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Martin Truex Jr.’s win meant more than just breaking his winless streak

Michael Waltrip talks about what Sonoma victory meant for entire Michael Waltrip Racing organization

Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013

Everyone in NASCAR talks about how hard it is to win in NASCAR.

In part, that’s because there are so many people and companies invested in the victories.

When Martin Truex Jr. broke his 218-race winless streak with a win last Sunday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, there were many celebrating in addition to the driver.

There was Truex’s sponsor, NAPA, which hadn’t been to Victory Lane since 2003. There were the team owners, Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman, and the manufacturer, Toyota, along with other team sponsors and the hundreds of employees.

“I don’t think I can articulate how important it is for us to get NAPA to Victory Lane. You know, they’ve been with me since 2001 when I drove for Dale (Earnhardt Sr.), and we haven’t had them to Victory Lane since 2003,” Waltrip said.

“You talk about Martin’s breaking a losing streak; NAPA broke one bigger than that.”

After Truex’s victory Sunday, Waltrip spoke at length about the meaning behind the win, not just for Truex but for the entire organization.

Q: Michael, Martin said he felt like a tremendous load was lifted off his shoulder. Describe for you what that load felt like and now what it feels like?

Waltrip: Well, I will never forget – and this was a special moment that happened – when I leaned in the car to congratulate Martin, he had just come onto pit road, and I leaned in and there were tears in his eyes, and you could feel the elation and the joy and the relief.

And as I did that, it took me straight back to 2001 when I finally pulled into Victory Lane and was able to briefly celebrate what was the greatest racing day of my career. I saw all that same emotion and the same feeling in Martin. I’m glad I got to experience that, and it reminded me of a special day, and it made me really thankful.

Q. For Michael, Dale Earnhardt stuck with you for a long, long time while other people might have scoffed. How does that influence you to stay with Martin or anybody else?

Waltrip: I built my team with Dale in mind. He lives with me. He’s part of who I am because I just appreciated who he was and how he went about things. People worked on his cars at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated before I got there. When Dale would walk by, you could just tell people were thinking, ‘These are Dale Earnhardt’s cars. He don’t have to have a team, he could be off hunting or fishing but he loves cars and he has a team.’

I always wanted a team because of a few people. My brother (Darrell Waltrip), he had a team when he was racing for Junior Johnson that he had behind us in Charlotte that was just a little Nationwide team, and I was the same way, and Dale was the inspiration for who we are today. We tried to build a cool shop like he built. I try to motivate and inspire people by showing them how much I love this sport and love this organization.

Q. Michael, you talked about it’s not always easy to put a team together. Michael Waltrip Racing is a complete team. What has been your plan to make it so?

Waltrip: I was just real fortunate that when I started a team I had – I was more of an entrepreneurial visionary kind of guy, and after about two months of racing with me sort of in charge, we were out of money, and it wasn’t looking good. I met Rob Kauffman, and Rob is my co-owner. We’re partners at Michael Waltrip Racing, and he’s a genius in the business world and understands how to run a business properly. We partnered together, and since he showed up in ’07 until today, we’re best buddies.

It’s a partnership in the truest form, and Rob does a lot of things really well that I don’t know how to do, and I do a couple things really well that he lets me do. I’m really thankful for Rob, because without Rob my dream would have ended before y’all ever would have known that we had the potential to do what we’ve done.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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