Darrell Waltrip broke his own golden rule

November, 19, 2011
11/19/11
12:17
PM ET

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- What better person to judge what NASCAR statisticians call the third-closest finale in Sprint Cup history than the driver who was involved in the closest.

But first, let's revisit the closest.

"I was determined to dethrone The King," Darrell Waltrip said as he recalled the 1979 finale, in which he had a two-point lead over then-six-time champion Richard Petty going to Ontario, Calif. "That was my mission that year. We had outperformed Petty just about the whole year long. It was our championship to lose.

"And that's what we ended up doing."

Waltrip lost because, to put it simply, his team wasn't focused.

"We made a number of mistakes," said Waltrip, who went on to become a three-time champion and Hall of Famer. "First of all, we decided that we were going to relax by going to Las Vegas on the way to Ontario. So we partied and had a big time and tried to take our minds off the championship.

"I really think looking back we should have stayed more focused on the job at hand and not played around."

That lack of focus was most evident when a car spun in front of Waltrip on Lap 38. The driver known as "Jaws" was so upset that he "wasn't paying attention" and came on pit road before catching up to the rear of the field to go a lap down.

He went on to finish eighth to Petty's fifth and lost the title by 11 points.

"From November of 1979 to this day, my golden rule is you don't beat yourself, and that's what we did that year," Waltrip said.

Waltrip says he sees a lot of similarities in Sunday's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Carl Edwards is looking for his first title going against somewhat of a legend in two-time champion Tony Stewart. Edwards has dominated most of the season while Stewart has come out of nowhere with four wins in the Chase.

Waltrip likes Stewart's experience and confidence. After meeting with both drivers at Thursday's contenders press conference, he said Edwards "had nothing for" Stewart in terms of smack talk.

Waltrip also senses that Edwards is more nervous than he's letting on.

"I first saw it at Texas," Waltrip said. "I could see a real change in Carl's demeanor after the race. He had a look of concern. I really look at body language."

Waltrip gives Edwards a slight advantage because of crew chief Bob Osborne, whom he believes is a better strategist than Darian Grubb. He also likes Edwards' record at Homestead -- he's won two of the past three and compiled an average finish of 5.7 on the 1.5-mile track.

Stewart hasn't won at Homestead since the track was reconfigured, and his average finish is 12.4 with no finish better than eighth in the last six races.

So who does Waltrip like to win the title?

"Tony has that [Dale] Earnhardt attitude," Waltrip said. "He lays low and kind of chuckles about everything around him. Carl, you can tell he's just a bit wee uptight. You've got to go in a race without any pressure."

And the winner?

"They're both fiery and can go off in a heartbeat," Waltrip said.

In other words, it'll be the driver who doesn't break the golden rule and beat himself.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer

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