Michael Waltrip joins Tommy (of Cheech and) Chong and other celebs in new season of ‘Dancing With The Stars’

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It’s been a rough season for Michael Waltrip Racing. Unless Clint Bowyer or Brian Vickers win Saturday at Richmond, MWR will not have a representative in the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But MWR will be getting a ton of publicity in the weeks to come, regardless.

Only instead of being for on-track exploits, the notoriety will be due to team co-owner Michael Waltrip’s feet.

Literally following in the footsteps of another racer, Helio Castroneves, Waltrip will be among this season’s all-new cast of Dancing With The Stars. Castroneves won the DWTS title in the series’ fifth season in 2007.

Waltrip will be partnered with the beautiful Emma Slater. You can follow the couple’s exploits on Twitter @mw55 (Waltrip’s Twitter feed) and @EmmaSlaterDance.

This year’s edition of DWTS debuts on Monday, Sept. 15, with a live telecast from 8 to 10 pm ET on ABC. Waltrip better have a great performance because the first dancing couple will be eliminated on the next night’s results show on Sept. 16. The series runs through Nov. 24, when the eventual championship pair is crowned.

Ironically enough, if Waltrip advances all the way and wins the DWTS championship, it would come one day after the Sprint Cup championship is awarded at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In addition to Waltrip, other celebrities that will be doing the salsa, waltz, jitterbug and other kinds of dances includes Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame), MMA Hall of Famer Randy Couture, Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, Duck Dynasty’s Sadie Robertson, Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson and radio talk show host Tavis Smiley.

This will be yet another chapter in Waltrip’s long and varied career. In addition to co-owning MWR, he’s a two-time Daytona 500 winner, a noted TV/racing analyst and author of a best-selling biography.

We wish MW good luck. But instead of the old Hollywood axiom of “Break a Leg,” we’ll offer up a more timely bit of advice: “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds