By Kellyanne Lynch, mikeypower.com
12 November 2006
Michael Waltrip's #55 Napa Auto Parts Dodge was responsible for the third and fifth cautions in the Checker Auto Parts 500, today's Nextel Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway. Although the car picked up speeds that rivaled the top ten deep into the first two long runs, the #55 ultimately struggled in the right rear and lost ground. Mikey went to the garage after the third caution with smoke and a leak. Although he returned to the track, the leak returned fifty laps later and landed his Napa Dodge in the garage for the rest of the race. He finished 42nd.
Mikey qualified 19th for today's race, and Jeff Gordon won the pole.
"Hello? Testing, one two?" Mikey came on the radio at 3:28pm ET.
"Sound good up here, loud and clear, Mike," said the spotter.
Wife Buffy kissed Mikey's hand before the call to start engines, seconds later. A crew member helped him with last minute in-car adjustments and then put up the window net.
Following an exchange between the crew chief and spotter, crew chief Tommy Baldwin Jr told his driver, "Mike, we've got the 66 behind us, the 11 in front of us."
"Okay, thanks," Mikey replied.
"Hey, Mike, I've never spotted for you here, but Turns 3 and 4 are blind spots," the spotter informed his driver.
"Yeah, that's great, Jason. I appreciate that."
"10-4. I just didn't want you to think I was ignoring you if you got into traffic." After a pause, spotter Jason added, "Pace car's rolling. Twelfth time by."
At 3:32, Mikey rolled off pit road. He warmed his tires as he turned pace laps. Meanwhile, Robby Gordon dropped to the rear of the field.
"Pit road speed right there, Mike," the spotter asked.
"How do we feel about... uh..." Mikey paused. "I didn't know to well. How do we feel about 51?"
"Coming to the green," the spotter said a couple minutes later. "Not going. Lights back on. Lights back on. One to go.
"Try it again," the spotter added after a minute. "Coming to the green. Have a good day.
"Pace car's off. Ready? Green flag, green flag, green flag."
The race started at 3:37pm.
"Clear high, after the 11," said the spotter.
Gordon's #24 led the first lap of the race. Mikey was 20th after the first lap; Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer had passed.
"Inside," the spotter noted during lap 3. Kevin Harvick took the lead. "Got the 20 with him."
Mark Martin passed. Mikey was 22nd on lap 4.
"Still there," the spotter said as Jeff Green worked his inside. "Still inside. Three-wide. Still there, inside."
"Still there. One more. Clear."
Stewart and Green had passed, moving Mikey to 24th on lap 6. Martin Truex Jr took him back another spot the next time around the track. He was cleared behind Jimmie Johnson's #48 next.
"It's really pushing," Mikey reported on lap 8. He was now 27th, behind Reed Sorenson and Johnson.
"10-4," Baldwin Jr replied.
On lap 12, Mikey looked to Elliott Sadler's inside. "Still there," the spotter observed. "Still there. Clear." The #55 was up to 26th.
"That was a good lap there," Baldwin Jr commented on lap 24. "You a 30, leader a 10. You're catching a bunch of guys in front of you there." On the next lap, he noted, "Leader a flat, you a 30."
"25 right in front of you," Baldwin Jr continued. "You can get up there, dude. Leader a flat, you a 25."
On lap 27, Mikey looked outside Jeff Green's #66 but fell back into line. He looked outside in the next turn as well.
"Clear the 66," the spotter said on lap 28. Mikey then looked to the outside of Bobby Labonte's #43. "Clear, all clear. Great job!"
Mikey was up to 24th on lap 30.
"Leader a 10, you a 50. That was with a pass," Baldwin Jr reported. A few laps later, he said, "Leader a 30, you a 55.
"Leader a 15, you a 50.
"Leader a 20, you a 55.
"Leader a 20, you a 65," Baldwin Jr continued to read off lap times, as Mikey lost ground to Reed Sorenson in 23rd. Labonte and Green were gaining.
