Michael Waltrip had situational awareness in today's GEICO 500 but was unable to avoid a situation that sent him to the garage on Lap 18. The engine in Brian Scott's #33 expired, and Mikey's #55 Aaron's Dream Machine had nowhere to go but into the #33. He finished 37 laps down in 36th in this afternoon's Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer finished 30th in the #15 5-Hour Energy Camry. The #15 was running in the top ten throughout closing laps but was collected in a last lap wreck.
Before the race, Mikey interviewed drivers in the infield. "These are my buddies. These are my people. This is where I come from." He asked people to interview his helmet, which was covered with photos of his friend FOX Sports reporter Steve Byrnes, who died of cancer on April 21st. The helmet went to his family after the race.
The call to start engines came at 1:07pm ET. Mikey rolled off the grid from the 23rd position, Clint from 10th.
"It seems like a really good pit. How did you get that one?" Mikey asked his team over the #55 frequency before his brother Darrell came onto his radio and asked to speak with him.
"Yeah, brother. I'm at home here in my Aaron's Dream Machine. How can I help you?"
DW asked him about his strategy coming into the race.
"Well, I talked to several drivers - Carl in particular - and he said he was going to see if he could go to the front first, and if he can get there, he is going to stay there, and if he can't, he's going to ride and try to be safe. I think that's a good plan for me too. I've got some fast cars around me. My car ran good on Friday, so I think I'm going to try to go like heck when they say go."
DW asked him what makes Mikey so good at Talladega and Daytona. "You've always excelled on those two tracks."
"I think it's just about knowing where the car wants to run in air. It's situational awareness. You have to make sure, when you've got your nose half a car-length to the left, what that does to your car. You got to learn how to gain on other cars just using your car and your air. To me, that's the key to victory. We saw a great display of that yesterday. That last lap by Joey Logano was driving perfection, and hopefully, I can pull off some of that today myself."
DW said he never heard of situational awareness. "That's deep." He wished Mikey good luck and told him to stay out of the bad situations.
"You've become real aware of those bad ones, D-Dub."
Jeff Gordon led the field to the green flag at 1:21pm ET. The #55 frequency was quiet on NASCAR.com, likely due to technical difficulties. Mikey was 27th on Lap 2.
"Clear to the middle. Three-wide, middle," Mikey's spotter Roman was on the radio on lap 5. Tony Stewart's #14 now led. "Still three wide to the middle. Everybody's spread out about the same in front, your lane. Still three-wide. Clear low behind the 22 if you want it. Got the 20 car the very top. 51 quarter back to the middle, working the run. Three-wide bottom. Three-wide. One inside on you tight. Got the 38 very top. Got one outside, the 38. One in the middle."
"I'm wiggly loose, wiggly loose in the back. Right rear dancing," Mikey commented on Lap 7. He was 35th.
"10-4," his crew chief Billy Scott responded.
"16 one back, working the top. Clear by one and a half. About ten back in your lane is the 15 riding, just so you know. All clear right there, behind the 16. Three back to the next car. Outside on you tight, the 16 by himself, still there by your door. Three back after him is the 47. Clear to the middle if you want it - the 32 very top. Still one outside, very top. Clear all clear. Three back to the 16. One back. Little run. All clear all clear by one."
Mikey was 33rd by Lap 9 as Stewart continued to lead.
"Three-wide middle. Still got the 51 barely inside. Clear low, clear low. Still three-wide. Got the 78 in the middle. Behind the 78 if you want it. Two back to the next two. Still three-wide. Still three-wide, 33 still there on you tight. Three-wide. One very top. One very top. 51 working the middle, half back with a run. Back in the middle, three-wide bottom. Still three-wide with the 9, small hole behind the 9 there. Still one outside - the 35. Just one outside up top, that 35. Clear to the middle, three-wide middle. Clear low if you need it. Low. Three-wide bottom. Car looks like it's got some good speed. Three-wide, bottom. Still three-wide. You're doing that with no help. Looks good. Three-wide."
"The handling's terrible," Mikey said on lap 12.
"10-4. We'll get 'em tightened up," Billy replied.
"Both rears and the right front feels stiff."
