News & Media


Big day for MWR as cars finish 3-4-5 at Bristol

March 19, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- You've heard of overnight sensations that actually were years in the making?

Well, it wasn't quite like that for Michael Waltrip Racing on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway -- but it was close. Yes, MWR has experienced other successes along with way, even won a few races, and none of the organization's three entries graced Victory Lane following Sunday's Food City 500.

"When I left RCR and came to MWR, I found a lot of things that were really, really good there. It was just a matter of putting all the little final pieces to the puzzle together. "

--SCOTT MILLER

But the three MWR cars did finish third, fourth and fifth, led by the No. 56 Toyota driven by Martin Truex Jr. and closely followed by the No. 15 Toyota driven by Clint Boywer and the No. 55 driven by Brian Vickers.

"It was a great day for us. The only way it could have been better would have been to have the cars run one-two-three," said Scott Miller, who was named executive vice president of competition at MWR last September. "It was just a super-good day for us."

Vickers' strong run was the greatest surprise. Out of a ride at the end of last season when the Red Bull Racing team he drove for opted to get out of the sport, Vickers was behind the wheel for the first time all year.

Vickers ended up leading 125 laps, second only to race winner Brad Keselowski's 232. In 14 previous career starts at Bristol, Vickers had led the grand total of one lap. In 47 Sprint Cup races over the previous two seasons, Vickers led a total of 34 laps.

"It felt really good when we were out there leading," Vickers said. "It would have been awesome to hold onto that, but it was my first time back so I can't complain.

"What an organization. I'm so proud to be a part of getting all three cars in the top five. I can't thank [team owners] Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffmann and everyone at MWR enough. I don't know those two guys that well, but I can tell a lot about them by the group of people they've assembled and the team they've built. What an incredible organization."

But while it was a great and surprising day for Vickers, the fact that it turned out to be a great day for Truex and Bowyer as well was not so surprising -- at least not to the drivers who earned the strong finishes.

Truex said his third-place run -- which elevated him to fourth in the point standings -- was simply a continuation of what his team started building toward at the end of last season. Although he finished the season only 18th in points in 2011, Truex earned four top-10 finishes in the last five races and felt like his team started coming together even prior to that after switching crew chiefs from Pat Tryson to Chad Johnston.

"It's been a long time coming," Truex said. "I told a lot of people in the offseason that we've done a lot of things to make our team better. We had a great end to the year last year and we've really just been carrying that momentum. I've got a lot of confidence in my team right now -- and obviously we've got good race cars. That makes our job a lot easier."

Among the changes made at MWR in the off-season: adding Miller to the management side, adding veteran drivers Bowyer and Mark Martin to the fold (Martin drives the No. 55 part-time) and adding Brian Pattie to the crew chief mix atop Bowyer's pit box.

Boywer said his team took information gleaned from a decent run by Truex last year at Bristol to help arrive at the right set-up for Sunday's event.

"The 56 bunch had a really good package for this race last year. We elected to go with that and it paid off pretty good," Bowyer said.

Pattie added: "We just need to keep this up. Next week on a two-mile track [at Auto Club Speedway] will be a really good test for us, but obviously our short-track program is up to speed and we've been really good at the speedways. We've been working really hard back at the shop, so it's good to see our progress pay off.

"I see what's going on with this organization every day. If other people can't see it, they must be blind. The cars were fast at the end of last year. I'm just glad to be part of this organization and trying to get it to the next level."

Vickers was tabbed to drive the No. 55 car for six races only after a deal to have Elliott Sadler drive those races for MWR fell apart at the last minute. Vickers also will drive the car at Bristol in August, as well as in both New Hampshire races and both Martinsville races. Martin and Michael Waltrip will split the remaining races.

Of Vickers, Pattie said: "That was pretty impressive for a guy who's been sitting on the couch all year until now. It just shows how the teams all work good together. The crew chiefs work side-by-side-by-side in the shop. We communicate well, and that bodes well for the future."

Miller agreed with Pattie's assessment of Vickers, and of the three teams in general.

"I've been super impressed with him since the first lap he turned in the car," Miller said of Vickers. "It didn't take him any time at all to get up to speed. I think if any driver out here had been out of a car for a while, I don't necessarily think they'd raise their hand and choose Bristol as the place to get back in -- because it's just so hard here."

It may be hard to make speedy circuits on the .533-mile track while staying out of trouble, but the MWR trio certainly made it look easy at times on Sunday. Miller, who left Richard Childress Racing to take his current position, cautioned not to make too much noise about MWR turning things around. He insisted there wasn't much turning around to do when he arrived at the company last September.

"When I left RCR and came to MWR, I found a lot of things that were really, really good there," Miller said. "It was just a matter of putting all the little final pieces to the puzzle together. Because when I went there, I didn't find anything terribly broken. They were doing a good job and they were coming on as a team. We've got really good people, really good crew chiefs. Toyota gives us a lot of support and our sponsors -- so if we can just keep the ball rolling on all that, we should have a pretty good year."

Pattie added: "I would say people are going to start paying a little more attention to the MWR cars from now on."

Watch MWR's season highlights here:

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