Patrick Carpentier in the 55 this weekend, what's Mikey's future? Is he done, Marty?

-- Jonathan Williamson, Kentucky

Michael Waltrip wants to race cars full time, Jonathan, but common sense suggests otherwise. Screams, even.

For the greater good of Michael Waltrip Racing, a wheelman needs to sit in the 55 on Sundays next year. No question that car can win with the right driver in it -- look at what David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose are doing.

[+] EnlargeMichael Waltrip
AP Photo/Rob CarrMichael Waltrip on his NASCAR future: "I still love to drive, but the racer in me wants to make sure that I do everything as owner to win. I just want to win."

Waltrip sees it, and it eats his lunch.

"I'm just mentally not able to handle not running up front," he said. "I can't handle, in my mind, David and Marcos outrunning me. I can't deal with it."

This is a guy who's won four races in 740 starts. Difference? His guys are beating him in the exact same stuff.

"I've always felt like the reason I raced for 25 years isn't because I had great commercials or because I had a nice personality -- it's because I was the best driver teams could get when I was their driver," Waltrip said.

"And so I feel like, with the progress we've made at MWR, we might have a chance to attract a driver that is in a better position to win races right now than I am. So that's certainly something we're considering."

Waltrip said no decision has been made just yet, and even if he's not in the seat full time he plans to run "eight, 10, 12 races," including the Daytona 500.

"I used to think I was getting old, then Mark Martin showed up. So obviously it doesn't matter whether you're 46 or 51, you can still do this job," Waltrip said. "For some reason I just haven't been able to perform at the level over the past couple of years, consistently, that I feel I need to, to be able to justify taking up a seat in a car like the [55] that I know, with the right chemistry-combination of crew chief/driver, can win. The stuff is there to win with."

Sure sounds like a man leaning toward retirement, no?

"I'm really happy," he continued. "Someone said to me the other day -- there's only like seven other people on earth that have won the Daytona 500 more than once. That's quite an honor. I really am into being a car owner. I love being a part of the whole team.

"I still love to drive, but the racer in me wants to make sure that I do everything as owner to win. I just want to win. I didn't want to go to Sears Point just to race. I want to go to Sears Point to win. I feel like we've given ourselves a chance to do that."

The decision to place Carpentier in the seat this weekend was multifaceted. Waltrip said his perspective on team ownership changed dramatically when Reutimann won at Charlotte. He'd won as an owner before, in the Nationwide Series. But he was always the driver.

Door-To-Door
with Marty Smith
Do you have a question for ESPN NASCAR analyst Marty Smith? Go to Smith's SportsNation page to submit your question or comment for Marty, and check back regularly for the column in which he will provide the answers.
Ask Marty

Standing in Victory Lane with his employees at Lowe's Motor Speedway brought him "overwhelming joy." He wants to feel that again. And with Carpentier, a road ace that has competed in every type of car imaginable on every track imaginable, he just might. (Not to mention Ambrose -- my pick for Sunday.)

He also looked at history. Teams ranked in the lower 20s and 30s in points have long put ringers in the seat.

"I've had 25 years to win [a road course] and haven't done it yet," Waltrip laughed. "I thought I'd let him give it a whirl."

Waltrip admits that 2007, his first year as a Cup team owner, was taxing. MWR was strapped financially midway through the year, and its teams struggled terribly to make races.

They were mired in controversy all season following a then-record penalty in the season's opening week, when an illegal substance was found in Waltrip's engine during Daytona 500 qualifying.

Most wondered if MWR would ever recover, much less improve, much less ever field a competitive program.

"I never really wanted to quit," he said. "I just kept on telling our folks it would work out. We would make it. We would get through it. I believed it in my heart, and I never varied from that. And they believed me -- sort of.

"I've always felt like, when I started it, that if you came down Chartwell Road, where we're located here in Cornelius [N.C.], in five years and we're still here, it was a good decision. If you come down here next week and there's a 'For Lease' or 'For Sale' sign up, it obviously didn't work out. I always believed.

"I believed one year wouldn't define success or failure. Success or failure, they're not permanent. They're just watermarks along the way. If you're successful one week it doesn't mean you're a success. It's a bigger picture than that. I always tried to look at the bigger picture and focus on the things we did right."

A good young driver in the 55 is the next big-picture move. Waltrip isn't ready to discuss any of that just yet, but Truex would be excellent and is unquestionably the front-runner. Adding him to the equation would make MWR formidable for years to come, and add another thoroughbred to the Toyota stable.

Speaking of young studs rumored to be joining the Toyota stable …

Marty,

There's a story out on the Internet that Kasey Kahne is going to Toyota. I hate Toyota, but I'm a loyal Kasey fan so I guess I'd have to follow him. Please tell me it's not true.

-- Ashley Sanders, Polk

Sources close to this situation told me at Michigan that if Richard Petty Motorsports manages to wrangle out of its Dodge relationship, the plan is to send Kahne into Camrys. They say there's no definitive timetable as to when that may be finalized and -- this is critical -- it's uncertain RPM can financially afford to switch.

