"How he does affects his whole personality, and we kind of live life on a roller coaster," Buffy says. "All your emotions are linked to how the race car is running, and that's pretty sad. I'm very ambitious, but Michael comes first, and running his life is a full-time job. Obviously, everything revolves around the men in this sport."
Before each race Buffy walks Michael to his car and kisses him for good luck. Then she heads for pit row, dons headphones and observes pit stops, later reporting her perceptions of the race to Michael.
On this day Buffy's feedback is destined to be positive. Michael, who has never won a Winston Cup race in 285 starts, the worst such streak among current drivers, seizes the lead coming out of a midrace pit stop and, despite losing first and second gear shortly thereafter, finishes third.
Kyle Petty, starting from the 40th position, is more frustrated. He's penalized for passing Steve Grissom before reaching the starting line and is sent to the pits for a stop-and-go penalty. The car eventually started handling poorly, especially at top speed, and Petty and crew chief Barry Dodson tried everything from changing tires to adjusting the spring tension, all to no avail. Watching high above in his marble-floored luxury suite, car owner Felix Sabates says over the radio to Petty and Dodson, "What a day."
Dodson: "I wouldn't put my ex-mother-in-law through the——Kyle's been through today."
Petty: "We need to put a sermon on this car."
Sabates: "We need an exorcism."
Their prayers will be answered the next Sunday, as Petty breaks a 59-race victory drought with a win at Dover (Del.) Downs International Speedway.
The Charlotte race is won by Bobby Labonte, who edges his older brother, Terry, to gain his first victory after 74 races on the circuit. The two hug, and then Bobby begins thanking his sponsors, a ritual more predictable than an Oscar winner thanking his or her mother. You can look a little silly when your team is sponsored by, say, Spam, but these guys are indefatigable. Labonte puts on more than a dozen different sponsors' caps while spending nearly an hour in victory lane.
Back in the garage area, a nauseated Michael Waltrip struggles through an interview while Buffy explains that he has been "fumed"—efforts to repair his transmission caused a leak that allowed noxious air into the vehicle. "He might need oxygen," Buffy says, then retreats into the trailer.