Waltrip Seeks Three-Peat

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Michael Waltrip comes to Daytona as a legitimate favorite to win his third Daytona 500 on Sunday and the veteran feels confident he has what it takes to challenge again in the season's biggest race.

"As we head into a new season there are a lot of unknowns, but we've had a lot of success at Daytona (International Speedway) and while the rules package is a little different than in 2003 we are comfortable that the No. 15 team will be right there along with our teammates (No. 8 team)," explained the defending Daytona 500 champion.

"Dale Earnhardt Inc. teams seem to be the favorite and maybe that is because this place has always been a favorite of mine. It takes me back to my childhood of coming here as a race fan and a fan of my brother. My mom and dad would take me out of grade school to come to Speedweeks. Now, as a competitor, that feeling is rekindled. I felt that way before we won the Daytona 500 and now that I have won it twice the feeling is magnified – I can't wait. To have the chance to win it a third time is unimaginable.

"When I come to Daytona I have an unbelievable amount of confidence. I was thinking during the test, as silly as it seems, that 'I am in the midst of blazing the trail to winning my third Daytona 500.' It’s just that I have that much faith in my team and in myself to get the job done. We aren't just lining up for the Daytona 500, we are starting a path to the NASCAR Nextel Cup 2004 season. We are able to focus on the Daytona 500, but we are also thinking about Rockingham and Las Vegas and Atlanta.

"There is a bunch of ground work laid out for months and months to get everyone around you to believe in you. But at the Daytona 500 it is especially challenging mentally because of how you are trained to be perfect in this race. I know the NAPA team can not make a mistake. It is a race that is going to be won by the person that has the fastest car, makes the right moves at the right time and spends the least amount of time on pit road. With that pressure it becomes tough.

"I want to win the Daytona 500," continued Waltrip. "Since Dale (Earnhardt) hired me in 2001 that has been my agenda. We have done it twice and anything less will come short of our goal. I expect to have a car as good as or better than anyone else’s week in and week out. What gets me fired up is when the 2003 season ended, our performance was good whether we finished second in Phoenix, Ariz., or last in Homestead, Fla. I always know we will be performing the best we can."

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