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Waltrip sees chaos coming to Bristol

March 11th, 2014 8:06 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Waltrip sees chaos coming to Bristol

Few people have the knowledge of racing at Bristol Motor Speedway as Darrell Waltrip.

The three-time NASCAR champion holds the all-time record with 12 Sprint Cup wins at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” Waltrip believes NASCAR’s new rules will make Friday’s knockout qualifying-session a must-see event.

“It will look a lot like a green-white-checkered I think,” said Waltrip, now a FOX television analyst. “It will be chaos with 42 cars on the track at one time trying to get a fast lap. The guys who can find an opening and get a clean run, they’re going to have a good time. 

“There are going to be some guys that have fast cars that aren’t going to be able to show it. There won’t be that much open track to run a fast lap. I don’t think you will be able to be a nice guy at Bristol.”

Waltrip fell short of saying any monkey business will be involved like a car pulling on the track at a particular time to just mess up someone else’s lap. However, he believes that scenario could happen unintentionally, more as the result of every man being out for himself.

“It could be a situation where guys won’t give neccessarily give someone a clear run,” he said. “Hopefully, they will get in a flow where you can get a fast lap in. I don’t know what to expect at Bristol, but I think we’ll see people running over each other to try to get a fast lap.”

When it comes to Sunday’s Food City 500 and even Saturday’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 for the Nationwide Series, Waltrip expects the usual list of characters to be the favorites. He believes drivers like Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth who have won multiple races on the high banks are those you have to look at first. 

Waltrip, now 67, talks from experience. 

He first made his reputation as the driver to beat at a similarly-banked short track in Nashville. He also won races on the other high-banked speedways in Salem and Winchester, Indiana before enjoying such great success at Bristol.

“The first time I came to Bristol, I wasn’t intimidated that it was a high-banked, half-mile race track,” he said. “That was my background. The thing that makes Bristol intimidating is how quick it is. It’s plenty fast, but it’s how quick things happen. If the car twitches at other places, you might grab it, catch it and keep going. If it twitches at Bristol, it’s in the fence. The speed, the banking and the quickness of the track, some guys can’t get comfortable with that.”

Besides the physical challenges, Waltrip said a lot of drivers can’t handle the mental aspect of racing 500 laps in constant traffic and on the edge of control.

He added, however, it does help if a driver has early success at the place.

“If you look at a lot of drivers, if they do really well at a track when they’re a rookie, it turns out to be one of their best tracks,” he said. “Bristol was that way and Charlotte was that way for me. A number of tracks I ran well at over my career, I ran well the first time I ever went there. It’s like Kevin Harvick at Phoenix. He’s got a comfort zone there and a knack for getting around there. 

“Attitude has so much to do with getting around Bristol. A lot of guys go to Bristol saying, ‘I hate this place. It’s too little and too fast.’ I embraced it from the first time I went there.”

In his 14th season as a NASCAR analyst, Waltrip is at times controversial, although not nearly to the degree he was as a driver who was nicknamed “Jaws” by rival Cale Yarborough for his gift of gab. These days, he hears the fans’ accusations that he’s cheering for one guy over another. Waltrip won’t dispute he can be overly exhuberant at times, but adds it’s not that he picks favorites.

“I’m a race car driver and a race fan, and I try to share with the people watching like I’m one of them as a race fan,” he said. “People criticize me for being partial to one guy or another. I’m really not. I just like to see the guys who put on a show and win. That could be Dale Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards or Kyle Busch. I don’t care. I’m a fan of the guy putting on that show that day.”

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