CUP: Michael Waltrip Back Behind The Wheel

Maybe the worst part of Michael Waltrip’s days as a driver and owner were Fridays when he had to qualify on speed.

Waltrip, who hasn’t had to qualify on speed since early in the 2008 season, found himself back in that situation again Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway but not in a Michael Waltrip Racing car.

He made the field – he will start 39th in a Prism Motorsports car – and that made him happy, even though the team doesn’t have the funding to run the entire race, he said. Waltrip does have funding to race with the team at Talladega next month.

“We didn’t have the money to race here and Michael McDowell usually drives it and he’s bouncing back-and-forth from Nationwide and doesn’t have a lot of experience here,” Waltrip said after qualifying Friday. “We thought maybe our best chance to make it was with me. … It was just a chance for me to say hi to my team and get used to the guys calling the shots so we have the best chance [at Talladega].”

The 46-year-old Waltrip has 760 Cup starts.

“I’ve gone from two Daytona 500 championships to a start-and-park deal,” Waltrip said. “It’s just nerve-wracking. My car slips, I hit the wall. … I would do it more, but I don’t have any money.”

Waltrip said his MWR team sells its used cars to Prism Motorsports.

“Phil [Parsons, co-owner of the Prism team] wants to race, and that’s what he wants to do. We got some money together to run Talladega. I really appreciate the opportunity. But I don’t understand what I was thinking when I said I would do it [qualifying on speed].”

Waltrip, whose full-time racing career ended in 2009, drove for his own team in this year’s Daytona 500.

“It’s been awesome [this week] because I want to race Talladega,” Waltrip said. “I want to think I can compete at Talladega. I want to go to some other races and being able to being subjected to this pressure, I understand this is what it’s going to be about. … I love being with the guys.”

While he has the driver’s suit back on, Waltrip said he hasn’t hated being at the track and not racing in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, he watched the Atlanta race from atop one of the pit boxes of his three teams.

“They threw the green flag at Atlanta and I’m on the pit box with a headset on and I’m happy,” Waltrip said. “My cars were running good. They threw the green flag and they flew down into Turn 1 and I said, ‘Why are they in such a hurry?’

“They act like they’re going to throw the checkered [flag] off of 2. What the hell? Why don’t they calm down.”

Waltrip said in addition to Talladega, he will compete at Infineon Raceway in June. He also is going to drive the same Ferrari he drove in Dubai in January with MWR co-owner Robert Kauffman in a test session in Belgium next week as well as a race in Belgium later this year.•Richard Petty says drivers delivered paybacks with their fists in his day