"Still three-wide, still three-wide. Three-wide, 51 on you tight, 9 pushing him. The 33, excuse me. 33 outside. One outside, very top. 46 to the middle."
"It'll take a couple runs to see what I've got. And what I've got is a handful." Mikey said one end was tight and the other was loose. He suggested adjustments. Billy acknowledged, but his spotter said he heard a lot of static.
"The 16 about six back, just hanging out. Still clear in the middle. One outside, that 32. Clear low if you want it. Way up top. It's the worst place to run. Still outside, very top. You're all clear right there. Half back to the bottom, very bottom."
By lap 16, Dale Earnhardt Jr had taken the lead. Kasey Kahne had led early on as well. Jeff Gordon passed for the top spot.
"One very bottom, the 9 car. Still two-wide. Moving to the middle. The 46 very bottom, quarter back. Just one inside, very bottom. Inside in the middle, 51. One back, all clear all clear. 22 half back. Inside. Just the 46 one and a half back. Rolling still. One inside, very bottom. Still inside. You're clear low, clear low. Three-wide, three-wide. Smoking in the middle. Blowing up blowing up. Keep it on the bottom. Spinning. All clear, all clear man. Damn it."
The first caution was on lap 18. The engine in Brian Scott's #33 expired, and when the #33 spun, it collected the #55. Scott apologized for the effect this had on the #55 team as well as his own.
"I got front end damage," Billy said. "Everyone who has a helmet, get ready to go over."
"Radiator," Mikey said. "I assume so. It's some kind of liquid that got under my wheels."
The spotter said they'd have to go to the garage. Billy told Mikey not to go through anyone's pit box and drag oil.
Mikey said he didn't think he was dragging fluid anymore. "Well, that sucks. There's nothing I could do. I kept my car going straight. He wrecked in front of me. Let get 'er fixed and get some points."
Billy agreed. "Yes sir. Let's do it."
"I can't start it, because it doesn't have any oil in it. So I need some pushers in a hurry. And I got a couple."
"He's right here by the truck."
The #55 went to the garage stall. Others pit shortly thereafter under yellow.
"We're going to have to put the nose on, Billy," someone said. "Yup. Brian, we're going to leave the hood on and cut the nose off."
Roman later said they lost a lot of fluid, so even if they got the nose fixed, the engine probably wouldn't run as it was shut off for so long.
FOX interviewed Mikey from the garage. The reporter asked if he would return to the track later today.
"I think so. We've got to put a new front end on it. The team comes so prepared, we've got a nose and a radiator altogether," Mikey replied. "We'll get back out there. I was having so much fun. I would hate for it to come to a short end."
The #55 returned to the track under the third caution on lap 54. Mikey was 43rd.
"Well, everything looks all right to me," he told his team. "All the temperatures look good and whatnot. Must not have been running for too many seconds after I hit."
Billy told Mikey he was 37 laps down.
"Andrea from Aaron's wanted to know if we could still win. What are your thoughts?"
Roman said it didn't look good.
"What if they all crash?"
"Yeah, I'll keep you posted."
Billy said they would top off and then go to the back.
"Did I ever tell you how I lost 462 races in a row?" Mikey asked.
"And what happened next? Did you win?"
"Ding ding ding! What's Clint doing? Just staying in the back?"
Roman confirmed this and said they were about to top off, which they did on lap 58 under yellow.
Jimmie Johnson led the lap 59 restart. Mikey was now 42nd, having passed Brian Scott's #33 in the garage.
"All right, pace car's in. Get ready. Green green green. They're rolling. Car in your lane behind you. Everybody's two by two. Still outside. 17 working the very top. Three-wide. One outside. Still one outside. The last car outside is the 22. All clear all clear." Roman warned Mikey on lap 60 that cars were getting pretty racy. "Still outside. Back to the 47 up top. Still outside, the 31. All clear, all clear. Two back to the 98. All clear. Outside's the 98 on you tight. Still two-wide."
"Rumour has it the 15 is freaking out, and we're following him?" Billy asked. He repeated when Roman didn't acknowledge.
Someone said they didn't want the #15 and #55 together in case something happens.
