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PADECKY: Wins few, far between and sweet for Michael Waltrip

  • Driver Michael Waltrip talks with other drivers during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., Friday, May 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

SONOMA -- As Michael Waltrip leaned into the race car he owns, to shake the hand of the winner of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday, Waltrip saw Martin Truex Jr. in tears. This was Truex's first victory since George W. Bush was president. That was in 2007, 218 races in Truex's rearview mirror. Waltrip saw the tears and one thought immediately came to his mind.

"I know how you feel, brother," Waltrip said.

If absence indeed makes the heart grow fonder, no one in motorsports loves or appreciates a victory more than Michael Waltrip.

NASCAR Toyota/Save Mart 350

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As a driver Waltrip needed 462 NASCAR races to win his first Cup event. For his entire career as a driver, Waltrip won just four times in 772 starts. As co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR), Truex's victory Sunday was just Waltrip's sixth in 570 races as owner.

So as a NASCAR driver and owner, Waltrip has won 10 times in 1,342 starts. That's a winning percentage of .007. That number may appeal to James Bond but even a good-defense, no-hit shortstop in baseball would reject that average. How can Waltrip, now 50, stay alive in the sport? It's simple.

Waltrip represents the power of persuasion, the power of a magnetic personality. In that, Waltrip has only one equal in NASCAR: Richard Petty. Ever since Waltrip broke into NASCAR in 1985, he has been the guy the media and sponsors have sought out. Need analysis? A funny quote? A wisecrack? An unplanned 10-minute autograph session? Someone who can crawl into a hauler with a television crew and fill up a rain delay with anecdotes? Waltrip is good to go. No smirk. No grimace. Bring it on.

Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart may have been the faces of NASCAR all these years but Michael Waltrip was the voice. Yes, of course, Waltrip has that famous last name. His brother Darrell is a NASCAR Hall of Famer. But what Waltrip really works to his advantage is his ability to engage and make a total stranger comfortable in a conversation.

Waltrip just oozes down-home charm. He's Kentucky-casual (hometown Owensboro) all the way.

"You're looking at winners that are totally thankful we're here," said Waltrip in the post-race press conference, "and while your (media) questions might seem repetitive at times and some of them not so great, ... no offense ... but you can just keep asking them. We'll keep answering them because we love being here. If you got any more questions just let us know. Martin has got a beer and I've got a goblet."

About six times Waltrip said something to the effect "I got myself a goblet" and each time Waltrip took another sip of wine from the Sonoma Raceway's victory chalice. He took 10 sips during the press conference. Later Waltrip would cradle the goblet in his hands. When he spoke, even when he would interrupt Truex and crew chief Chad Johnston, the anticipation in the room was palatable. Michael is going to say something amusing, interesting.


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