Waltrip struggling after missing another race

Associated Press • Mar 13, 2007 at 12:51 PM

LAS VEGAS - Michael Waltrip the car owner was at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, his only participation in the Nextel Cup race coming as an announcer for DirecTV.

Waltrip the driver failed to qualify for his second straight race, continuing the frustrating start to his first year as a team owner. David Reutimann, his rookie driver, also failed to make the Las Vegas field and Dale Jarrett had to use a provisional - his third of six available - to make the race.

But Waltrip remains confident that good days are ahead.

"I am not giving up. It's not bleak. The year is not shot," he said. "This is a start, it's where we are, but it's not going to define who we are. We just have to do a better job, we are going to have to move some people around, do some different things to try to make ourselves better.

"We're not hitting it in many different ways."

The struggles are difficult to accept, and Waltrip admitted that sponsor NAPA is frustrated.

"We've had a lot for them to accept, they haven't had a normal race yet. Daytona was huge and then the next two we missed," Waltrip said. "So everybody is concerned. They didn't know that it was going to be this rough.

"We didn't pretend it was going to be a bed of roses, nor did we pretend we were going to be winners right off the bat. What I think is important to realize is as a sponsor and as a team is that we'll get better and we have the resources to get the job done.

"It will be more rewarding when we get there because of our disastrous start."

Waltrip's season went awry before it even started, when NASCAR found a fuel additive in his engine during preparations for the Daytona 500. NASCAR docked Waltrip 100 points, and suspended his crew chief and competition director indefinitely.

Crew chief David Hyder, who was also fined a record $100,000, is now relegated to working only at the race shop as Waltrip said he continues investigating what happened in Daytona.

"David says he's innocent, doesn't know what happened or how it got there," Waltrip said. "We can't prove he did anything and so we couldn't fire him if we wanted to. With him helping at the shop, helping us get our stuff together, is something that we need.

"We need everybody we can get that's smart, and he's a real smart man."

DOUBLE DATE: Track owner Bruton Smith is pushing hard for a second race date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which sells out weeks in advance as fans pour into a facility he renovated into a showplace.

NASCAR chairman Brian France toured the upgrades on Sunday and seemed impressed with the attractions. But while acknowledging that LVMS should be a candidate for two races a year, France doesn't have a date to give it.

"I'd like to have a second date at a lot of places. Here would be one, but lots of places," France said. "Everyone knows that the schedule is either at or near the end ... there's not a magic wand that we can wave to put a second date wherever we feel like at the moment."

NASCAR is reluctant to add any dates to its current 36-week schedule, and Smith doesn't want to take a date from one of his other tracks to move it to Vegas. A shareholder at Texas Motor Speedway sued NASCAR to get that track a second race, which was ultimately acquired when North Carolina Speedway lost its race.

It could make things interesting if International Speedway Corp. - NASCAR's sister company - is successful with its plans to expand into Washington state, New York and Denver. Assuming those tracks are all built, France will have to find race dates - a process Smith is sure to follow closely.

But France wasn't confident that all three of the ISC projects will succeed.

"New York is in play, Seattle is in play, Denver is in play. They are all markets that ISC has said they have an interest in," he said. "I don't expect all three to get a facility built, but I do expect something positive to happen."

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