Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway is set to be Darrell Waltrip‘s final race as a commentator with Fox Sports before his retirement, which he had announced in April. To commemorate his impact as a driver and announcer, the teams of the Monster Energy Cup Series are paying tribute in various ways.
All teams will carry a thank-you decal on their cars. Roush Fenway Racing‘s Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Leavine Family Racing‘s Matt DiBenedetto, and Front Row Motorsports‘ David Ragan will run special liveries honouring Waltrip, particularly emulating schemes he used during his driving career. Stenhouse’s #17 is based Waltrip’s #17 Western Auto-sponsored car that he drove for his own team in the 1990s; DiBenedetto’s #95 pays tribute to Waltrip’s #95 that he raced early in his career in the 1970s; and Ragan’s #38 also follows Waltrip’s Western Auto car, but with special decals including a head shot of Waltrip on the hood. On the rear of Ragan’s car is Waltrip’s catchphrase “Boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racing!”
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to run this scheme during Darrell Waltrip’s last race as a broadcaster with FOX,” Ragan said in an FRM statement. “We’ve developed a great relationship over the years and he’s truly been an asset to our sport. It still gives me chills listening to replays of him calling my Talladega (Superspeedway) win in 2013. His enthusiasm for racing is unmatched and I know we will all miss seeing him up in the booth each week. All I can say is, ‘Thanks, DW.'”
This is not the first time Stenhouse has raced with a Waltrip tribute. He ran throwback schemes to Waltrip’s driving days for the Southern 500 weekends at Darlington Raceway in 2016 and 2017.
“Darrell Waltrip has meant a great deal to our sport as both a competitor and a member of the broadcast media,” RFR owner Jack Roush said. “The thing that stands out to me about Darrell is that after I just announced I was starting the team with Mark Martin, I was invited into a driver’s meeting that season. Darrell Waltrip was one of the first to welcome me into the fold and say ‘come on in Jack, we are going to have a lot of fun with you’ and we sure have over the years.”
“With as much as he’s done in the sport on and off the track, Darrell will definitely be missed,” Stenhouse commented. “I have enjoyed all the sit-downs and seeing his passion that he has for the sport. I’ve gotten to pay homage to him with two Darlington throwback schemes so it will be extra special to drive his iconic paint scheme for his last appearance in the booth.”
On Twitter, DiBenedetto posted his scheme:
Waltrip tweeted his appreciation for the three:
Although he is not running a special livery for Sonoma, Denny Hamlin revealed his 2019 Southern 500 throwback on Friday alongside Waltrip. Hamlin’s #11 Joe Gibbs Racing car is a tribute to Waltrip’s Western Auto vehicle; in the 1980s, Waltrip also drove the #11 during his tenure with Junior Johnson & Associates.
“[Waltrip] was a tough guy. I grew up a huge Bill Elliott fan and he was one of the toughest competitors, Darrell Waltrip was,” Hamlin said. “One of my best friends at the time, we grew up watching racing and his favorite driver was Darrell Waltrip. So we would always be sparring back and forth each week whether it be at school or wherever, talking about his driver versus my driver.
“I’ve grown to really like Darrell and everything he represents and to give 40 years of his life, not only to racing, but he transformed the sport in so many different ways, that’s just an honor to be able to know him and see him off into the sunset.”
In Friday practice, Kyle Larson was the fastest of the thirty-five-driver field with a time of 95.026 seconds. DiBenedetto was fifth (96.316), Stenhouse was eighth (96.372), and Ragan was twenty-seventh (97.210). Qualifying will take place on Saturday.
The 2019 Toyota/Save Mart 350 is the first Sonoma race to use the full course layout (featuring the “Carousel” hairpin) since 1998. Announced in September, it comes with little surprise that the change, which lengthens the track from 1.99 miles (3.20 km) to 2.52 mi (4.06 km), will result in longer lap times; for comparison, Larson won the 2018 pole with a time of 75.732.