If it were to happen, though, the 9 car will be the new poster child for the global economy in NASCAR: a Japanese car model built in America, sponsored by an American institution that's now owned by a Belgian conglomerate. Craziness …

Marty,

I'm a huge Jamie McMurray fan, and I haven't seen anything about his future anywhere lately. What's going on with him? I know he'll be leaving Roush Fenway, but what's the latest on his future?

-- Kathleen, Springfield, Mo.

McMurray is getting married next month, Kathleen. He says he's not terribly nervous about it, either. He's a better man than I am. I love my wife dearly. I knew unequivocally she was the one. I was nervous as hell. Then again, I was 24.

Anyway, I called McMurray this week to check up on his future, and his lips were locked up tighter than the lid on a new jelly jar. He wouldn't give up any information whatsoever. Too much residual drama for all involved, he said. He wants it done and then he'll worry about disseminating the news to the public.

I think he'd like to stay at Roush, but there's only room for four cars and his four teammates all just inked new deals.

When I talked to him he was en route to Lowe's. He discovered a snake beside his house, and contemplated a 12-gauge remedy. The snake, though, was two inches from his house. He thought better of the 12-gauge fix, and instead laid four pounds of Snake-A-Way around the edge of his pool.

Marty,

Is Goodyear going to be able to deliver a tire that can make a full fuel run and lay down rubber at Indy?

-- Jamie Houston in Virginia

If you ask Jeff Gordon they have. He actually guaranteed with 100 percent confidence we won't see a repeat of last year's Brickyard debacle. He also mentioned something interesting that rarely gets noted -- the 2008 mess wasn't all on Goodyear, though they invariably take all the criticism.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is abrasive, and the higher center of gravity on the new car makes for more load, and thus more wear, too. Is Goodyear to blame? Yep. Are they fully to blame? Nope.

Seems to me Goodyear has worked harder on this tire than any racing tire they've ever built. Multiple tests with multiple drivers of varying driving styles. It is paramount they fix this problem. The last thing the sport needs right now is another ridiculous display like we had last year -- 16 10-lap sprints. Awful.

"I ran this tire as hard as I possibly could, put numerous laps on them," Gordon said. "It's a dead issue. This is going to be a race here -- it might come down to fuel mileage, it might come down to a lot of different factors -- fastest car, not the fastest car, track position, a double-file restart with 10 to go. But it's not going to come down to a 10-lap shootout on whose tires can last."

Gordon told Goodyear officials the tire may actually even be too good.

"It's that good," he said. "And I'm 100 percent confident, and I can promise all the fans out there that if they want to come to the Brickyard and see a great race and be confident that the tires are not going to be an issue, you can trust me. I hope that's enough for them. But they've got it resolved for sure."

I love the Brickyard, everything about it. Walk in that place and you sense its history. It feels different than anywhere else we go -- even Daytona. I've covered the 400 every year since 2000.

Last year, for the first time, I left deflated. Pardon the pun. Terrible, I know …

Marty,

I saw on "NASCAR Now" where Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Kevin Harvick is hurt the most from the GM cutbacks. Have you talked to him about that? Is his team in trouble?

-- Jason Eldridge, Morristown, Tenn.

I have spoken with Harvick about it, Jason, at length. Junior's right -- the GM cutbacks did hurt Kevin Harvick Inc. worse than anyone else. Harvick told me there's no impact on his Nationwide Series program, but his Truck series team takes a big hit.

"Most of it affected our team. I don't think it really affected anyone else," Harvick said. "The most anyone else was getting were body parts and that type of stuff.

"I'd say our team is probably the only one left with any [GM] manufacturer support anyway, so I think the series will be as good, if not better, without heavy, heavy manufacturer support."

Harvick said the cutbacks will enable part-time, one-off racers -- "hobby racers," he calls them -- to show up with confidence they can compete. That's a good thing, he says, and from his perspective may even make the series better.

"I don't think you'll see the complexion of the series change at all," he said.

As a result of the cutbacks KHI laid off five people, and adjusted salaries.

"I'll be honest with you, we've been preparing for this for a year and a half," Harvick said. "If this would have happened two years ago, it would have devastated our company. We had actually started preparing for it a year, year and a half ago.

"You could kind of see the writing on the wall, so we started really working on our budgets and the efficiency of the company and how things worked, expecting to get to this point eventually. We knew our trucks weren't going to run on manufacturer support forever.

"Our 33 team had functioned for the most part, most heavily on the manufacturer support. It had the most support and it was through next year. We'd been prepared for it."

The critical focus is the racetrack. Don't compromise the competitiveness of a team that has won the series championship in the past, and competed for it often.

"You can't take anything away from the racetrack," Harvick said. "You still have to win races. That's why we're here."

That's my time, Six. Off to the wine country -- the best trip of the year.

Double-file restarts this weekend will be sheer madness.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.

ALSO SEE