OPINION: Waltrip is in trouble

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2007

I have made it no secret that I am not Michael Waltrip’s biggest supporter. In fact, I have taken shots at him on a regular basis.

However, he is a NASCAR driver and owner and has had some level of success in the past. Despite what I perceive as his shortcomings, those facts earn him respect from me.

The situation this year with Waltrip and his race teams have gone from embarrassing to serious. The latest incident last weekend when Waltrip allegedly fell asleep at the wheel on the way home from Charlotte and wrecked his $60,000 Toyota SUV could be the beginning of the end for Waltrip.

Early last Saturday morning, Waltrip flipped his Toyota Land Cruiser and hit a tree about a mile from his home in Sherrills Ford. If you have seen photographs of the wrecked vehicle, it makes you wonder how Waltrip survived the crash, let alone walk away with just minor cuts.

Instead of notifying authorities, Waltrip decided to leave his vehicle at the scene and just walk home. Of course, that is against the law.

Making it worse, the witness of the accident told Waltrip that she had called 911 and the police would be arriving shortly. According to reports, Waltrip said nothing to the witness, turned, and starting walking.

When a state policeman tried to reach Waltrip at this home less than an hour later, he found no one home. Later, the next day, Waltrip was charged with reckless driving and failure to notify authorities of an accident. These charges shouldn’t really concern Waltrip, but the perception of the situation should.

The first thought that entered my mind, right or wrong, was alcohol. I bet many others had the same thought when this story began to circulate. All the signs of this accident being alcohol related seem prevalent.

The irrational decision to leave the scene, even after being told that the police were on the way, the time of the accident, and the fact that the police could not rouse Waltrip to door after the accident all seem to indicate the worst.

However, Waltrip has good explanations for all these points. He fell asleep at the wheel, was less than a mile away from his home, and was in the shower when the policeman visited his home.

He was not charged with anything other than the minor charges and that is very fortunate for him. I am not suggesting that the accident was alcohol related; only saying all the signs are present.

The last thing Waltrip needs is to continue dealing with negative stories. From the cheating at Daytona to the dismal performances of his race teams, Waltrip needs something positive to happen.

Will his sponsors continue pouring money into uncompetitive teams that don’t matter on Sundays? Did Waltrip use the third strike that Toyota executives so strongly spoke of after the incident in Daytona?  Only time will tell.

Texas Motor Speedway is next on the schedule and the “regular” cars return to the track after two races with the “winged” car. With seven top-tens in nine career races, with a win mixed in, and an average finish of 10th, my pick to win this week in Dale Earnhardt, Jr.