Michael Waltrip is an American stock car racing driver and team owner who is active in NASCAR since 1985, recording more than 1070 starts and sixteen wins in all three national series. His most notable wins were two triumphs at Daytona 500 in 2001 and 2003. Michael Waltrip Racing team was founded in 1996 and it recorded twelve wins in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. Michael's older brother Darrell Waltrip is a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion.
Michael asked brothers to help him starting a career
Michael Waltrip was born on April 30, 1963, in Owensboro, Kentucky. He started racing at the age 15, driving go-karts. In that time, his older brother Darrell (born 1947) was already a successful NASCAR driver, so Michael asked Darrell to help him build a career. Darrell had no time for a younger brother, so the other brother Bobby helped Michael.
Michael showed that he has a talent by winning the Mini-modified division at Kentucky Motor Speedway in 1981. After that, he continued his stock car racing career in the Darlington Dash Series, winning the title in 1983 and being voted as the most popular driver in the series for two years in a row. In that time, he was living with Richard Petty as a roommate. Petty advised Waltrip to skip the Busch Series and immediately jumped into the Winston Cup Series, so he did it.
1985 - NASCAR debut for Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip debuted in the NASCAR Winston Cup in May 1985, driving the #2 Chevrolet for Dick Bahre at Coca-Cola World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Michael retired after 278 laps, his brother Darrell was a race winner.
Darrell finished a season as a champion for the third time in a career, Michael participated in four more races with #23 Chevrolet, finishing best in the 18th place at Michigan.
Losing the Rookie of the Year award from Alan Kulwicki
In 1986, Michael joined Bahari Racing in his first full season, driving the #23 Kool-Aid sponsored car. Waltrip finished 19th overall and second in the Rookie of the Year standings, behind Alan Kulwicki. Waltrip moved to the #30 car in 1987 and remained with Bahari Racing for nine more seasons, until the end of 1995.
In 1988, Michael entered the Busch Series for the first time, changing three teams during the year, including his brother's team. He was driving or Bahari Racing, Silver Racing and Darrell Waltrip Motorsports.
Maiden NASCAR victory with brother's car
Driving the #17 Chevrolet for his brother, on September 17, Michael scored his maiden NASCAR victory in the Busch Series race at Dover. In 1989, Michael participated in 14 Busch Series races, scoring one win with Bahari Racing's #30 Pontiac at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
The 1990 season was memorable for a horrific crash at Bristol's Busch Series race in April. After making contact with Robert Pressley, Waltrip hit a turn-out gate at the corner exit, broke the gate, and went head-on into the end of the wall. The car was disintegrated but Michael miraculously survived with minor injuries.
Seven Busch Series wins between 1988 and 1993
In the 1990 Busch Series season, Michael scored two wins, at Richmond and Dover. While driving for Bahari Racing, Waltrip added three more Busch Series wins to his account (one in 1992, two in 1993), increasing the number of wins to seven.
After finishing 12th in the points for two years in a row (1994 and 1995), which remained Waltrip's career-best result in the Cup Series, the 1996 season came, the milestone year for two reasons. In 1996, Michael left Bahari Racing after ten years to join Wood Brothers Racing in the Winston Cup Series and he founded his own team Michael Waltrip Racing, to compete in the Busch Series.
Victory in the All-star race for Wood Brothers
In three seasons with Wood Brothers Racing's #21 Ford, Waltrip was the most successful in 1996, when he recorded eleven top 10 results to finish 14th in the points. The highlight of the season was Michael's victory at The Winston race (today's All-Star race) in May 1996. In the Busch Series, Waltrip reached few Top 5 results between 1996 and 1998, but didn't win any race.
Another change followed in 1999 when Waltrip joined Mattei Motorsports to drive the # 7 Philips-sponsored Chevrolet. He scored three Top 10 finishes and ended that season 29th in points. In the mid-season of 2000, Ultra Motorsports bought Mattei Motorsports, Waltrip stayed in the #7 car until the end of the season. During two seasons with Mattei/Ultra, Waltrip continued to drive his own car in the Busch Series, scoring one more victory, in October 1999 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
2001 - joining Dale Earnhardt's team and winning on Black Sunday
For 2001 Winston Cup season, Michael Waltrip was hired by Dale Earnhardt to drive the #15 NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored Chevrolet Monte Carlo. In his first Cup race for Earnhardt, Waltrip scored a victory at Daytona 500, breaking the streak of 462 consecutive Cup races without a victory. It was team's double victory, as his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in 2nd.
But, it wasn't a happy day neither for Michael or the team. Waltrip's celebration in the Victory Lane was spoiled by the news from a hospital about Dale Earnhardt's fatal injuries, suffered in a crash on the last lap.
Three more Winston Cup wins with #15 Chevrolet
Later in the season, Waltrip did not have another Top 10 finish until Daytona's Pepsi 400 in July, where he finished 2nd. Waltrip scored one more second-place finish at Homestead, ending the season 24th in the points.
In 2002, Waltrip finished fifth at Daytona 500 and win the Pepsi 400 at the same track in July. With ten Top 10 results, Waltrip was 14th in the points at the end of the year. It remained his best season's result in five years with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Second Daytona 500 victory in 2003
In February 2003, Waltrip scored his second Daytona 500 victory, winning a rain-shortened race ahead of Kurt Busch. In September, Waltrip's fourth Cup victory came, at Talladega Superspeedway.
Besides winning in the Winston Cup Series, Waltrip added three Busch Series wins on his account between 2002 and 2004. The last one was the victory at Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway on April 10, 2004. In 2004, he scored his career-best finish in the Busch Series, ending 13th in the points.
Michael Waltrip Racing entered Cup Series in 2007
Waltrip left DEI team at the end of 2005, after five seasons in the #15 Chevrolet. On January 20, 2006, Michael Waltrip and president of Jasper Motorsports, Doug Bawel, announced the forming of Waltrip-Jasper Racing. The team fielded the # 55 NAPA Auto Parts Dodge in the 2006 Nextel Cup Series, driven by Waltrip. It was struggling season and Waltrip finished 37th in the points.
The Waltrip-Jasper partnership ceased at the end of the 2006 season, so for the 2007 season, Michael fielded his own MWR #55 Toyota. He moved his Busch Series team to the Cup Series, hiring Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann to drive another two cars (#00 and #44).
Penalties for the team and drivers after controversial 2007 Daytona 500
After the first round of qualifying for the 2007 Daytona 500, NASCAR inspectors found evidence in the engine intake manifold that Waltrip, Reutimann and Jarrett had used an illegal unspecified oxygenate fuel additive to increase performance. NASCAR confiscated the cars and punished all, giving negative points to drivers. Michael participated in only 14 races, failing to qualify 19 times.
Following a disappointing 2007 season, Waltrip made a deal with Robert Kauffman and they became the equal partners in the team. Michael's performances slightly improved. He secured a second starting spot at Daytona 500, finishing 29th. In June, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he finished as a runner-up behind Kurt Busch.
2009 Sprint Cup Series was the last full season for Waltrip
In October 2008, at Atlanta, Waltrip made his 1,000th start in the NASCAR, being second next to Richard Petty in most career starts in all three national divisions. At the end of 2008, the MWR sold the #44 car to Richard Petty Motorsports, continuing to run the #00 for Reutimann and #55 for Waltrip in 2009 season. On May 25, 2009, Waltrip scored his first win as an owner in the Sprint Cup Series, with David Reutimann winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In 2009, Michael Waltrip participated in 34 races and it was his last full season. His best result was 7th place at Daytona 500 and Talladega's AMP Energy 500. For 2010, he announced that he would be driving a part-time schedule, hiring Martin Truex Jr as a full-time driver.
Part-time schedule since 2010 and maiden Truck Series win in 2011
Between 2010 and 2016, Michael Waltrip regularly participated at Daytona and Talladega races. His best results were 4th place at Talladega's Aaron's 499 and Daytona's Coke Zero 400, both in 2013. That were his last Top 5 Sprint Cup finishes in a career.
Waltrip scored his 16th and the last NASCAR on February 18, 2011. He participated in his only 9th Truck Series race in a career, at Daytona's NextEra Energy Resources 250. He was at the wheel of the #15 Toyota Tundra for the Vision Aviation Racing. After starting eleventh, he won the race, leading only one of 103 laps. It was an emotional win as it came 10 years to the day of the death of Dale Earnhardt and Michael's first win.
Driving Ferrari at 24-hour races at Spa, Le Mans, Daytona
Besides racing stock cars, Michael Waltrip recorded six in the sports car races, including one participation at Le Mans 24h and two participations at Daytona 24h. His first GT race was 24h Spa in August 2010, together with Robert Kauffman, Nicola Cadei and Marco Cioci in the #1 Ferrari F430 GTC of AF Corse. They finished fifth.
Waltrip debuted at Le Mans in 2011, driving the #71 Ferrari 458 Italia GTC for AF Corse, alongside Robert Kauffman and Rui Aguas. They retired after 178 laps. In January 2012, the same trio, partnered by Travis Pastrana, competed at Daytona 24h with #56 Ferrari 458 Italia. After a series of mechanical problems and few off-road excursions, they finished 35th overall and 22nd in GT class.
AF Corse-Waltrip's Ferrari participated at Sebring 12h in March 2012 and then returned to Daytona in January 2013. In his second participation at Daytona 24h, Waltrip finished 8th in GT class. His co-drivers were Robert Kauffman, Rui Aguas and Clint Bowyer.
TV star and book writer
As a prominent NASCAR racer, Michael Waltrip is also a popular pre-race commentator, especially when working alongside his brother Darrell. They were working for NASCAR on Fox.
In 2011, Michael Waltrip published a biographical book, called In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything. It became a New York Times best-seller. And one more trivia: in 2016, Michael Waltrip was the tallest active NASCAR driver. He is 6 feet and 5 inches tall (196 cm).