Does NASCAR need Michael Waltrip to race this week?

Michael Waltrip is one of 47 drivers on the entry list to Talladega. Waltrip has made a habit of running the restrictor plate races, Daytona and Talladega, in recent years while opting to serve only in the capacity of owner for Michael Waltrip Racing for the remaining dates on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Not racing full time of course has left Waltrip outside the top-35 in owner points which means he’s not guaranteed a spot in the field on Sunday. Waltrip found out the negative with that when he failed to make the Kentucky race earlier this year when qualifying was rained out.

Earlier this year he won a race in the Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona in a truck remembering the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death. Waltrip won his first Winston Cup race on that famed February day in 2001.

On Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway driver Dan Wheldon was killed in a crash on lap 11. During Sunday’s race there will be constant memories of Wheldon even though he never drove in NASCAR. There will be memories of Dale Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip winning his first race. It would feel cheap if Waltrip wasn’t in the field.

Waltrip could be just another car in the field on Sunday, but who is to say. Earlier this year Dave Blaney led 21 laps at Talladega on six different occasions before spinning out with four laps to go.

One thing I know is that Michael Waltrip is one of the few drivers who still run any form of NASCAR racing that drove with Dale Earnhardt. At the Sprint Cup level only Waltrtip, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Kurt Busch, Dave Blaney¬† and part time drivers Mike Skinner, Terry Labonte, Ken Schrader, Joe Nemechek and Bill Elliott remain active from Dale’s last ride. Mike Wallace and Jason Leffler run at the Nationwide level and Ron Hornaday competes in the Truck Series.

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