While the 2001 Daytona 500 will forever be remembered as the day NASCAR lost Dale Earnhardt, it also was the day Michael Waltrip finally won a points race in NASCAR’s top series.
So as the FOX Sports 500 hours countdown to the 2017 Daytona 500 continues, we salute Waltrip in Hour #462 — because he broke a 462-race career winless streak with the victory.
Waltrip has long said he was grateful to the late Earnhardt for giving him a chance to drive for Dale Earnhardt Inc. that season, despite the fact that he entered the season with the 462-race winless streak. DEI added a third car that year to accommodate Waltrip, whose teammates at the time were Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Park.
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Prior to snapping his winless streak, Waltrip had reflected on it repeatedly.
“I have to prove something every day,” he once said then. “You don’t run 400-and-some races and put a zero in the win column and not have something to prove every day.
“It doesn’t matter what I accomplish short of winning a race. People will always think, ‘Why does he deserve to be here? How can he win millions of dollars and never win a race?’ But I know I’m a better race-car driver than most, and I know I can do the job. I have to listen to a bunch of crap when it doesn’t all work out right. But I’ve got broad shoulders and I love to drive race cars. So as long as I’m good enough to play a competitive part, I’m going to be around.”
Waltrip stuck around not only to win the 2001 Daytona 500, but to win the Great American Race a second time while driving for DEI two years later in 2003.
Now 53, Waltrip has driven sparingly in recent years while devoting more time to his career as a FOX Sports NASCAR broadcaster (especially after a foray into Cup ownership ended in 2015). He recently announced that he will make the final start of his career in the upcoming 59th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26 live on FOX.