The message was pretty obvious. After years of NASCAR manufacturer entries becoming more and more distanced from what is offered at dealerships, the sport is hoping to rekindle the “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra -- while also making the racing better.
The Michael Waltrip Racing namesake was in Manhattan as part of the NASCAR Gen6 Road to Daytona Fueled by Sunoco, a multi-city marketing push to introduce the changes -- which includes each manufacturer now running panels resembling their street counterparts and aerodynamic tweaks to produce more side-by-side racing.
The Gen6 cars will make their debut Saturday night at Daytona in the Sprint Unlimited (formerly Bud Shootout), the exhibition race that serves as a precursor to Feb. 24’s Daytona 500. And Waltrip, whose team made its first appearances in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs last year with drivers Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr., can’t wait.
“I hear it everywhere I go, people talking about how much they love the new car and it hasn’t even been raced yet,” Waltrip told Newsday by phone from Manhattan. “It’s fun to listen to the drivers talk about how it sticks to the road and they’re going to go faster than they’ve been before in 2013.”
Waltrip hopes his cars’ speed equate to the development of his team, which made huge gains with Bowyer and Truex and hopes to soon add another championship contender.
Mark Martin, 54, will again drive a partial schedule in the No. 55, with Waltrip running three restrictor-plate races and former Chase for the Championship contender Brian Vickers in the ride for nine starts. Waltrip admits the idea is to have Vickers in the car full-time in 2014.
“We love Brian, he’s done an amazing job, he’s been really close to winning races,” Waltrip said. “Our crew chief, Rodney Childress, nobody else had a schedule like he did where he had to work with three different drivers, and he had them all up front, which was very valuable. But it worked because of what a great team player Brian was. He’s certainly who we have our eye on for next year, and now we have to work on that as a solution.”
For now, though, Waltrip is focusing on his own Daytona 500 effort. The two-time winner will drive the Swan Racing car normally piloted by David Stremme, with the car number changing from 30 to 26 for the 500 as a tribute to the victims and to raise funds for the school. The partnership reunites Waltrip with his former Dale Earnhardt, Inc. crew chief, Tony Eury, Jr.
“I love Tony Eury Jr.,” Waltrip said. “In 2005 we won a Gatorade 150 qualifying race together, so it’s fun to return to work with Tony. I have a lot of respect for him as as crew chief. He’s also fielding a Toyota, and all the Toyota teams are going to try to work together and share information. There will be conversations with Tony Jr. and the guys at MWR to make all the cars as fast as we possibly can.”
The only part of 2013 Waltrip isn’t looking forward to is fielding questions about the 2013 Rookie of the Year candidates Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dating. But he understands why people will ask.
“I raced with my brother [Darrell] on the track. and I love him,” Waltrip said. “So I think they can coexist.”