Waltrip Set To Tackle Talladega

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After all that's gone on this weekend, just racing in Monday's Aaron's 499 will be a relief to Michael Waltrip.

Waltrip came to Talladega under a great deal of pressure. He slipped out of the Top 35 in owners' points, so a guaranteed starting spot in the season's second restrictor plate race was gone.

That meant Waltrip would have to make the field through qualifying, not an easy task for the man who had the slowest qualifying speed at the last plate race in Daytona.

But Waltrip was able to muster up enough speed to turn in a pretty impressive lap during Saturday's time trials and will take the green flag 21st in Monday's rain-delayed race, an effort that had the previous Talladega winner downright confident.

"I believe I can win the race now that I am in it," said Waltrip.

But Waltrip knows that just because he dodged the bullet this weekend, there is still plenty of work ahead to right things at Bill Davis Racing which has struggled in the early going of 2006.

"The reality is, this year has been tougher than I thought it would be," said Waltrip. "I never dreamed we would be outside the top-35 but we are, so we need to really focus on fixing that."

Waltrip finds himself in a bit of a strange situation at BDR, which is running Dodge machines in its interim year before switching over to Toyota in 2007.

“We understood that this year would be a bit of a challenge without factory support," Waltrip said. "We thought we could survive that and build and be ready for our Toyota venture in 2007. Talladega is a big part of that. If we can make the race, then we can start patching up what’s been going wrong and hopefully get better going forward."

But with 2006 only eight races old, Waltrip's 2007 plans have already made headlines. He'll run his own two-car NEXTEL Cup team next season as one of Toyota's factory operations. And while Waltrip is set to fill one seat, who his teammate turns out to be has been the subject of much speculation this weekend.

One name that has surfaced this weekend is Dale Jarrett, a good friend of Waltrip's whose contract with Robert Yates Racing expires at the end of the year. Waltrip admitted that he has approached Jarrett about the possibility of teaming up in 2007.

"It's been in the media that (Jarrett's) deal is up this year and so, I mean, you ought to be able to figure out that I probably have because how could you not?" Waltrip said.

"He's a champion. He's a friend. I did ask him, but I don't have anything to report on the answer."

Jarrett would only confirm that his contract with Yates will expire and that he is looking at all options, including joining Waltrip or staying with RYR.

"I've said a number of weeks ago that I've had quite a few people talking to me over the last five or six months, that's no secret," Jarrett said. "People know when the last year of your contract is, they start talking and seeing what your interests are and in my case, am I going to continue to drive and for how long."

"That's why I made the statement that I was going to drive through 2008, and everybody that I've talked with understands that. We'll see who it works out best for in that scenario."

So with the 2006 season not even a quarter way complete, the wheels for next season are turning at high-speed. But in the short-term, Waltrip's looking to make some high-speed headlines at Talladega.

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