"Three of them lined up with the 31. Three total. Last one's the 47 car. Still two wide, one outside. 47 outside, and you're clear behind him. All clear. Five back to the 7. We need to just line up. All clear, all clear. Still outside, two wide. All clear. Clear. Three back to the 5. He's just coming back in."
"Yeah, he's seven laps in front of us."
"This baby is loose - loose on exit bad," Mikey said on lap 77.
"10-4. All we changed when we were in the garage that last time was the air pressure," Billy replied.
"I'm sure, if I'm loose, some of those other idiots up there are loose too."
Billy said they were twenty laps into the run. The #55 was still 42nd and 37 laps down as Johnson continued to lead.
"Clint's been playing it safe all day." Roman commented on three cars that were looking dicey.
Billy said #15 crew chief Brian Patty and others were freaking out
"The 17 keeps asking us to come back and run with him, and I'm like hell no!"
Billy said the #55 was running better lap times than the #17.
"I don't want to drop back." Roman said the #5 was dropping back, and the #55 would get a lap on him.
"The thing feels funny, like the right front... it feels like it's bouncing off the bus stops or something. It's just bouncing around a lot when I'm driving."
Billy said something about the packer the team put in the front affecting it.
"How many laps there, Billy?"
"I'm working on that."
"16 just coming off pit road."
"Yeah, four ahead of him."
By lap 88, the #55 was up to 37th after passing cars involved in The Big One, which was under the second caution on lap 46.
"Caution's out. They're wrecking on the backstretch," Roman warned. "Slow at the end of the back stretch. 62 low on the apron, another one on track."
The fourth caution was on lap 90. Brendan Gaughan's #62 lost a tire and hit the outside retaining wall. Gaughan went to the garage.
Billy said they would pit second time by and commented how this caution worked for them. "We'll do some adjustments to tighten you up here."
The #55 team talked about pitting with one lap to go. Meanwhile, the lead lap cars made stops.
"Not very often you have a single car wreck at Talladega," Mikey commented.
"Go ahead, Roman," Billy said.
"I had nothing. I was just getting something to eat."
Billy told Mikey to pit this time and said they'd put on four tires and would make adjustments. "All right, third box in here. Wheels straight, put on the brake when you get here."
Billy led the #55 to and from the pit box on lap 92 under yellow.
After the stop, when they were coming to one to go, Roman mentioned that Clint was pitting to top off and said they could come in if they wanted too.
Billy said he hoped the adjustments would make the car tighter without hurting the exit. He commented how about half the field was tight and half loose.
Billy gave Mikey an update on where other cars were running on the track. The #5 and #16 were multiple laps down and would be running along with the #55.
"Okay. At least we're making progress, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. We're getting 'em there."
Roman warned Mikey about cars coming around him.
Racing resumed on lap 95 with Gordon leading. Mikey was 37th, 37 laps down.
"Green green green. Everybody's rolling. Got the 17 coming with a big run up the middle there. He died out. Half back with a run by the 5 and the 16. 22 in your lane. Still two-wide. All clear. Clear low if you need it. Clear low. 16 working the middle. Three-wide. You're on the bottom. One outside on you tight. Working the middle on you tight. Three-wide, three-wide. One outside."
On lap 97, Johnson took the lead.
"Still outside - the 22. All clear all clear. Two back to the 5 car. That's the only car left. All clear. Four-wide up ahead there - lead pack. Still two-wide. One inside. 31 down low. Inside in the middle, with the 22 following him. Just the 22 inside. These guys are going to wreck any time now."
"Yeah, especially the ones who have some laps on 'em," Billy replied.
"Yeah. All clear, all clear. That 22 has some stuff on his grill there. So if he gets up on you tight, that's what he's doing. He's on you tight. Off of you. Back to the 22. Half back on the bottom. Just stay on your toes. They're four-wide up there. 16 still outside. The 22 still has something on his grill, just so you know, if he comes up on you tight here."
By lap 105, Denny Hamlin's #11 was in the lead.
"All clear, all clear. Outside."
Dale Earnhardt Jr led on lap 107. Mikey was still 37th, 37 laps down.
"Still outside. One outside, still outside. Any lap now, if they keep doing this."
"10-4," Billy replied.
