Sprint Cup Preview 2013: MWR Building Off Momentum from Successful Chase Campaign
Sometimes all the right moves can work out in one's favor, but in the case of Michael Waltrip Racing, all the right moves worked to perfection. Signing two new drivers to contracts gave the team a fresh start, it's first revamp since debuting in 2007.
It was unclear in the beginning if the changes would work, or if the teams would mesh. But after a while, it became clear that this organization found the right combination, and made a strong charge to nearly take a championship home to MWR.
Now, the team is ready to roll for 2013. Take a gander at the driver line-up for MWR this season:
Clint Bowyer: No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota Camry
The biggest move from 2011 to 2012 came from a driver that was on the outside looking in with his old team. Bowyer elected to make the jump from Richard Childress Racing to MWR, becoming the other full-time driver on the tour for the team.
Things built up, and finally at the Sonoma Raceway, Bowyer etched his name as a winner at MWR. He then stretched his fuel just enough to take victory in the final race before the Chase in Richmond.
During the Chase, it saw both the good and bad from Bowyer. His greatest moment was his victory at Charlotte, close to the team's headquarters. The bad, it wasn't of his doing. The race at Phoenix became a fiasco when he and Jeff Gordon wrecked late in the race, which soon led to pandemonium in the garage between the two teams. Bowyer made a sprint through the garage nearly like an Olympic track star to confront his adversary, but never got the chance.
Bowyer would finish the season as runner-up in the standings, as he had 10 top-fives and 23 top-10's, making his move from RCR to MWR a very successful one. It would not be a stretch to expect the same this season.
Martin Truex Jr: No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry
Bringing in some new blood means the other drivers seem to have to step their game up to meet the expectations. In the case of Truex, in a way it meant more "NAPA Know How" to get the job done.
But, compared to one year prior where he was the sophomore driver at MWR, it was night and day. Truex in 2011 would finish the season 18th in the standings. One year later, he made the Chase, eventually finishing 11th. He would end last year with seven top-fives and 19 top-10's, compared to just three and 12 respectively in those categories one year prior.
The one thing Truex has yet to do at MWR is put his car in victory lane. He came close on many occasions, but just didn't get the job done yet. He still has the opportunity, and the drive to do so, and he's got the crew to get him in the best position.
Look for 2013 to be key to Truex's continued success.
Mark Martin/Michael Waltrip/Brian Vickers: No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry
There may be multiple drivers at the wheel, but no matter who was in the seat, this car was always running at the front.
The man that got the most starts on a part-time basis was the long-time veteran and well-respected Mark Martin. The former Roush and Hendrick driver cut his schedule to just 24 races in 2012, but in those starts Martin would have four top-fives and 10 top-10's. He gave something that MWR did not have for a few years, and that's veteran leadership. But there was no question that Martin enjoyed his role.
Whether he was battling Joey Logano for victory at Pocono or in the scrap heap at Talladega, he always had a smile. There is no one in the garage happier to be doing what he loves than Martin, and expect the same in 2013.
When Martin wasn't at the helm, majority of the races were controlled by a guy that simply wanted a job. Brian Vickers found himself unemployed when Red Bull Racing shut down after 2011, and MWR gave him a chance to fill in when Martin wasn't driving. Vickers was in just eight races, but had three top-fives and five top-10's in his time. That percentage gave him the opportunity to be one of two full-time Nationwide Series drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing alongside Elliott Sadler, while still driving part-time in Cup.
All he wanted was a chance, and he made the most of it.
Finally, the three other restrictor plate races for the No. 55 outside of the season-opening Daytona 500, and likely Kentucky, will see team owner Michael Waltrip do the driving. If there's any indication of his best chance to win, it will be at Daytona or Talladega.
No matter what, whomever the driver is each week, watch for the No. 55 to be a contender.
Next Team Preview: Roush-Fenway Racing