18 February 2001 is a day that will be remembered forever by NASCAR Cup Series fans for the loss of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500. For his employee Michael Waltrip, it was supposed to be the greatest day of his career as he won his first Cup race after 462 races.
Twenty years later on 18 February 2021, Waltrip is eager to get back behind a race car. On Thursday, the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) announced Waltrip as the eleventh full-time driver for the inaugural season in the summer.
Now a commentator for Fox Sports, Waltrip raced full-time in the Cup Series from 1986 to 2009, scoring four wins—all at superspeedways with two Daytona 500 victories in 2001 and 2003. His last NASCAR start came in the 2017 Daytona 500, where he finished eighth. He also has eleven wins in what is now the Xfinity Series, while his lone Camping World Truck Series victory came on the ten-year anniversary of his 2001 Daytona 500 win.
Until 2015, he owned the Cup team Michael Waltrip Racing, which was one of the first Toyota teams in the Cup Series and enjoyed seven wins at the level with drivers like David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers, and current Fox colleague Clint Bowyer. Perhaps poetically, MWR has also fielded rides for Trevor Bayne and Michael McDowell, who won their first Cup races in the 2011 and 2021 Daytona 500s; McDowell’s victory snapped his own winless streak that is the second longest in Cup history behind Waltrip.
“Welcome Michael! I know Mike is an awesome plate racing two time Daytona 500 winner but this guy can wheel a short track car! Im looking forward to working with Mike,” SRX co-founder Ray Evernham commented on Instagram. “This is going to be fun”.
Waltrip is the fourth Cup Series veteran to join SRX after co-founder Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, and Bill Elliott, all of whom raced with Waltrip. Elliott also ran five Cup races for MWR in 2006. Other confirmed drivers include IndyCar’s Tony Kanaan, Paul Tracy, and Hélio Castroneves; Trans-Am’s Willy T. Ribbs and Ernie France Jr.; and Formula One’s Mark Webber.
The season will kick off at Stafford Motor Speedway on 12 June.