- Associated Press - Thursday, June 27, 2013

SPARTA, KY. (AP) - Considering he grew up a true-blue Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan, you’d think Michael Waltrip would chafe at wearing the red, white and black colors of archrival Louisville on Thursday.

Not quite. Turns out, the owner-driver also has some love for the Cardinals, who will be prominently displayed on the No. 55 Toyota driven by Brian Vickers in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400.

The Camry’s design honors the Cardinals’ NCAA basketball championship and comes a year after Waltrip drove it to 30th place with a blue-and-white scheme honoring the Wildcats’ title win. As long as Bluegrass State basketball stays in the spotlight, Waltrip is OK with rival colors on his ride.

“I was totally for them (the Cardinals) when Kentucky struggled,” said the Owensboro, Ky., native, a distant admirer of Louisville’s success under Denny Crum. “They were my second-best team. In sports, you have your favorites and you have the ones you cheer for. The Louisville Cardinals have always been the ones I cheered for.”

The Toyota’s coming-out party included Louisville leading scorer Russ Smith and women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz, whose team was runners-up to NCAA champion Connecticut this season. Both marveled at the design featuring the Cardinal bird head logo on the hood and a streamlined color mix throughout.

However, Smith, a New York native who just got his driver’s license this spring, wanted no parts of a car capable of hitting 200 mph.

“I don’t like fast cars. I like to watch other people drive fast cars,” Smith said. “In SUVs or vans, I like to go pretty fast because I get to control it a little bit. These cars are something else.”

Waltrip and Wildcats fans will have some consolation Saturday night. Kentucky coach John Calipari will be the honorary pace car official that will help lead the field to the green flag.

After that, Waltrip will sit back and watch the car spark reactions from both fan bases.

“I know it’ll be popular with about half the fans,” he joked.

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