DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — As they repaired the shattered front end of the No. 40 Aaron's Toyota, the faces of Michael Waltrip's crew told the story: their boss's quarter-century-long streak of Daytona 500 runs had apparently come to an end. A victim of nothing more than his own mishandling of the car coming out of a pit stop, Waltrip apparently saw his go-or-go-home chances at the Daytona 500 come to an ugly, crumpled end.
"I just went the wrong way and lost the car," Waltrip said of the wreck that destroyed both his front end and his hopes for the race. "I feel like I let everybody down. I raced my way to the front and then I let them down. It's just really hard. I don't know what to say. It's just sad."
But possible salvation arrived in the unlikely person of Robby Gordon, who managed to race his way into the 500 thanks in part to Waltrip's wreck. After a press conference in which he conceded that his team was facing tough economic times, Gordon offered his spot in the race.
"We're in a bad state right here," Gordon said. "It's tough. It's really, really tough."
Later, as he walked through the garage, he reaffirmed his offer.
"Everything's for sale!" he said. "I haven't heard from Michael yet. But I'd love to be his crew chief."
NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said he couldn't recall a similar incident where an owner sold his spot to another driver, but agreed that it was doable in theory. (Points-swapping on an epic scale, in other words.)
A spokesman for Waltrip indicated that there were "no plans for this at the moment," which doesn't exactly qualify as a no. Waltrip's team has already loaded its garage gear and the remains of the No. 40 onto its hauler, leaving pit stall #41 as empty as if the car had never been there. But Waltrip will be present throughout the weekend, commentating for Fox Sports, so there's always the chance he could change his mind.
Of course, there's precedent here; this wouldn't be the first time Gordon has offered some of his equipment to Waltrip:
That, of course, is the infamous wreck at the 2005 Sylvania 500 in New Hampshire. Presumably this time Gordon will be charging for his equipment rather than simply donating it.