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Tuesday, May 8
Waltrip has had up-and-down season
By Bob Queenan
Scripps Howard News Service

Michael Waltrip is a man of distinct loyalties.

Since he doesn't forget the fans who have helped him during a successful, albeit frustrating, 16-year career as a NASCAR Winston Cup driver, Waltrip will be at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday for the conclusion of the track's opening weekend.

"I'm just coming in that day to sign autographs and later drive in the Legend's Race," Waltrip said from his racing shop in Moores Hill, N.C. "It's a lot of fun to be involved in a day like that, but the main deal is the autographs and a chance to relate with the fans who are the reasons for our success."

Waltrip also doesn't forget that he was born and raised in Owensboro, Ky.

"I have many pleasant memories of Owensboro, even though I have not been back for several years, mainly because my parents have moved here to North Carolina," he said.

But the one memory the 38-year-old driver will carry with him the rest of his life came in a span of less than a half-hour this past February, when he experienced the greatest elation of his professional life as a racer, and a few minutes later, his worst nightmare.

After 16 years and 462 Winston Cup races without a victory, Waltrip won NASCAR's Super Bowl, the Daytona 500. A few minutes later, he learned that Dale Earnhardt, the owner of his No. 15 Chevrolet and the man who had given him the best car he had ever driven, had been killed in a tragic crash seconds after he took his first checkered flag.

"That is something that will always be in my subconscious," Waltrip said. "It's so hard to lose a wonderful friend and go from the top of the world to the lowest feeling you can imagine. I will carry that with me forever."

Since he won NASCAR's biggest race and it's $1,331,185 first prize, Waltrip has experienced a similar high-low season. His best finish since Daytona was 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He is 25th in the Winston Cup Points Championship race with 949 points. He has earned $1,799,690 this season.

Waltrip, who now wears the HANS safety device, is also the owner of a NASCAR Busch Series team, and he recently gave Earnhardt's oldest son, Kerry, a ride for several Busch races, including the inaugural Busch race at Kentucky Speedway on June 16.

Bob Queenan writes for the Cincinnati Post.

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