Earnhardt reminders stir emotions in Waltrip

Posted Feb. 10, 2011, at 6:23 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 10, 2011, at 8:58 p.m.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Michael Waltrip knew the questions were coming and tried to gather his thoughts in advance so he’d be ready to answer. He even wrote about it in his book.

Still, that didn’t stop Waltrip’s eyes from misting up when asked about the 10-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death.

“About a year ago, I realized that when I came here this year, there was going to be a lot of questions about that day,” Waltrip said at Daytona 500 media day Thursday. “And I needed to figure out how to answer those questions, because quite honestly, any answers I’ve given up until I wrote this book were just on the surface, nothing that I would let get into my heart.”

Waltrip’s book, “In the Blink of an Eye,” debuted on The New York Times best-seller list at No. 11. In it, he details his thoughts on the loss of his boss and friend, who died at Daytona in February 2001 as Waltrip was on his way to winning the race.

That race should have been one of the happiest days. Instead, it was one of the worst.

Waltrip cited his religious faith for helping him handle it, saying he believes everything happens for a reason.

“If I didn’t, I think I’d probably be pretty mad about that day, because human beings aren’t designed to go through that range of emotion that I was faced with,” Waltrip said. “So I like to think of the positives of that day, and that was the last thing Dale saw on this Earth was me and Dale Jr. driving off to win the Daytona 500.”

Waltrip said he hadn’t even been able to watch a replay of the race until recently.

“I saw that DVD a bunch of times over the last 10 years, and I just couldn’t put it in,” Waltrip said. “So for the first time ever, I put it in and started watching it.”

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DANICA’S SCHEDULE: Danica Patrick is back for her second season racing stock cars and plans a 12-race schedule in the Nationwide series.

She’ll run the first four races, beginning Feb. 19 at Daytona. Then she’ll take a break until June, a move to accommodate her full-time ride in the IndyCar series.

“Once the IndyCar season starts, I’m not allowed to do any races until after the Indy 500, and then it’s only one per month until the IndyCar season is over,” Patrick said. “There are not a lot of options.”

Patrick took recommendations from her crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., on which races she should try to do this season.

“He recommended I didn’t go to Dover last year, and I did that (anyway),” Patrick said. “So I’m going to listen to him.”

One of the highlights of Patrick’s schedule will be the Aug. 20 road course race in Montreal.

“Maybe I’ll eat these words, but I thought it would be really fun to go to a road course in a stock car.”

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GOTTA BE THE SHOES: Denny Hamlin has signed an endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan brand, and will sport the “jumpman” logo on his firesuit and gloves this season.

But he says there’s no such thing as flame-retardant Air Jordans — not yet, anyway.

“It’s a big deal for myself and really NASCAR,” Hamlin said. “The Jordan brand has never been in NASCAR before. It is a dream come true for me.”

Hamlin has courtside seats for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and got to know Jordan through his association with the team.

“Michael is a bigger motorsports fan than what people give him credit for,” Hamlin said. “He always talked to me last year about how the race went, because he watched the races. I never knew he really kept track of racing that much until I dug a little deeper and found he’s had his motorcycle (racing) team since 2004. He’s always been an avid motorsports fan. He just never knew the right situation to get into NASCAR, and he felt like I was the right representative for him.”

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ROBBY’S DODGE DEAL: Robby Gordon’s team is switching to Dodge, a deal that could be a huge boost to the stability of the driver-owned, single-car team.

“We haven’t had a factory program for two years,” Gordon said. “We kind of rode it out with Toyota, but it wasn’t a factory program. We really didn’t get any help, and that’s the truth of the matter. The motors were good. I don’t have any complaints about the motors or the way that the program went.”

Gordon said he doesn’t know how many NASCAR races his team will run this year but says he plans to do “about 18.”

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SPARK PLUGS: Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth might be known for his reserved demeanor, but he definitely broke character when he was sitting in his “lucky” chair and rooting for the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl. “I had a few friends come over and put themselves through that, to watch a Packer game with me,” Kenseth said. “I don’t know if it’s fun or not. It’s entertaining, because I yell a lot.” … When it was suggested that NASCAR should one day return to racing on the beach in Daytona, Tony Stewart played along and suggested that all the drivers should wear Speedo-style bathing suits for the occasion. “Can you imagine if they caught fire?,” Stewart said. “Some of us are kind of hairy guys.”

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