For one motorist from Monroe, it was not an ordinary sighting of an ordinary car stranded on the side of the road.
Indeed, sitting on the side of Lenora Road in the area of Pate Road was missing No. 44 NASCAR Sprint Cup race car stolen from Morrow Thursday morning. It was found near Snellville, but not the trailer and pickup used to transport it.
The man who came across the car told Channel 2 Action News that he did a double-take when he first saw it.
“I just walked up to it and peeked in. I didn’t touch the car, nothing,” said Philip Whitmer, who led police to the stolen car.
He said he called Gwinnett Police as soon as he found it.
Investigators searched the car that seemed to be intact, and not taken for a joy ride.
“There’s no way. No way that that’s the car. That’s what was going through my head over and over again,” Whitmer told Channel 2’s Steve Gehlbach.
Gwinnett County Police were dispatched to a suspicious vehicle call about 2:30 a.m. and confirmed it was the vehicle stolen from a Morrow hotel parking lot the day before.
The owners of the car, which was to be driven by Travis Kvapil in this weekend’s Atlanta Motor Speedway races, made arrangements to recover it.
As far as police can tell, there was no missing parts of damage to the car, said Officer Jeffery Richter, public information officer.
He said the name of the motorist who discovered the car was not available at this time.
He’s pretty sure, though, that the discovery caused a double take.
“It would have certainly been a shock to me to be driving down the road and seeing that car sitting off of the shoulder,” he said.
Gwinnett police said there are no suspects at this time.
The car, along with the trailer housing it and the pickup pulling it, were stolen from outside a Morrow hotel Thursday morning where it was parked in advance of this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton.
When Kvapil got the call, he figured someone on his race team was playing a joke.
“They said there was trouble with the car,” Kvapil told the Associated Press. “I thought we could figure it out when we got in the garage area. They’re like, ‘No, the car is gone.’”
For a few hours, the team held out hope of the car being found in time for qualifying Friday, but it was forced to withdraw when it missed NASCAR’s mandatory inspection.
“It’s really bizarre,” Kvapil said. “You can handle maybe getting a flat tire, or getting caught up in a wreck, or a blown engine, something that actually happens on the race track. Or you don’t qualify, because you don’t have enough speed. But to not even get a chance … that’s pretty disheartening.”
A trailer with the red race car inside was hitched to a black 2004 Ford F-350 pickup truck parked outside a hotel in Morrow, Georgia, about 15 miles south of Atlanta and a short drive from the speedway, police said. Surveillance video showed the truck and trailer being driven out of the parking lot around 5:30 a.m., Morrow police Detective Sgt. Larry Oglesby said.
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