The Daytona 500 is three days away, and Michael Waltrip is in the field. He finished 14th today in his Budweiser Duel, the first of two qualifying heats for Sunday's Sprint Cup season opener at the Daytona International Speedway. His driver, Martin Truex Jr, finished 19th after NASCAR assessed a penalty for his #56 Napa Camry losing a side window on the final lap.
Mikey started 16th in the first duel race - the one that, pre-race, Brad Keselowski had referred to as "the good one". The call to start engines came at 2:08pm ET.
During the pace laps, big brother Darrell in the broadcasters' booth interviewed him Mikey over the #26 team frequency. He noted that the #26 was starting in the back despite being fast in practice and asked if Mikey and crew chief Tony Eury Jr still had the magic that they'd had when they'd worked together during their days at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
"We know our goals today, and that's just to make it into the big show on Sunday," Mikey said.
"I sure have loved working with all the Swan Racing team. Tony Eury Jr is the best! He's just got a great attitude. We've won this race before, Darrell. In 05, we won our 150. So I think there's magic in us left still. Don't you?"
DW said he did and asked what he thought of the other drivers' approaches to this race.
"It's like we're a bunch of rookies, Darrell. The wind, the air off the cars is really causing people some havok. They don't understand exactly what's going on. Used to, right when you got up right on the back bumper of another car, you went faster. Now it seems like that bogs them down. You force some air up into a guy's left rear quarter panel, you're going to spin them out. So, everybody's learning the draft today, and this is the best chance to learn what it takes to win the Daytona 500. So hopefully, we can survive, go to school, and learn what it takes to get these babies around the track."
Daytona 500 polesitter Danica Patrick leading the twenty-three car field to the green flag at 2:20pm. Trevor Bayne took the lead, and Mikey moved up to 12th. On lap 3, he was 13th as Bayne continued to lead. The #26 was 10th going into lap 6 and 8th coming out.
On lap 13, Mikey was 7th. Within the next three laps, he became part of a twelve car breakaway, with Bayne continuing to hold the top spot. The #26 was still 7th on lap 20 as twenty of the twenty-three cars were now lined up single-file. Positions shuffled behind Mikey, but halfway through the race, he contiued to maintain the 7th spot.
Lap 33 saw Mikey get shuffled back to 10th. A line had formed along the inside of the #26. He was 11th the next time around the track. Cars were going three-wide, and Kevin Harvick took the lead on lap 37. Mikey was now 13th. Cars were beginning to go to pit road for scheduled stops. Mikey was 11th one lap later as a result. He was 14th on lap 39 and 10th the next time around the track.
Harvick led many cars including the #26 to pit road with 20 laps to go, allowing Bayne to reclaim the top spot momentarily on pit road; however, Bayne blew a right front tire on the way to his box. Bayne said on his radio that Harvick had crowded him; this did not appear to be the case. Harvick was the first off pit road and was back out front. Mikey was marked in 9th on lap 42.
Mikey was 7th with 14 laps to go as Harvick led. The two were in the same positions going into 10 to go.
The yellow flag waved for a big wreck with 7 laps to go. Denny Hamlin got loose in Turn 2, and he came down into Carl Edwards' right rear quarter panel. Edwards went nose-first into the wall. Bayne had nowhere to go but into the #99. Regan was also collected. Hamlin's #11 had been running right behind the #26. Cars made stops when pit road opened.
Racing resumed with 4 laps to go. Harvick led, and Mikey was 6th. He was up to 4th on lap 58 and was behind Biffle and Johnson, who were two-wide behind the leader. Cars were shuffling behind him, and Joey Logano was behind him. By the end of the lap, cars were three-wide in front, beside, and behind the #26. Mikey was on the outside and was losing ground with two to go. He was now behind Martin Truex Jr's #56.
Harvick led the field going into the last lap and went on to win. Mikey dropped back and finished 14th. He had raced his way into the Daytona 500 by 0.009 seconds over Scott Speed. Initially, it was announced that Mikey had picked up the last transfer spot, until NASCAR assessed a penalty to Martin Truex Jr due to losing his side window, which relegated his #56 to 19th.
DW spoke to Mikey after the checkered flag waved. "Michael Curtis, this is DW. Do you copy?"
Mikey was talking to his crew prior to responding to his brother. Then he said, "That was intense."
DW commented on Mikey making the field for the Daytona 500.
"Yeah, there's a lot of people up in Connecticut I know with a big smile on their face for this special Newtown Toyota. I'm just real proud to get in the race for them. They can sit up in the cold on Sunday in the Northeast and see a bit old fashion fancy NASCAR race in Daytona. It don't get much better than that."
DW said something about how Mikey had been racing up front but then got into the wrong line.
"Well I didn't get in the line. My line became the wrong line. You know, it's no coincidence that Biffle and Harvick were up front Saturday night in the shootout. They were really fast, you know, even though me and Jimmie had it all pulled together it looked like, they were just too strong, you know. They were really fast. So watch for those guys in the 500. And then we were really tight in the end. We're going to work on our handling, but I think the team is really happy to be a part of this show."
DW told Mikey to work on it.
"Yeah, she needs some adjustments."
Be sure to watch Mikey in the Great American Race! Coverage of the Daytona 500 begins at noon on FOX.