Sunday’s 59th annual running of the Daytona 550 (2 p.m. ET, FOX) will be Michael Waltrip’s 784th and final start in what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Waltrip’s biggest claim to fame was winning the 2001 Daytona 500, a race in which is close friend and boss, Dale Earnhardt, died in a crash that took place in the final corner of the final lap.
While that race is an indelible memory for many reasons, there was a lot more to Waltrip’s NASCAR career. Here are 10 things you need to know about Waltrip and NASCAR.
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He won 11 XFINITY Series races
Although he’s known mostly for his work in the Cup Series, Waltrip had 11 wins in 279 starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The first came at Dover International Speedway in 1988, when he drove a Chevrolet for his older brother, NASCAR Hall of Fame member Darrell Waltrip.
In 1990 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Waltrip hit an open gate at the exit of Turn 2 and his NASCAR XFINITY Series car basically vaporized in one of the most violent accidents in NASCAR history. Amazingly, Waltrip walked away from the savage impact. “Got some contusions and a little bit of confusion,” Waltrip told pit reporter Benny Parsons afterward. “But that’s probably not too unusual.”
Waltrip’s first NASCAR Premier Series race victory wasn’t the 2001 Daytona 500. In 1996, Waltrip won The Winston, the annual NASCAR all-star race run under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After racing his way into the main event with his finish in the preliminary Winston Select, Waltrip was able to take the lead and hold it after contact between leaders Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt. Of course, since it was not a points race, it doesn’t count as a victory in Waltrip’s official stats. But it was real, nevertheless.
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In the first 462 races of his Cup career, Waltrip went winless. When he scored his breakthrough victory in the 2001 Daytona 500, it ended the longest streak of futility that any driver had ever had before getting his first Cup win. Still, this race will always be remembered for the death of Dale Earnhardt.
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Waltrip won the shortest Daytona 500 ever
Just two years after winning his first Daytona 500, Waltrip won his second in 2003. But this one had a bit of an asterisk with it because it was cut short by rain after just 109 laps. At just 272.500 miles, the 2003 Daytona 500 was the shortest of the 58 editions run so far.
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Three sets of fathers and sons have won the Daytona 500: Lee and Richard Petty, Bobby and Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. But Michael and Darrel Waltrip are the only brothers to ever win the Great American Race.
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When Toyota decided to go Cup racing in 2007, Waltrip was one of the automaker’s inaugural teams, along with Bill Davis Racing and Red Bull Racing. Although Toyota has gone on to great success in NASCAR, none of the original teams survived. BDR shut down after 2008, Red Bull left after 2011 and Michael Waltrip Racing closed after 2015.
He won at Daytona in a Truck Series race
Waltrip’s most recent win at Daytona International Speedway came in 2011, when he led only the final lap to put Billy Ballew’s No. 15 Toyota Tundra in Victory Lane. It was the only NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race victory of Waltrip’s career.
Twice in recent years, Waltrip raced Ferrari 458 sports cars in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He finished 22nd in 2012, improving dramatically to finish eighth in 2013.
Heading into Sunday’s Daytona 500 has 783 Cup starts, which ranks him 10th all-time in NASCAR Premier Series history. In those starts, Waltrip has four race wins, four poles, 41 top fives, 132 top 10s, and 1,415 laps led.