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Waltrip Rejoices In Glory Of Second Daytona 500 Victory
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 16, 2003) -- The rain came at the perfect time for Michael Waltrip as he captured his second victory in the Daytona 500 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Rain finally ended the 45th annual Daytona 500 just past the halfway mark. After waiting out the red flag, the race was declared official on Lap 109 with Waltrip the winner.
"It's crazy enough to try to figure out a way to win the Daytona 500," Waltrip said. "But who would have ever thought you had to figure out a way to win it after 109 laps."
After receiving the news, Waltrip ran out into the tri-oval grass to celebrate. He hugged his team, led by crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe, and his wife Buffy.
"I just feel blessed that we were in the right place at the right time," said Waltrip, who pocketed more than $1.4 million in winnings.
The first red flag for rain came on Lap 63. After one hour and eight minutes, racing resumed. The rain continued to move around the Speedway, but the racing never was halted.
On a restart on Lap 106, Waltrip made the winning pass when he ducked low and got behind his DEI teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was two laps down, and passed Johnson to take the lead.
"I had a plan," Waltrip said. "I hoped that Junior would jump the 33 (Christian Fittipaldi), and that Jimmie would try to race Junior so I could get over to the left behind Junior ahead of the 33 and get by Jimmie. It worked. That's exactly what happened."
Taking second place was Roush Racing's Kurt Busch, who started his No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford in the 36th starting position.
Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus made a calculated call to take fuel only on the final pit stop to gain track position as the rain was closing in on the famed 2.5-mile tri-oval. While the pit decision didn't bring out a victory, it did earn Johnson a third-place finish.
"We knew that we were probably going to be racing to halfway or somewhere thereafter," Johnson said. "Chad's idea was to keep putting tires on the car, take the penalty early with the track position. When it came down to the end, we could be in a position to do two tires or no tires, depending on what was going on and how much fuel we needed.
"Chad called an awesome race. It played into our hands. It worked out. We were in the lead."
Rounding out the top five were Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin.
Waltrip, whose previous win in the Daytona 500 came in 2001, has now won the last two NASCAR Winston Cup Series events at Daytona. Last July, he dominated the Pepsi 400.
Waltrip's older brother and 1989 Daytona 500 champion Darrell was watching high above in the press box serving as analyst for FOX Sports.
In this year's Daytona 500, Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, led three times for 68 laps, including the first 34.
Per tradition, Waltrip will lose his car to DAYTONA USA for a year. The induction ceremony will take place on Monday morning followed by a fan forum with Waltrip and Labbe.
Earnhardt Jr., trying to go 4-for-4 during Speedweeks 2003, came up short in his quest with some electrical problems. Earnhardt Jr., who was riding in second at the time behind Waltrip, was forced to pit on Lap 89 to replace the battery.
Earlier in Speedweeks, Earnhardt Jr. captured the inaugural nighttime running of the Budweiser Shootout, a Gatorade 125-mile qualifier and his second straight Koolerz 300 NASCAR Busch Series season opener. On Sunday, he settled for a 36tth-place finish.
Two-time Academy Award-nominated actor John Travolta gave the command to start engines for the Daytona 500 while Mariah Carey sang the national anthem and waved the green flag to start the race.
"This is my old hometown," Travolta said. "I'm very enthusiastic and proud to be here." The next time the NASCAR Winston Cup Series will visit the Speedway will be for the 45th annual Pepsi 400 on July 5.