Waltrip saying 'Yea, Alabama' for a weekend
by Mark Edwards
TALLADEGA -- Michael Waltrip has driven race cars celebrating national football championships at Alabama, Auburn and Texas.

So, which school does he like best?

"Alabama," Waltrip said Saturday morning, perhaps giving the politically correct answer.

Waltrip is scheduled to drive a car honoring Alabama's 2012 national championship season today at the Aaron's 499. It will be the No. 55 Toyota Camry. His helmet will have a Crimson Tide paint scheme, too.

Through a sponsorship with Aaron's, Waltrip drove a Texas-themed car in 2006 at Texas Motor Speedway. Through Aaron's, he owned the car that ran at Talladega honoring Alabama's 2009 championship, with David Reutimann driving. Last year, Clint Bowyer drove the Michael Waltrip Racing car honoring Alabama's 2011 champion. Waltrip himself drove the car in 2011 that honored Auburn's national champions from the previous year.

Bowyer has the best finish with the paint-theme car, finishing sixth at Talladega last year.

"Aaron's is giving me the privilege of carrying this championship paint scheme to Talladega Superspeedway -- one of my favorite places on earth," Waltrip said.

Alabama's AJ McCarron is set to drive the pace car, and Waltrip smiled as he said he is looking forward to meeting the Crimson Tide quarterback and "the people he hangs around with." He didn't mention McCarron's girlfriend, former Miss Alabama Katherine Webb, although that seemed to be who he refered to.

As for the racing, Waltrip said he'll be ready, although it may take some time. The two-time Daytona 500 champion hasn't driven full-time since 2009. He drives about four Sprint Cup races a year.

This year, he drove in the Daytona 500, finishing 22nd.

"I have to really focus my mind on the task at hand in order to make sure I’m ready for it," he said. "Quite honestly, for the first 100 miles or so, I won’t be aggressive at all because it’s just a matter of getting in the flow and getting back to what you know you know how to do so well.

"My last victory in NASCAR in the Cup Series came here at Talladega in 2003 and so I know how to win here."

He compared his confidence in racing to what he experiences on the golf course.

"It’s like when I play golf," he said. "I know I (stink) and so the ball doesn’t go very good. But when I come to Talladega, I know I know what I’m doing and so therefore after all my focus and visualization on what I think I’ll see and how I’m going to do -- then some laps the first 100 miles or so getting into the game -- I feel like I’m perfectly prepared to do win the race.”

Waltrip said he likes the Talladega Superspeedway and always enjoys coming to East Alabama.

"Some of my fondest memories are back in 1986 when I started coming here as a rookie we stayed in the Days Inn in Anniston and just seeing how folks love the sport and wanted just to talk to you about the sport and now today with the infield and all the energy around the event -- just sharing stories," he said. "People wanting my hat off my head. People wanting to talk about (Clint) Bowyer being so crazy or (Martin) Truex being so close to winning.

"I’m more of a fan than a lot of you might realize and so a lot of times I’ll sneak off and just go wandering around the infield at race tracks and a lot of people do that here, so my goal is just more or less say hi to the fans and hang out. I’m weird. They like me.”

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.
© 2013