DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip will log some extra miles around Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.
Waltrip is one of four NASCAR drivers running in the Daytona Beach half marathon, which begins and ends at the famed 2 1/2-mile superspeedway. The 13.1-mile course also goes to the beach and back.
Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne and Aric Almirola also are trading in their racing shoes for running shoes.
"Well, I ran my last marathon in 2005, and I ran the Vegas Marathon in 3:55," said the 50-year-old Waltrip. "I was really proud of that. I think I ran both halves in about the same amount of time. I haven't really run since then. I used this as motiovation just to try to get back into better shape.
"My body feels great. I'm nervous because I haven't done one in a long time. If I can run it in 2:09, I'm going to be happy. Anything in the 2:00s will make me say, `OK, that's a good place to start.' I turned 50 this year, and I think I'm going to use my age as motivation to run another marathon, so this is sort of the first step to see how well I can do."
Waltrip's ambition impressed Clint Bowyer, who drives for the team owner.
"Awesome. Michael is 50 years old. Very proud of him. That's an accomplishment for anyone, let alone an old man like that," said Bowyer, whose girlfriend, Lora Podsiadlo is also running. "I mean, he wears reading glasses. Do you think he'll wear reading glasses to see the next mile marker?"
The drivers are running before qualifying for the Daytona 500.
Since qualifying at wide-open Daytona is probably the least stressful, least arduous task drivers perform during Speedweeks, the half marathon should have no impact on anything that happens on the track. The run will, however, provide an early wake-up call for Kahne and Johnson, who are racing Saturday night in the Sprint Unlimited exhibition event. The half marathon begins at 6:30 a.m.
This much is certain: It's not something you would have seen drivers do decades ago.
"Times have changed for sure," Johnson said. "I'm not sure anyone would have admitted training back in the Allison-Alabama Gang era, or even in the Earnhardt era. You know running the race Saturday night will take a little out of us, the guys that are going to run. But qualifying here is pretty basic. Pretty easy. If there was a race Sunday, I would really have to consider running a half. It is going to take a lot out of me and anyone that runs it. That I would have to consider, but qualifying is a piece of cake."