Originally created 02/20/03

Daytona 500 winner Waltrip is a marathon runner



NEW YORK -- Some years ago, Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip started running marathons, traveling 26.2 miles on his legs instead of his wheels.

"I did it to run off frustration," he said Wednesday. "If my car didn't qualify, I'd run. If I lost a race, I'd run."

He had plenty of frustration to run off - 462 races without a victory to start his career. Waltrip shrugged off the losing streak and brought a marathon mind-set to the track.

"I figured: They might outrun me, but they won't outlast me," Waltrip said. "I don't get mentally fatigued. My mind is sharp all day because of physical fitness."

Waltrip has run three marathons now, including in Boston last April, and he's down to 4 hours, 10 minutes. "I want to go under four hours," he said. "You can do it. It depends how hard you train for it."

Waltrip trained hard to win auto races, too, and wound up as an also-ran every time out. Until he won Daytona in 2001, he was best known for that losing streak.

"I did all I could to win," he said. "I didn't look at those 462 races as failures. Some of them I could have won. A couple I should have won. It just didn't work out.

"It's not like when I left teams those teams did better. I knew I had the ability to win. I always believed I would win. I never knew how it would happen."

It came together all at once for someone who started driving in 1986 and had some difficult times. He now has won the most important race of the NASCAR season two of the last three years.

His 2001 victory at Daytona was tinged with heartbreak: His boss, Dale Earnhardt, was killed in a last-lap crash.

Sunday's victory was pure joy for Waltrip as he captured a rain-shortened race.

"It's harder to win a race when you don't know how long it's going to be," Waltrip said. "When you win a race, you know when the end is. You see it coming. You see the white flag. You see the checkered flag. There's a part of me that would have liked to see this race end that way.

"This race, I was sitting on a toolbox in the rain, like a man on an island, when they announced the race was official. Those words - nothing ever felt better than that. Those words were as cool as a checkered flag waving over you. The thrill of victory is not compromised at all."

The 500 was halted twice by rain.

"The first delay was no big deal," Waltrip said. "We knew there would be more racing."

When the race resumed, Waltrip had a plan in place to win.

"I had it all figured out," he said. "During 0-for-462, I had a lot figured out, too."

When the race was halted for a second time, Waltrip was in front, just where he wanted to be. He sat out the delay rooting for more rain.

"I was hoping it would pour," he said. "Why tempt fate? I never felt raindrops on my head as nice as the ones in Daytona that day. I was willing to sit in the rain forever. It didn't bother me any."

The victory was the third for Waltrip, all of them at Daytona. Besides the two 500s, he won the Pepsi 400 at the same track last year.

"I think I can win anywhere," he said. "I can and I will. It all has to come together on a given day. So far, that's the only place it's worked out. That's not a bad place to work it out."



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