"Three-wide. Clear," the spotter said. Lap 41 saw Mikey fall to 26th.
"This car just goes way worse than everyone else's," Mikey complained. "It must be heavier or something."
Dale Jarrett passed the next time around the track, putting the #55 in 27th.
"By himself," said the spotter, as Elliott Sadler's #19 looked to pass along the inside. Sadler was marked ahead of Mikey on lap 44. David Stremme passed the next time around the track.
"Clear," said the spotter on lap 46. "Clear, clear."
Lap 47 saw Sterling Marlin and Mike Bliss get around the Napa Dodge. Mikey was now 31st.
"Clear," the spotter said again. On lap 49, Dave Blaney passed along the inside. "Clear behind the 45."
Mikey complained about his right front. "I've just never driven anything this bad. I just wanted to let you know it's just the right front. I don't know if you can hear it, but it's like grrrrr! It's not the tire, it's whatever you did to the right front."
Baldwin Jr said he would loosen it up on the stop. The spotter noted that three cars remained between Mikey and leader Kevin Harvick.
"I've had cars I've wrecked before handle better than this," Mikey added. He was 34th; Ken Schrader had passed.
"Inside, by himself," the spotter said. Ward Burton passed on lap 53.
"Leader's inside," the spotter said on lap 55. "Clear, clear."
Mikey fell off the lead lap. Tony Raines was all over him at the same time, and Raines' #96 got around the #55. On lap 57, Mikey was 37th and lapped.
"Clear. Next lead lap's the 24. One lapped car between you and him."
"Inside," said the spotter on lap 58. "Next one's the 99."
JJ Yeley had passed, moving Mikey to 38th.
"48's looking inside. Got the 25 with him," the spotter noted on lap 62. "Clear behind the 25. Next one's the 2 car. You've got two cars between you and him."
"Trying to bring the 10 with him," the spotter added on lap 64, when Travis Kvapil passed him. Mikey was 39th. "Got the 2 looking inside. Clear after that 10. Inside, the 2. Got the 9 with him. Got a slow one leaving pit road. Clear right there. clear."
Mikey remained 39th; Riggs' #10 had passed, but Greg Biffle had pit with a right front vibration and had lost two laps.
"By himself," the spotter said on lap 68. "Inside, the 11."
Bill Elliott passed on lap 70. The #55 was 40th.
"Feels like it's towed-in two inches," Mikey commented.
"Yellow's out," the spotter said. "Yellow's out. Debris on the back."
"Maybe two and a half," Mikey added.
Lap 71 saw the first caution for debris on the back straightaway. Tony Raines received the free pass.
"Raise the trackbar six rounds may not be a bad idea either," Mikey commented through static. "I can't say anything else. It's amazing. We'll just have to work on it, I guess. I mean, it wasn't tires. It started vibrating on 30 laps."
"Safety truck's down low, back straightaway," the spotter observed. The leaders pit under the yellow, and Matt Kenseth's #17 stayed out one lap to pick up five bonus points before pitting. Mikey came in with lapped traffic the next time around the track.
"2, 1. Hit the sign, wheels straight," Baldwin Jr directed. "Go go go. Clear, after the 61."
"5,000," added the spotter. "It's going to be one to go."
"Coming to the green," the spotter said on lap 76. "Pace car's off. Ready? Green flag green flag green flag."
Harvick's #29 led the lap 77 restart, with Mikey running one lap down in 40th.
"Clear high after the 8," the spotter said. "Clear."
One lap into the run, Mikey gained a spot to Chad Chaffin.
"Inside, by himself," the spotter observed. "Looking outside, outside. Got the 31 with him. Still there. Still there, no hole. Still there. Still there, by himself. Got the 07 with him now. Outside. Two more. Clear for now. Clear. Outside. Got a hole behind him.
On lap 84, Mikey looked to Bill Elliott's inside and passed.
