Clint Bowyer’s ride with AF Waltrip Racing in the 24 Hours at Daytona nearly went to Denny Hamlin, according to Michael Waltrip who previewed Grand-Am’s most-prestigious event during a media conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Waltrip, who will be making just his second start in the 24-hour endurance race, first sought Bowyer to join him, Portuguese endurance veteran, Rui Aguas and co-owner Rob Kauffman in a Ferrari super team but the Kansas-native initially turned him down.
With Martin Truex Jr. needing off-season rib surgery and requiring rehab time, Waltrip looked to Denny Hamlin to join the team. By time Hamlin agreed, Bowyer had rethought his decision and ultimately accepted the offer.
"Clint was like, no, I want to do it -- I really want to try it," Waltrip said. "So it was just him thinking about how cool it would be to be in Daytona, racing the road course, something that he had never done before, and driving the Ferrari for 24 Hours. It just was more than a dirt racer from Kansas could pass up."
While Waltrip is listed as a co-owner of the team, he sees himself as more of a driver entering the Rolex 24 as opposed to an executive and team owner -- the role he portrays these days while in the NASCAR garage. But Waltrip sees competing in the Rolex 24 as an opportunity to, "be a race car driver, go fast and chase after a top position.
"In NASCAR, I'm just an owner," Waltrip said. "I run every now and then and I enjoy those infrequent starts. Then in the sports car, I don't really think of myself as an owner. That's more or less Rob's deal, and we partnered with AF Corse from Italy and they run the team. We just help them out with support and a little financial backing so they can make the trip over to America."
More to the point, Waltrip can’t see himself as the owner because the team is fielding a pair of Ferrari 458 Italias as its entries.
"I never grew up thinking I'd ever be able to afford owning a Ferrari and I don't think of myself as a guy who owns one now," Waltrip said.
Waltrip will get a second opportunity to play the driver-only role next month when he attempts to qualify for the Daytona 500 for upstart Swan Racing. The team just recently purchased the assets of David Stremme’s Inception Racing in December.
Waltrip will use his experience as a two-time Daytona 500 winner to try to make the field and compete for the win with Stremme taking over the seat for the rest of the season.