Matt Waltz Looks Ahead After XFINITY Series Debut
Popular short tracker Matt Waltz made his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut at Richmond on Friday night in front of a crowd containing many of his friends and family.
The 25-year-old from Newport News drives Late Model Stocks at Langley Speedway in nearby Hampton and has scored 16 career victories. His most notable performance was a breakout victory in the crown jewel of the discipline at Martinsville in 2013 where he had a starring role in an epic four car battle for the win.
Waltz felt blessed to be able to make his debut in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, driving for 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope, but was disappointed with the results. Waltz and his team struggled from the start of the race weekend all the way until the drop of the checkered flag — which resulted in a 33rd place finish.
“I would’ve liked to done a little better,” Waltz said. “We struggled really. We started off practice on Thursday with the engine and had just a little trouble with it. We only ran 10-12 laps of practice and then the second one got rained out. I only ran 10 laps before qualifying yesterday. So I went in to qualify, and the guys worked hard on it to get it to run, but just couldn’t figure it out. We changed everything that we could but just couldn’t get it figured out.”
Those struggles continued into Friday.
Waltz received a one lap penalty early in the race for fueling before a lap 45 caution, which ended up serving as the scheduled competition caution in the race. He was never able to rebound from that penalty despite his best efforts with a long green flag run proving to be his undoing.
“The car was really tight in the beginning of the race,” Waltz explained. “We went a lap down. We didn’t know we weren’t supposed to put in fuel before the competition caution. They held up a lap when we put fuel in. Then we stayed out trying to get our lap back and it hurt us because we didn’t change tires. We didn’t put on tires on lap 55 because we took the wave around.
“Then we didn’t get a caution until we already pitted lap 130 so we lost a couple laps in that long run. The car was tight and we didn’t get a chance to work on it. That kind of sucked there.”
Things went from bad to worse when Waltz was forced to retire after completing only 135 of the 250 laps due to electrical problems.
“We broke something in the throttle link and that’s what put us out,” he added. “I came off turn four and the pedal went to the floor and started slowing down. Lucky I didn’t cause a wreck, was able to get out of the way. I was really disappointed but I’ve got to thank Derrike Cope Racing. They worked hard and for them to give me an opportunity in that series means a lot to me.”
Despite the disappointment, Saturday night was a stepping stone for Waltz in his ultimate dream of competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“It’s a start,” Waltz commented. “It gets my foot in the door and gets me closer to what I want to do. I want to race full-time. I have the confidence I can do it. We just have to get partnered with the right people and get some money behind us. It’s a bigger operation than us. Derrike and three guys work on this car. They take it to the racetrack every week. I’ll keep working hard and see who I can partner up with. I’d like to be a part of it. Hopefully we can do a better job, get some good finishes.”
Waltz’s next step is to talk with Brett Bodine at NASCAR to see if he is approved to run at the intermediate tracks as he hopes to make additional starts next season. If he is not yet approved, he may look to compete in ARCA to get his superspeedway approval from NASCAR.
What overshadowed the disappointment of an unfortunate result was the support he got from his hometown fans who made the drive from Hampton Roads to Henrico County to cheer him on.
“I mean, it was awesome,” Waltz remarked. “I didn’t expect all those people to come out. I ran into somebody after the race. There were people staying at the campground. To have that kind of support is incredible. I can’t thank all my hometown people enough. I love the area I’m from and I don’t know. I didn’t expect to have that kind of support. My family came out. Everybody that came out. It’s unbelievable that I have that kind of support and I’m very appreciative of that and to have the opportunity. Hopefully I can keep going, run more races, run well, be a role model.
“I like where I’m from and I enjoy all the fans at Langley Speedway. Racetracks can’t keep going without the fans so I like to put on a show for them. I’m really glad they came out for my XFINITY debut.”
While Waltz is uncertain about his future NASCAR plans, he will continue running Late Models for the rest of the season. Next weekend, he will compete in the season finale at Langley Speedway and then look ahead to the 2015 Valley Star Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, Late Model Stock Car racing’s biggest event, on October 4th.
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