For those who haven't heard, NASCAR's season-opening Daytona 500 race this weekend has been marred by controversy from the rookie Toyota camp. On Sunday, Michael Waltrip had his No. 55 Toyota confiscated by NASCAR officials after inspectors found an odorless, Vaseline-like substance in the car's engine. Later in the week, NASCAR handed down punishment to Michael Waltrip Racing, which included the ejection of team vice president of competition Bobby Kennedy and Crew Chief David Hyder from the garage at Daytona. Hyder was also fined $100,000, the largest fine ever handed down by NASCAR. Waltrip himself was penalized with a loss of 100 drivers points and his qualifying time from pole day on Feb. 11th was thrown out. Elizabeth Waltrip, Michael's wife and the official owner of his car, was also docked 100 owners points.
Thanks for the tip, John!
Michael Waltrip considered dropping out of the Daytona 500 amid the controversy, but urgings of support from his family, his manufacturer Toyota, his primary sponsor NADA, and even NASCAR president Mike Helton, changed his mind. Yesterday brought a brief highpoint for Waltrip, as he and the other two Toyota teams he owns all qualified successfully for the big race on Sunday.
Having won twice at Daytona in the past, it's almost silly to think that Waltrip would've needed any illegal assistance to do well, which was proven when he finished eighth in qualifying yesterday. And for those decrying Toyota's involvement in the most popular American motorsport, the controversy surrounding Michael Waltrip and his team provides no additional ammo, as the illegal activity appears to be the work of individuals within MWR, which is now performing an internal investigation to find out the Who and Why of it all. For his part, Waltrip has consistently presented himself to the press as genuinely devestated over the illegal activity carried out by members of his team. Say what you will about Toyota and its participation in NASCAR, but Waltrip is an icon in the sport and has many, many fans. Hopefully this week's event won't dominate his legacy completely, but we all know how difficult it is to shake off the effects of a scandal in motorsports.