Article by Kenny Bruce, scenedaily.com
Three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip called it “the most significant car of my career” prior to unveiling the familiar No. 11 Mountain Dew Chevrolet at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on March 22.
The Junior Johnson-built car, which carried Waltrip to the first of his three Cup titles, is one of several vehicles that will be on display on “Glory Road” inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have what I think are some defining cars in my career,” Waltrip said. “I think about the Gatorade car: It was the first time I had a car that had a national sponsor on it. I can think about the Budweiser car and the Tide car. But I think the most significant car in my career, and pretty much defined my career, was the Mountain Dew car.
“The car was amazing. It was the first two years I drove for Junior Johnson, I won 24 races in that car, two championships, the Bud Shootout, 18 poles. It was the most dominant car of its time. I think even Jimmie Johnson would be envious of the Mountain Dew car.”
Waltrip, who now serves as a commentator with Fox Sports for its NASCAR coverage, spoke about a number of topics, including trash talking in the sport, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s struggles, and the decision to house the Hall in Charlotte.
• On Kevin Harvick and drivers playing mind games with fellow competitors:
“It’s only my observation, and from the outside looking in, I think that he was leading the points, none of y’all [in the media] were noticing, he was running really well and y’all were noticing that a little bit but he really hadn’t been the center of attention. Carl [Edwards] and Brad [Keselowski] were, and he thought he ought to get his dog in that fight.
“I think that’s where those comments [concerning Edwards] came from. There are people in the sport today that are sort of antagonists and I think he’s one of those. I think he likes to stir the pot.”
• On Harvick being a latter-day version of himself:
“I think there may be a number of those in the sport. Brad is certainly making a name for himself and being outspoken; Kevin’s always been outspoken; Kyle [Busch] has been outspoken. But that usually tempers itself as you become more successful, and as you go down the road in the sport. Look at Tony Stewart. When was the last time you heard Tony Stewart say anything controversial or out of line? It’s been a while. And Kevin, really, is the same way. You start to look at those guys, I know I do, and I think, ‘Well, they’ve finally grown up. They finally got the message.’
“If you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to have the results to back it up, OK? That’s the bottom line. Otherwise you’re just a whiner.”
• On Dale Earnhardt Jr. bristling when told by crew chief Lance McGrew “not to lay down” on him during the Bristol race:
“You could be leading the race by a lap and you slow down a little bit, [and team owner] Junior Johnson would say, ‘Boy, you ain’t laying down on me are you?’ Now that was motivation to me. It didn’t require me coming back and saying, ‘What are you talking about’ or ‘Don’t ever say that.’
“Every mule is different. Some of them you have to hit with a stick and kick, and others you have to pat on the back. I guess [Dale] Jr. didn’t take kindly to that.
“Listen, expectations were so high with him then if he’s not winning, then the world’s not right. I think they’re taking baby steps to get him back to where he needs to be. I told [team owner] Rick [Hendrick], and I really believe this, I’d run him in some truck races. He needs to get somewhere where he can win. I’d get him in a truck. Not a Nationwide car, but a truck. … If I was Junior, I’d got to Harvick and ask him if I could drive that No. 2 truck. I’d go out and I’d win me a couple of races; I think that’s what he needs. It would really help his confidence, his fans would love that and I think it would be a win-win situation.”
• On the quick success of Kurt Busch and crew chief Steve Addington:
“Gosh, I didn’t know if that would work or not. Addington’s a laid-back guy, and we know the Busch brothers, both of them, are like a volcano, they’re liable to go off any minute. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out. I think … the first couple of races there they were not sure about that themselves. They were keeping their distance almost. But when a driver finally realizes that this guy knows what he’s talking about, this guy can help me win races, that bond really grows and grows fast. And I think that’s what’s happened with those two guys.
“They sat on the pole at Las Vegas … I’m sure Kurt was thinking that was pretty good … and they’ve got a decent car [there]. They go to Atlanta and they win and Kurt’s starting to say, ‘Man, this guys must know something. He’s giving me cars I can win races in.’ Then they go to Bristol, sit on the outside pole and had a car that shoulda, woulda, coulda won the race.
“[Addington] fits into the Penske program very well. He’s helped all three cars. I don’t know what he’s brought over there.”
• On the Hall of Fame being located in Charlotte:
“All those years when I was out there kicking the bushes and fighting the good fight for the sport, the [saying] was that we were a regional sport. That we were only dominant or only known in the southeast. I always told sponsors at that time, ‘Yeah, but we dominate our region.' Now, we do not just dominate this region, but this sport has turned into such a huge national sport with great fans, TV ratings that are second only to the NFL. We’re right where we need to be; this is where all the race teams are, this is heart of the sport. You couldn’t find a better place for it.”
• On the struggling economy and its effect on the sport:
“All these tracks are overbuilt. When the demand was there, they just kept building and building and if the demand ever went away, or things went soft a little bit, we were going to see what we’re seeing [now]. We’re still in great shape. We have over 100,000 [on average] people at every event. We just don’t have 150,000 maybe, 120,000 or whatever. As a whole, I think the sport is still very healthy. … We [teams and tracks] all overbuilt and overspent. Now we’ve had to learn how to do more with what we were getting.”
• On eventually getting inducted into the Hall:
“I’d be lying to you if I told you that it didn’t [matter when]; it’d definitely make a difference. When they talked about drivers and they said it was going to be five [in the first class], I was maybe on the edge of that five and I was comfortable with that. But when you add the two Frances [Bill Sr. and Bill Jr.] in, and rightfully so, and [David] Pearson not getting in the first go around, that shakes things up a little bit. I’m not sure. I just know I’ve dedicated my whole life to this and this [microphone] was just sort of a second-hand job; somebody found out I was pretty good at it, and I parlayed that into another career.
“But I’m most proud of my driving career and my contributions to the sport. … I guess I’d have to say, and I don’t know if I’m being honest about it or not, but I guess if I’d have to day that if I could just be a part of it at some time that would be satisfying. But sooner than later would be nice.”
• On the NASCAR Hall of Fame:
“Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s all the things that, if you were a race fan and you wanted to know about the sport, whether you were a casual fan or hardcore fan, there’s something here for everybody.
“The moment you walk in the door and you see the current cars and then you start to see what this sport looked like 60 years ago … Everything is so real. It’s not a picture of, or a graphic of, everything in here is real. There is a real engine in a real dyno cell … you could actually crank it up and run it on the dyno if you wanted to. There’s a car under construction with real racing parts. Everything is authentic. That was the very first thing I noticed. And that’s what is going to make this place really unique. … This place is really a work of art.”