Michael Waltrip to drive No. 55 at Talladega
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Waltrip will return to the No. 55 Toyota next week at Talladega Superspeedway as his race team tries to finalize a more stable plan to replace Brian Vickers.
Vickers, who has a history of blood clots, learned last month they had returned. He requires blood thinners to treat the clots, and he cannot race while taking the medication.
Michael Waltrip Racing has used development driver Brett Moffitt in the No. 55 the last month, and he’s scheduled to drive the car this Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia.
“I love Brett, I love his spirit,” Waltrip told The Associated Press on Thursday. “He’s 22 years old, not a lot of experience, and he came out of the gates running. He’s done everything we could have hoped for him to do with his amount of experience and where our cars are, and I know he’s thankful for the opportunity. It was something he didn’t have on his radar when the season started but because of the health challenges Brian is facing, he got this chance. I think he’s done a nice job.”
Moffitt, who finished eighth at Atlanta as Vickers’ replacement, was 17th last Sunday night at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.
MWR as a company has not performed up to expectations this season with its two-car team, and Moffitt has been only on a week-to-week basis since Vickers was sidelined before the March 22 race at California. Vickers also missed the first two races of the year as he recovered from offseason heart surgery.
The team is believed to be trying to sign David Ragan to drive the No. 55 beginning next month at Kansas. Ragan is currently the replacement driver for Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing, but JGR is leaning toward putting 18-year-old development driver Erik Jones in the car until Busch returns.
That would free Ragan, who has subbed for Busch since the second week of the season.
Waltrip wasn’t prepared Thursday to discuss anything beyond next week at Talladega.
“We’re making plans now and we wanted a more long-term solution for the situation by this point, but we just haven’t been able to put all the pieces together yet,” he said.
He also said it’s unclear when — or if — Vickers will be back.
“I can’t answer that,” Waltrip said of Vickers, who is in a contract year with the team. “He certainly wants to be back, but he’s on thinners. Until he comes up with a long-term solution to that, that challenges us in answering if he’ll be back.”
Meanwhile, Waltrip was looking forward to getting back in a race car.
The team co-owner occasionally competes in the four restrictor-plate races on the NASCAR schedule, and his plate resume is one of the longest in the series.
Waltrip counts two Daytona 500 victories among his four career wins in plate races, and he has 57 previous starts at Talladega.
“When I get the chance to do it, I know how to race, I know what to expect,” he said. “The cars certainly have gone through some transitions over the years since I’ve run all those plate races, but the racing itself still remains the same. I love being out there and it’s really fun to mix it up and pass people and race people.
“I think that helps my knowledge in the TV booth, getting out there and racing against those guys. Last fall at Talladega I finished 16th, it was a decent finish and I raced with some of my buddies, and that’s something I enjoy.”
Aaron’s, a partner of Waltrip’s since 2000, will sponsor the car. Andrea Freeman, vice president of marketing at Aaron’s, called Waltrip “part of the Aaron’s family.”