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5 Underrated Darrell Waltrip Moments

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Without a doubt, Darrell Waltrip is one of the most important and influential figures in NASCAR history. He started his career behind the wheel, driving first for himself and then by some of the biggest names in the NASCAR ownership sphere such as Rick Hendrick and Junior Johnson. After retiring from the NASCAR as a driver, he teamed up with FOX Sports and quickly became an adored member of the FOX broadcast team along with Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds. His reach in NASCAR stretches far and wide. But everybody knows about his three championships and his dominance at Bristol. Everyone can recall when he finally won the Daytona 500 after 17 years of trying. But what about some lesser-known moments of his career, stretches where his on-track performance was dwindling but he still had flashes in the pan? Here are 5 underrated moments from the career of Darrell Waltrip.

#1: Brickyard 400 Front Row (2000)

Influenced by the retirement tour of Richard Petty in 1992, in 2000 Darrell Waltrip set out to embark on a retirement tour of his own: his Victory Tour 2000. Waltrip, like Petty, was relatively off the pace with the field reset in the closing years of his career. During his 2000 campaign, Waltrip failed to qualify for six races of the 34 on the schedule. When he was able to qualify, DW often had to rely on the past champions provisional to get in the race.

That’s not to say that DW’s final year as a driver was without highlights. The biggest moment of all came when DW, in his No. 66 Big K-Mart car for Haas-Carter Racing, nearly got the pole at Indianapolis. Against all odds, the Route 66 Ford was bad fast at Indy with Roush power under the hood. He went straight to the top of the board after his qualifying run and was greeted with a standing ovation by the crowd. After parking his car on the pit road, DW got out and celebrated with his younger brother, Michael.

At the end of the session, DW got beat by Ricky Rudd but still managed to hang on to the outside pole position. DW scored his best finish on the year when he crossed the line in 11th place. Though the year is largely forgettable, DW proved that day that, if given the equipment he needed, he could still get the job done in style

#2: Driving the DEI 1 Car (1998)

The history of Darrell Waltrip’s and Dale Earnhardt’s rivalry is well documented. For a long time, it wasn’t hard to imagine that the two hated each other. But, as both drivers progressed in their careers and got a little older, their relationship mellowed out significantly. So much so that when Dale Earnhardt and his upstart team, DEI, was backed into a corner after Steve Park got injured in a crash, Big E called on Waltrip to be his relief driver.

At this point in DW’s career, he was starting to slow down on the track. His team, Darrell Waltrip Motorsports, wasn’t working out like he thought it would. He was no longer winning races nor running particularly well. So, when the opportunity came to sell off his team and drive the DEI No. 1 Pennzoil car, Waltrip leaped at it. It really wasn’t known how he would perform in the car. He struggled for several years of his career. But to the surprise and admiration of many fans, DW was very racy when driving the 1 car.

He made 13 starts in the car and even scored the final top-5 finish of his career at California (Fontana/Auto Club) that season. This proved that when the car was tuned up to how DW liked it and he didn’t have to worry about the headaches that come naturally with being a team owner, he could still run well and finish races.

#3: The Time DW Became NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver (The 1989 All-Star Race)

Darrell Waltrip was never the most popular driver in the garage. He earned his respect slowly and was pretty well appreciated by the end of his driving career. But in his youth, he had the nickname Jaws…because he was “running his mouth and tearing up cars”. He was a ball of fire throughout the 1980s when he dominated and developed the disdain of fans in a similar way Kyle Busch had throughout his career. But the Tide (pun intended) started to turn in the 1989 All-Star Race.

Darrell was leading and in a pretty good position to win the race. That was until he got turned and wrecked by a young Rusty Wallace. He finally had the fans on his side for the first time in his career. They cheered him and booed the cocky Rusty Wallace who went on to collect the check.

#4: Calling His Brother’s First Daytona 500 Victory as well as Dale Earnhardt’s Last Race

As more modern NASCAR fans may recall, Darrell Waltrip had a successful career as a broadcaster after climbing out of the car in October of 2000. His long television career started in 2001 with Daytona Speedweeks that February. This included the Daytona 500. NASCAR on FOX brought their A-Game when it came to covering their first Daytona 500 in that included landing the talents of Darrell Waltrip in their booth. And though this race will forever be a black mark in the NASCAR history books, the closing laps saw some of DW’s best ability as a broadcaster.

As his brother rocketed out to the lead with Dale Jr. and Dale Sr. quickly in toe, we saw a side of DW like we’ve never seen before. Reminiscing of when Ned Jarrett called his son’s first Daytona 500 win, DW was in tears and celebrating when his kid brother crossed the line first at the race’s 200th mile. FOX even allowed DW to interview Michael in victory lane post-race. However, the mood quickly became somber as it began to filter through that something was terribly wrong in the aftermath of the incident which took place coming out of the fourth turn at Daytona.

Not only did DW call his brother Michael’s first ever win in the NASCAR Cup Series, he also called the closing laps of his good friend and former boss, Dale Earnhardt. And he did all of it masterfully, regardless of how tragic the evening turned.

#5: Final Start (Martinsville 2006)

Though Darrell Waltrip’s career as a full-time driver ended in 2000, that didn’t stop him from making sporadic starts in the lower series of NASCAR. In 2002 and 2003, he made a handful of starts, driving his iconic No. 17 for both HT Motorsports and Michael Waltrip Racing. In addition, he brought back his former team, Darrell Waltrip Motorsports, in 2004 and 2005, respectively. The No. 17 was run full-time by future Cup Series star David Reutimann, while DW made a handful of starts himself over those two years in his No. 11 and 12 trucks, respectively.

DWM was partially responsible for bringing Toyota to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. When his brother’s team, Michael Waltrip Racing, decided to make the jump to Cup, DWM closed operations and was dissolved into MWR.

But even with the closure of his team, Darrell Waltrip had yet to turn his final laps. That would come in 2006 when he made a lone start in the Michael Waltrip Racing Aaron’s Deam Machine No. 99. He started the race in the 41st position but was able to improve and finish in 28th place. It wasn’t the greatest performance imaginable, but it was still great for a whole new generation who missed out on DW’s driving career to see their favorite FOX broadcaster behind the wheel one final time.

Conclusion

Darrell Waltrip is, without a doubt, a legend of the sport. He has had a long and influential career both behind the steering wheel as well as hearing a headset in the FOX Sports booth. While most of his fondest memories are of his dominance throughout the 1980s, DW continued to inspire and entertain well into his Twilight Years.

What are some of you favorite Darrell Waltrip moments that you feel don’t get enough attention of appreciation? Let us know by commenting on all our various social media pages! And be sure to continue logging in on DailyDownforce.com for all the latest news, stories, and fan discussions in the world of NASCAR!

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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