Two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip will not return next season after five years with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
“It was a totally mutual decision between me and the company,” Waltrip told reporters Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway. “It’s sad to say that I’m not going to be driving for DEI anymore.”
The 42-year-old driver said the decision came after several months of stops and starts. He said one of the reasons he decided to leave was uncertainly over the company’s direction. Waltrip is delighted to have Tony Eury Jr. as his crew chief, and would certainly consider taking him to another team.
“I was hoping that I could have Tony Jr. back again,” he said. “I was never told I couldn’t have him, but was never told I could.”
The younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip got all four of his career victories driving for the team founded by the late Dale Earnhardt and now headed by his widow, Teresa.
The departure of Waltrip could cost the team continuing sponsorship with NAPA Auto Parts. Still, DEI vice president Richie Gilmore said in a statement that the company is talking to NAPA about extending its deal.
NAPA has been Waltrip’s only DEI sponsor, and he has been its most recognizable spokesman. Waltrip believes the company might go with him to another ride.
“NAPA obviously has a lot invested in me and a lot invested in DEI,” he said. “They were hoping there was some way we could stay together.”
Waltrip has been the most entertaining pitchman in NASCAR for several years. Like most drivers, he routinely drops the names of several sponsors into interviews, but does it with a sense of humour others seem to lack.
“We’ve talked to a lot of people about what next year might look like,” he said. “There are no real offers, just people interested in what I might do."
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