The Gen 7 era of the NASCAR Cup Series starts with the Daytona 500 on February 20. No one knows which teams will secure the most wins, but FOX Sports analyst Michael Waltrip is looking for an underdog.
The two-time Daytona 500 champion spoke to Heavy and set his expectations for the upcoming season. Waltrip explained that he doesn’t know for certain if the smaller teams will contend for wins on a regular basis as NASCAR hopes, especially considering that the biggest teams “have the best drivers.” However, he sees a scenario in which some underdog drivers could contend, which will only make him smile more.
“What team that we don’t know about steps up and is like, ‘our cars are better? We’re more competitive,'” Waltrip asked during the interview. “Is it Cory LaJoie? Does Erik Jones step up with the Petty GMS group and say, ‘Alright, we’ve got cars that are equal. Now I’m back to where I was when I was at Gibbs.’
“What happens to Corey LaJoie? Who is that story? What does Tyler Reddick do now that he’s got some years under his belt? And he’s such an awesome talent. I love the underdog stories. I was a bit of one of those myself. Those stories make me smile.”
LaJoie and Reddick have not reached Victory Lane during their Cup Series careers while Jones secured two during his time with Joe Gibbs Racing. This trio will push for wins and playoff appearances during the 2022 season while battling teams with considerably more funding.
Waltrip Will Embrace This New Era of NASCAR
The 2022 season will be very busy for the two-time Daytona 500 winner. Waltrip will continue to work as an analyst for FOX Sports, he will join the broadcast booth for Camping World Truck Series races, and he will continue to grow Michael Waltrip Brewing after reaching deals with multiple retailers and some Speedway Motorsports properties.
Waltrip has no complaints about this hectic schedule. He gets the opportunity to talk about NASCAR for a living, and he gets to share his love of beer with anyone interested in the product. To make the situation more enjoyable, Waltrip also gets to embrace the Gen 7 era of NASCAR, which only creates more interesting conversations.
“You get excited about the energy around the things that are better coming up,” Waltrip said. “And I’m a racer. So the first thing I do is I look at this car and I’m like, ‘d***, I want to drive that. It looks fun. It’d be cool to see what that’s all about.’ And maybe I’ll get a chance to at some point, but, you know, mainly, there’s just good energy. There’s a lot of excitement around the sport. Everybody’s really looking forward to the Coliseum to kick things off, and then it’s the Daytona 500. Doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Grid Walks Could Make a Return
A key part of Waltrip’s time covering NASCAR has been his grid walks. He has taken a microphone and a camera crew up and down the grid while having one or two-question discussions with the drivers moments before the Cup Series races.
These grid walks have led to several unique moments. Waltrip grabbed a stuffed dog from Danica Patrick’s stock car and carried it around the grid. He also performed a duet with professional wrestler Sheamus.
“Everybody has always asked me what the favorite grid walk moments were. And there’s just so many to try to be able to say one in particular,” Waltrip said. “I dumped a taco on Denny’s car. That was kind of a weird moment. I got to interview 50 Cent. One of the Migos was in Bubba’s car, and I interviewed him and I didn’t know where that was going.
“I’ll tell you another interesting thing. And you can watch this one. You’re out there having fun and you bounce around the corner of Joey Logano’s car. You’re laughing and carrying on, and Joey’s having a moment with a Make A Wish child in a wheelchair. And then you have to just immediately change directions, change gears and go, ‘wow, ‘Joey, this is so special. Tell me about your friend.’ You know, you’ve got to quickly go in a different… change the mood if you will.”
Waltrip does not know for certain if the grid walks could return. The situation remains fluid, especially as FOX Sports determines how much time is available for specific segments in the pre-race show. He will have to simply remain fluid and adapt to the situation on a weekly basis.