NASCAR At Texas

Teamwork leads to uptick at Michael Waltrip Racing

November 3, 2012 

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FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 02: Team owner Michael Waltrip and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, talk during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 2, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

JERRY MARKLAND — Getty Images for NASCAR

jutter@charlotteobserver.com

Time and again in the last few weeks while discussing Michael Waltrip Racing’s success this season, especially with new driver Clint Bowyer, team owner Michael Waltrip has turned to self-deprecating humor.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t think Clint wanted to come drive for me, but he’s like ... I guess I got to,” Waltrip said following Bowyer’s victory at Charlotte last month.

Bowyer is just as straightforward in his assessments.

Asked Friday at Texas Motor Speedway what has most surprised him in his first season at MWR, Bowyer said, “Success. I’m not going to lie.”

Yet, together, Bowyer and Waltrip and the entire MWR organization sit on the verge of completing their best seasons in the Sprint Cup Series.

Entering Sunday’s AAA 500 at Texas, Bowyer is third in the series standings, 26 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson with three races remaining. It’s a difficult, but not impossible, margin to overcome.

Certainly, though, Bowyer has the opportunity to earn his career best finish in the series standings to go along with his three wins this season, also a career best.

“You saw the potential and saw what could be. If everything played out and the plan played out and the talk – if they could back up the talk, it was going to be what we’re seeing this year,” said Bowyer, who had spent his previous six seasons in Cup with Richard Childress Racing.

“That’s just been the case. It’s been above and beyond. Teamwork is the biggest word of our year. It’s just incredible how everybody works together.”

And Bowyer has not been the only recipient of success.

Martin Truex Jr. has not found Victory Lane this year but qualified for the Chase for the Cup for only the second time in his career. Prior to this season, the best any driver in the history of MWR has finished in a season is 16th in points (David Reutimann, 2009).

Even the organization’s No. 55 Toyota team, which has been shared by three drivers – Waltrip, Mark Martin and Brian Vickers – has been in contention for several victories this year.

“Everybody is on the same page and everybody pulls for one another and we get good results because of the teamwork that we have all across the board,” Bowyer said.

“Just everybody within the team of MWR has really elevated their game in a huge way.”

However, to say anyone saw all of this success coming would be a stretch.

Bowyer’s crew chief, Brian Pattie, who is also new to the organization this year, recalls the first time all the members of Bowyer’s No. 15 team got together, and it wasn’t that long ago.

“Let’s be honest, I don’t think at the start of the season that anyone thought that we’d be sitting where we are today. It’s a brand new team,” he said.

“All of us came together for the very first time Dec. 7, 2011. We went to test at Disney (World Speedway). It was just a shakedown test. That was the first time that I even got to see Clint with his helmet on and actually talk to him.”

Everyone at MWR saw potential. Results were hard to predict.

“I was thinking and looking at getting into the Chase. Let’s win some races make the Chase and see what happens,” Pattie said. “Well, now we’ve made the Chase, we’ve won some races and now we are in it.

“Hey, it’s fun! It’s a learning experience for all of us. Hopefully if it works out we’ll win the championship.

“If it doesn’t, we are going to take some positives into next year and try to polish the edges and make it right for next year.”

In the meantime, Bowyer and his team will continue with what has worked for them so well this season.

Does Bowyer think Johnson is the favorite to win a sixth Cup championship?

“Yes,” Bowyer said, “but anything can happen.”

It already has.

Utter: 704-358-5069

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