"The thing about Jeff is, he alone has done in the late '90s what I did in the 1980s," Waltrip says. "He attracted a new crowd to our sport. In the '80s, I attracted a new crowd. I took it from a blue-collar sport and got it into the boardrooms where people in the upper office were looking at us. Jeff has taken us from an older crowd that was Earnhardt, Waltrip, Wallace, and Elliott fans, and he has introduced us to a bunch of kids, a bunch of new fans.
"In my opinion, if you parallel our careers, they are very, very similar in so many different ways.
"I like Tony Stewart. I think he's good for the sport. I like a guy who will throw a helmet at somebody, quite frankly. I like Dale Jr. I think he will be good for the sport. I like all the young guys coming up. Jeff Gordon, in a few more years, will find himself in the same boat that DW finds himself in, that he is 10 years older than his competition."
So as Waltrip prepares for his final farewell, it will be a season filled with personal appearances, busy schedules, and different emotions. He enters the season with the confidence that he can wrap it up on a high note and leave as a racer with his dignity intact.
"The most amazing thing to me is when I sit down and look at a bio sheet, and I see all the things that I am attributed to doing, the races that I won, the championship stuff, the things that are attributed to my career; I'm amazed," Waltrip says. "I had no earthly idea when I started driving a race car 40 years ago, a go-kart 40 years ago, that someday, my name would even be mentioned in the same breath as Richard Petty's or AJ Foyt's or Mario Andretti's. Those were guys who were like gods. To get to that status, that never entered my mind. I was always flattered.
"I'll always sit down, and I'll look at what I had accomplished, and I'll ask, 'How in the world did I do that?'"