Michael Waltrip Racing drivers Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip attempted to place their early-season performance and off-track problems in the past by fine tuning their No. 55 and No. 44 race machines during a one-day test at Kentucky Speedway March 2.

The much-heralded Michael Waltrip Racing trio of Jarrett, Waltrip and rookie David Reutimann in the team's No. 00 entry were expected to be a strong link in Toyota's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup foundation, but have struggled out of the gate with personnel suspensions and race finishes outside the top 10.

The overall average team finish through the first two series races of the season stands at 32 entering this Sunday's race on the newly-configured 1.5-mile track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"It's not time to panic yet, it almost is. We're going to make a few subtle changes and ramp up everything we do. Hopefully, we'll show some steady improvement. We haven't done a good job at the racetrack," Waltrip said. It didn't get any easier for the team Friday in Kentucky where Jarrett and Waltrip plowed through wind gusts as powerful as 32 mph while turning test laps.

"I enjoy the track. A lot of people say it's not a whole lot like anywhere we run, but it's not a whole lot unlike a bunch of places we run," Waltrip said. "It's crazy how little time you get during a race weekend to learn and how much you try to squeeze into that little bit of time. Now, we're able to relax and really, really tear apart the car, run, talk about it, analyze it and make it change. It's a good way to learn systems and processes. We're a new team and we really, really need to develop our process. I almost spun out once, so everybody knows I was trying hard. I was pretty happy with some of the stuff we did at the end. We want to be sure we're smart going to Vegas. We'll know what helped the car here and we'll take that into consideration there and come up with a plan."

Waltrip, who was a lightning rod for controversy when crew chief David Hyder and competition director Bobby Kennedy were suspended from the series indefinitely when an illegal fuel additive was associated with the No. 55 during Daytona 500 qualifying, opened the season with a 30th-place finish and failed to qualify for the Feb. 25 series event at California Speedway.

"We had a terrible incident at Daytona with the fuel, whatever happened there. We still continue to internally look at every receipt and phone call and everything we can to figure out what happened. We're not any closer today to knowing what happened than we did when we found it Sunday morning (at Daytona). We were shocked then and we're still just digging for answers.

"That was a bad way to start. Then, we missed the California race by .040 of a second. People that hadn't lost 462 races in a row like I did, they might've quit. We're not going to quit," Waltrip said. The tough start to this season comes on the heels of a 2006 campaign in a Bill Davis Racing Dodge that saw the 22-year veteran driver finish a career-low 37th in the championship standings with a season-best 14th-place finish Oct. 8 at Talladega Superspeedway.

"I know this is the program that can take me back to Victory Lane and I have the people to do it, too," Waltrip said. "We have a lot to do. Toyota needs to continue to work their rear ends off on their end and we're going to continue to work our rear ends off on our end. That's how we're going to be successful. Work real hard, learn from and not dwell on mistakes, keep our head down and keep digging."

Waltrip cancelled a second session scheduled for today. Waltrip's test was the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test of the new race season at Kentucky Speedway. Penske Racing driver Ryan Newman is scheduled to visit the track's 1.5-mile tri-oval March 6 and Dale Earnhardt, Inc., driver Martin Truex, Jr., is scheduled for a March 7 test..

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~