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Waltrip is sorry about violations

February 16, 2007|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — A chastened Michael Waltrip apologized Thursday for cheating violations by his Nextel Cup team that drew a record penalty from NASCAR and embarrassed his carmaker, Toyota, preparing for its first Daytona 500.

But Waltrip nonetheless qualified for Sunday's race after he was allowed to drive a backup car in a qualifying heat Thursday.

In fact, all three of the Toyotas owned by Waltrip's newly formed team -- those driven by him, Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann -- qualified for the 49th running of the 500.

Waltrip's main car was confiscated Thursday after NASCAR officials ruled that his team had tried to use a performance-enhancing engine additive on the No. 55 Toyota Camry during the first round of qualifying Sunday.

That's when the two front-row spots for the 500 were determined. The rest of the 43-car grid was set in the two 150-mile heats Thursday at the Daytona International Speedway.

Waltrip, after starting dead last because he was driving the backup in the first heat, finished eighth.

"Making this race doesn't fix what we did and what happened," said Waltrip, who won the Daytona 500 in 2001 and 2003. He added that he still had not identified which team member was responsible.

Waltrip was stripped of 100 championship points because of the violations. His team vice president of competition, Bobby Kennedy, and the crew chief on his car, David Hyder, were suspended indefinitely and Hyder was fined a record $100,000.

Before the race, Waltrip, frequently bowing his head and speaking in hushed tones at a news conference, said he was "ready to bear all responsibility for what happened."

Waltrip, 43, said he was "embarrassed to be sitting here in front of you talking about stuff that doesn't have anything to do with what the fans come to see, which is fast cars racing hard on the track."

He said he'd considered not competing Thursday but decided to race after he was urged to continue by his wife, Buffy, and NASCAR President Mike Helton.

"Because I was so upset yesterday, I wanted to go home, and they told me, 'You've got to stay and race,' " Waltrip said. "I'm sad and happy at the same time. But Daytona does that to you."

Waltrip ran his qualifying race with a replacement crew chief, Scott Eggleston, who was Waltrip's crew chief when he won the Daytona 500 in 2001.

"It was important to show that we could fight back from adversity," Waltrip said.

NASCAR has yet to identify the additive, and Waltrip said he didn't know what it was, either.

"It looked like oil to me," he said, adding that it "was odorless and blue."

Waltrip also went to lengths to separate his team's actions from Toyota, whose Camry is making its highly anticipated debut in the Cup series at the 500.

"You can't be skeptical of Toyota, you just have to look straight at me," he said. "I just know they are disappointed because this was supposed to be a time of celebration."

Waltrip's team was sanctioned a day after NASCAR had levied unprecedented penalties against four other drivers, their crew chiefs and owners for other violations during Sunday's qualifying.

Those drivers are Matt Kenseth of Roush Racing, and Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs and Elliott Sadler of Evernham Motorsports.

Times staff writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this report.

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