"Clear," said the spotter as Mikey moved into the 38th spot.
"Leader a 70, you an 85," Baldwin Jr noted on lap 90. "Leader an 85, you a 95.
"Leader an 82, you an 04.
"Leader a 65, you a 19.
"Leader a 70, you a 15.
"Leader a 75, you a 20.
"Leader an 85, you a 14.
"And that lap right there, the front end started going away," Mikey complained on lap 97. Scott Riggs had been in his sights, but he slowly faded from Riggs' #10. "It's starting to do the same thing - no front grip. It's not bad yet. I'm just telling y'all what happens when it started. That way, you can trace it back to this lap and tell when it all started."
"10-4." Baldwin Jr continued to read off lap times. "Leader a 90, you a 17." On lap 102, he told his driver he was running top seven times."
"Enjoy them while they last," Mikey replied. "They're going to be short-lived."
"Leader a 90, you a 13.
"Leader a 97, you a 32.
"Leader a 90, you a 20.
"Leader a 95, you a 30.
"Leader an 02, you a 44. Catching traffic there."
"Stacking up in front of you," the spotter warned on lap 107. "They're back going, they're back going. Race track's clear."
"Leader a 10, you a 35," Baldwin Jr continued to read off times.
"Clear, all clear," the spotter said as Mikey got around Casey Mears on lap 111. Mears' #42 was running 18th.
"Leader a flat, you a 34. 40's and 50's and 60's in front of you. That was the 18th place car you just passed," Baldwin Jr encouraged his driver. "Leader a 10, you a 44."
On lap 115, Mikey drove outside Robby Gordon's #7 for position and pulled ahead.
"Clear, all clear," the spotter said. The #55 was now 37th.
"Leader a 15, you a 40."
When Baldwin Jr read off lap times on lap 119, he added, "Top eight times right there. Keep digging, man. You're doing a good job.
"Leader a 25, you a 43," he continued reading off times. "Leader a 27, you a 35.
"Leader a 33, you a 50.
"Leader a 25, you a 55.
"Leader a 35, you a 45.
"Leader a 35, you a 60.
"Leader a 35, you a 45.
"Leader a 39, you a 48.
"Leader a 36, you a 55.
"Leader a 38, you a 43.
"Leader a 30, you a 50.
"Leader a 38, you a 49.
"Leader a 30, you a 45.
"Leader a 33, you a 55.
Mikey looked under Greg Biffle's twice-lapped car and passed on lap 133.
"Clear, clear," said the spotter.
At the front of the field, Jimmie Johnson took the lead on lap 135.
"Leader a 38, you a 54," Baldwin Jr continued to read off lap times. "Leader a 37, you a 54.
"Leader a 40, you a 64.
"Still there. Clear, clear," the spotter said on lap 139.
"Leader a 40, you a 50," Baldwin Jr read times. "Leader a 52, you a 56.
"Leader a 50, you a 55.
Mikey was all over Joe Nemechek's 15th-place car on lap 143.
"Still there. Clear, all clear," said the spotter.
Baldwin Jr told his driver to "keep digging". "Leader a 51, you a 55. That was the best car on the track right there.
"Leader a 51, you a 49.
"Leader a 60, you a 46. We're going to pit in ten laps, spotter. Ten laps."
"10-4," the spotter replied.
With Reed Sorenson's stop, Mikey moved into 36th on lap 148.
"Leader a 45, you a 60.
"Clear, all clear," the spotter added. "Yellow's out. Yellow's out. Debris in Turn 1, Turn 1."
The second caution was on lap 151.
"It's the same thing, except it got to a point where it wasn't getting real worse." Mikey said. He added that the car was also tight. "So whatever y'all did, just do whatever you want."
"Take a pound out of the left front there," Baldwin Jr directed the crew. He told Mikey to pit next time by with the lapped cars.
The spotter warned that cars were stacking up as the leaders pealed off the track for pit road. Johnson was the first driver back onto the track, but Sterling Marlin had stayed out to take the lead.