"Still one outside. The 15 very top. Still outside. All clear. Outside. Outside, the 16. Two-wide. 22 outside. You've got the 5 car three back. All clear. Catching a slow car up ahead - the 18. He just left pit road the last lap. All clear. Clear. All clear by five. All clear. Inside very bottom - the 5 car. All clear."
By lap 114, Gordon had reclaimed the lead.
"Caution's out for debris, for debris. All clear out the back."
The yellow flag waved for the fifth time on lap 116.
"Did that help your car any?" Billy asked.
"It seems a little bit tighter. Still doesn't drive like crap. It's driven like crap all day. It bounces now. Just a little bit loose. I didn't notice the right front slipping any. I just felt the back slipping out there."
Roman said it would be a quicky yellow. Billy told Mikey to stay out this time and pit next time.
Billy told Mikey they would take their time once the #55 got to the box so they could make some adjustments. He led his driver on and off pit road.
"Got the 2 driving by you on track," Roman said. "The last car is exiting Turn 2."
Racing resumed on lap 119 with Gordon leading and Mikey in 37th and Clint 25th.
"All right, pace car's in. Ready? Green green green. Everybody's rolling. Checking up a little bit, checking up a little bit. Got the 17 with a run about five back. Clear high, one inside. Still two-wide. Just one inside. Very bottom is the 16. Just one inside. One inside. The 10 inside. You're clear all around right there. Three cars behind you. All clear. All clear by two, all clear. Still outside - the 16. Still outside. Still outside from behind. 17 outside with the 18 one off of him. Half off of him. The 5 one off of him. 18 outside. There's a hole behind him. Then three back to the 5. All clear all clear."
Mikey came on the radio with 66 laps to go and said something about losing the draft.
"Still outside. Still at your quarter. Clear, all clear. 17 outside, running the middle. Two behind you, two back."
Earnhardt Jr took the lead going into 64 to go.
"The 17 outside. Three back is the 18. Still outside. Still there, the 16. Still outside - the 31. Two-wide. All clear by one and a half. All clear. All clear. Still outside. Still there. Got one coming outside. Two-wide. Clear behind that 47. All clear, all clear. Still outside. All clear. All clear by four, all clear. Still outside. Three-wide. Just one outside. 15 working the middle. Outside on you tight. Still outside, one outside. Getting my ass reamed by Brett."
"I guarantee it," someone said.
"Still outside - the 15. Still there. Outside - the 47. Outside. Still outside, very top - 47. All clear, all clear. Still outside. Still two-wide. All clear out back. Still two-wide. One outside."
On lap 136, Mikey was up to 36th.
"Just the 15 outside. Still outside - the 31. Clear behind him by three. Still there. Clear, all clear. One back - 31. Outside. Still two-wide. Still the 31 outside, barely there. Got the 32 outside. Two-wide. What are we doing?"
"I copy that, Roman," someone said.
"Clear by two. If they wreck, we're in it running here."
"Three-wide, still three-wide. Got the 51 in the middle. Coming outside. Still outside very top. Three-wide. Clear to the middle, just the 32 very top. Three-wide, three-wide bottom. 48 laps to go. Do we have enough laps to get 'em?"
"32 very top. All clear right there. All clear four back to the 31. Two back. Coming outside - the 31. Still outside from behind. 31 outside, 47 with him. Still outside, the 31. Two-wide. Still outside. Still on you tight. Clear by two back to the 16 running the top. All clear, all clear. Still outside - the 31. All clear by two. Still all clear, all clear. One back to the 16. Five off of him to other cars."
"About 11 or 12 more laps 'til we stop," Billy said.
Meanwhile, Stewart took the lead with 41 to go.
"All clear by one. All clear. All clear by three. All clear, all clear. 60 working the top. Still outside. Still two-wide. Just the 31 up top."
Earnhardt Jr was back in front with 38 to go. Billy said they would pit when others did, except not with the #48. "He should be pitting before us. Might start happening soon."
"Still outside - the 31. Two-wide. Still outside - the 47. Still outside, two-wide. All clear, all clear."
"Pit stops will probably start in the next few laps. We'll keep you posted when we're coming."
"All clear by four. Still all clear, all clear. These guys are pitting up there. Be on your toes. All clear, all clear."
