DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Michael Waltrip ended his racing career exactly how he hoped.
The only way it could have topped his NASCAR finale, which came at the track where he earned half of his four career Cup victories, would have been to end up in victory lane.
He knew that was unlikely, so he set a more realistic goal : to finish in the top 10 in his 30th and last Daytona 500.
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Waltrip took the checkered flag in eighth at Daytona International Speedway, providing him the ideal conclusion to a career that began in 1985, spanned more than three decades and included 784 Cup Series starts.
''It's going to be a great memory, you know, to have a top 10,'' Waltrip said. ''I had so many times I was in the middle of a crash and just missed it. So, you do a good job and you get lucky both. ...
''I'm thankful that I survived and I'm thankful for being able to run upfront and I'm happy about the finish. I'm ready for it to be my last one, so it's going to be a good one to remember it by.''
A two-time Daytona 500 winner, Waltrip signed a one-race deal with Premium Motorsports to say goodbye at the famed speedway that has provided him triumph and tragedy. Waltrip won the Daytona 500 in 2001, the same day his car owner, Dale Earnhardt, was killed on the final lap, and again two years later in a rain-shortened race.
After a poor qualifying effort, Waltrip started 30th and was right in the middle of just about every accident.
''Was fortunate enough to do a nice job and miss a couple of them,'' he said. ''Just blessed to not tear my car up. I passed some of those guys we talk about on Sundays so now I can rub that in a little bit. That feels good.''
His longtime sponsor, Aaron's, provided Waltrip with a ''Thank You, Mikey'' car that was covered with photos of his racing career.
He was a sentimental favorite, partly because he drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and partly because his popularity grew as he transitioned into television and became part of Fox's broadcast team.
He had his daughters and other family members around all week as well as many of the sponsors who have been with him for years.
''The kindness of the people and having my friends and family here,'' he said when asked what he will remember most. ''I'm really thankful for my partners. They just said, `We want you to have fun, Mike.' And, darn if I didn't have fun. I was out there passing people in a good handling car and that's cool. That's special.''
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