"5,000," the spotter reminded the driver. "5,000 and second gear. 5,000. Ten away."
"3, 2, 1. Get the wheels straight," Baldwin Jr finished. "All right."
Mikey was on pit road for about 49 seconds. Marlin pit, and Johnson took back the top spot.
"Pretty big difference in that first set of tires and the second set," Mikey commented.
"10-4. We made a big adjustment too, but I hear ya," Baldwin Jr replied.
"We've been making big adjustments all year," Mikey noted. "But nothing seemed to help like that last adjustment seemed to make."
"One to go when you get back," the spotter informed. "One to go here. Coming to the green. Pace car's in the centre of the back straightaway.
"Pace car's off. Stay ready. Green flag green flag green flag."
Johnson's #48 led the lap 158 restart, with Mikey in 36th. Cars immediately bunched.
"Stacking up on the bottom. Keep coming, keep coming. Clear around the corner. Clear high if you want it. Clear high."
Lap 160 saw Mikey gain a spot to Ward Burton. He was now 35th.
"Slow up high. Keep back going. Race track's clear," the spotter noted. Mikey passed Scott Riggs for position to pick up 34th. "Still there, still inside."
"Looking outside, outside. Clear, clear. Coming back inside. Three-wide. Two-wide," the spotter warned on lap 164. "Still there. Clear on the bottom. 20 looking outside, outside. Trying to look inside. Three-wide, middle. Three-wide. Two-wide. Middle's clear."
Lead lap cars had passed on lap 165. Riggs went with them and bobbled. At the front of the field, Harvick regained the lead.
"Big hole behind the 2," the spotter observed. Mikey was 35th. "Inside. Clear behind him."
"Still there. Clear."
"Leader a 70, you a 29," Baldwin Jr said on lap 177.
"Looking inside, inside," the spotter noted on lap 186.
"Michael, Tommy," the spotter informed driver and crew chief. "We have some heavy smoke coming out of the corner of the car."
"10-4. I see it," Baldwin Jr replied.
"Yellow's out. Yellow is out. Race track's all clear."
Lap 187 saw the third caution for Mikey. Commentators speculated that an oil line had gone. Dave Blaney received the free pass.
"They want you to stay low here. You're smoking pretty heavy," the spotter said.
The team suspected a rear end gear problem.
"Shut it off, shut it off," Baldwin Jr directed when Mikey stopped. "Stay right there! Stay right there! Don't... Now push it forward."
"What's leaking, Steve?" asked the crew chief after a minute. "All right, let's push it back. Wait wait wait wait." The team had to wait for the lapped traffic to pit.
Mikey took off his helmet and had a drink of water.
"Can we bypass that, Steve?" Baldwin Jr asked a crew member. "Ray's got the stuff. We can bypass that. Tell Michael not to go anywhere. Let's get it behind pit wall here.
"We'll do that. When we come back out."
The team pushed the car to the garage under the yellow flag. The race returned to green without the #55 on lap 196. Mikey had some work done on pit road and returned to the track on lap 203, fifteen laps down and in 42nd. He was soon sixteen laps off the pace. Kevin Harvick led, as he had from the restart.
The fourth caution came on lap 226 for Robby Gordon. His #7 had been smoking off the corner, and he came down into Chad Chaffin's #61.
Lap 230 saw the restart, with Harvick leading. Mikey was 42nd, sixteen laps down.
Mikey brought out the fifth caution on lap 253. His #55 was slow on the apron and was leaking fluid on the track. He went to the garage.
Mark Martin led the lap 258 restart, but Mikey was in the garage. He finished 78 laps down in 42nd.
Next Sunday's Nextel Cup race is at Homestead-Miami Speedway and is the last of the season. Coverage of the Ford 400 begins at 2:00pm ET on NBC. The Busch Series' season finale, the Ford 300, is the day before at 7:00pm on TNT.