Billy said they could pit any time, now that the #48 had stopped with 32 to go. He called for two tires and fuel.
"I'm still loose as shit," Mikey commented.
"All clear. One back to the 16." He warned Mikey about fire from the bottom of the #3 car. "Caution's out, caution's out. All good out back."
The sixth caution was with 31 laps to go for the flames coming from the right front of Austin Dillon's #3. He stopped on the track, and safety workers put out the fire. Cars on pit road were able to complete their stops. Hamlin was leading at the time.
"Do we need to be saving fuel? Are we that close, or are we okay?" Roman asked. He repeated his question.
Billy said they would pit for four tires and fuel. "48 already made his stop, so there will be a big hole in."
Mikey asked about the lead lap cars.
Billy said they could wait until next time around the track, "just to be out of the way." He led his driver on and off pit road.
"22," Roman said.
"22 coming outside. All clear."
"Come on by. The 17 lost his gears. It'll be one to go at the line."
"P36, 37 laps down. The only car we can catch in front of us is the 5 car if he were to wreck. He's seven cars in front of us." Billy said the 16 was position-wise four cars behind them. He noted that everyone should be good to go for fuel until the end."
"Is that 22 back on the lead lap?"
"No, he's still two laps down."
"All right. Thank you."
"Hey, Michael, that 10 only has fourth gear also, so she's not going to go. Just letting you know."
Racing resumed with 26 laps to go and Earnhardt Jr leading. Mikey was 36th, 37 laps down.
"Changing lanes is part of the problem," Mikey said.
"17 is coming to your outside. All clear. Clear, all clear. All clear. Just gonna watch out front. Let me know if you need something."
Someone noted which cars would be hanging with which cars. This included the #5 and #10.
"5's pushing her, and a hole behind the 5. Behind that 5. All clear," Roman said to Mikey. "Fuck. The 2 almost wadded them all up. Screwed Bowyer. 18 is the last one, five back. Still inside, two-wide. 5 outside. About half to the 5. He's got a run. Coming outside, outside. Back to the 18. Outside - the 18. It's the last car. All clear, all clear. Still outside - the 18 by himself. All clear. Still outside. Clear clear. Still outside. Still there, still there. At your door. Still there. On you tight - the 5. The 18 still outside."
Roman and someone else were talking about how they couldn't believe everyone was racing each other early on and how everyone is lined up single file against the wall with less than twenty laps to go. The other person said the #18 was talking about parking, so tell Mikey to keep going as they might pit.
"Still outside," Roman said. "Still there. Still outside - just the 18. All clear all clear. Back outside - the 18 outside. All clear out back."
"12 more here. 12."
"Oil temperature turned red. I don't know what it means. Well, I know what it means. It's not good," Mikey said.
Roman said to keep going unless it's flashing.
"10 to go this time. 10 more," Billy said.
"Dang it, Clint. Should have got down."
"Doesn't look too promising at the moment."
Roman said something about now needing to just stay put. Clint was running 9th with 9 to go. Cars in the front pack were still running single-file for the most part.
"Coming to five to go."
Someone said someone would be in the cat bird's seat if everyone wrecks with two to go. Someone else commented the #88 was going to blow up before then due to debris on the nose.
"Outside. Still outside. All clear."
"Coming to three more.
"Two to go here.
"White flag. They're starting to wreck. No, just one car lost it. He's on the apron, but there are some cars slow up there."
"They're wrecking on the back, it looks like."
Hamlin had spun on his own, but the larger wreck happened when Casey Mears' #13 got into Carl Edwards' #19. Others were collected when the #19 went back up the track, including the #15.
"All right, just watch it back there. All clear. Just watch for debris up here. A couple cars up slow. 15 almost to the line."
"All right, man. P36," Billy said after the checkered flag. "Sorry for the bad luck today, but thanks for being here all weekend and staying out there for us all day."
"What happened to Clint?" Mikey asked.
"Go ahead, Roman."
"I didn't see," Roman replied. "Someone around here can fill him in. He got 30th."
Earnhardt Jr won the race. Mikey finished 36th. Clint was 30th after someone got into him on the last lap.