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Waltrip charged with reckless driving

4/11/2007

CHARLOTTE -- A season of on-track embarrassments for Nextel Cup driver Michael Waltrip has spilled off the track.

Michael Waltrip Waltrip

The two-time Daytona 500 champion was charged early Saturday morning with reckless driving and failure to report an accident after hitting a telephone pole and rolling his car on Molly's Backbone Road in Catawba County.

"I am really embarrassed about the accident, but I feel fortunate that I wasn't hurt," Waltrip said in a statement released by Michael Waltrip Racing. "For 25 years I have had a great driving record. I consider myself to be a courteous and safe driver on public roads.

"I never expected to fall asleep behind the wheel of a car."

Team officials said alcohol was not a factor and that alcohol was not mentioned on the ticket. They added that there has been no backlash from Waltrip's primary sponsor, NAPA, which has watched its driver fail to qualify for the past five Cup races.

Waltrip hasn't made a race since the Daytona 500, when his crew chief and director of competition were indefinitely suspended by NASCAR after an unspecified fuel additive was discovered in his engine during pre-qualifying inspections.

Waltrip also was docked 100 points.

Phone messages left at Waltrip's home were not returned.

The Highway Patrol told WSOC-TV in Charlotte that Waltrip was driving about 70 mph in a 50-mph zone when he went off the right side of the road on a curve around 1:50 a.m. on Saturday.

The car then traveled back across the pavement and slid off the left side of the road before striking a utility pole as it overturned and then came to a rest on its side.

A witness told state troopers that Waltrip crawled out of the car and left the scene. Police arrived to find an empty vehicle with blood in it. They went to Waltrip's home at 2:30 a.m., but nobody answered the door.

"He left the scene," Sgt.
Brian Sharpe of the State Highway Patrol in Catawba County said. "We got the plate number,
realized it was him and tried to locate him."

According to WSOC-TV, Waltrip was found at his home by a trooper at around 8 a.m. with scratches on his face and deep cuts on his finger.

He told the trooper that he fell asleep at the wheel driving from Charlotte to his home in Sherrills Ford, N.C.

"I was almost home," Waltrip told the television station. "I relaxed a little bit and ran off the road. I woke up with gravel hitting the car and I tried to correct, but it was too late.

"I had so many emotions when the car came to a stop. I was sad I wrecked. I was embarrassed I wrecked and thankful I wasn't hurt."

Waltrip, who has a May 14 court date, walked the remaining mile to his home.

"I hope this is a lesson to kids and adults that you have to be on your game when driving a vehicle," Waltrip told WSOC-TV.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.