News & Media


MWR now 'poised' to make Chase breakthrough

October 07, 2011, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Formally announces additions of Bowyer, sponsor 5-Hour Energy at Kansas

The transformation began in the spring, and it was born out of hardship. After watching driver David Reutimann score his second career Sprint Cup victory, Michael Waltrip Racing entered this Sprint Cup season with legitimate hopes of seizing a Chase berth for the first time. Instead, the opening months of the 2011 campaign turned out to be a slog, with the organization's two cars managing only a single top-10 finish between them through the first eight events of the year.

Trying to right the ship, MWR began leaning more heavily on manufacturer Toyota to help it build more competitive cars. This summer, after the departures of competition director Steve Hallam and chief operating officer Cal Wells, Waltrip's team set its sights on Scott Miller, the competition director at Richard Childress Racing and a key figure in that organization's return to prominence. Finally, at Watkins Glen International in August, MWR officials learned that not only was RCR driver Clint Bowyer available, but he had a sponsor ready to back him.

"I've never had a sponsor that came to me and said, 'We would like to have you. You're the asset. Where are we going to go to build a program?"

--CLINT BOWYER


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"We now believe we're structured exactly how we want to be."

--MICHAEL WALTRIP

All of that led to Friday at Kansas Speedway, when MWR formally announced the additions of Bowyer and sponsor 5-Hour Energy, putting the finishing touches on an expanded, three-car organization that the team owner feels is better prepared than ever to claim its first berth in the Chase.

"We now believe we're structured exactly how we want to be," said Waltrip, whose stable of drivers now includes Bowyer, Reutimann, and Martin Truex Jr. "We have a guy in Scott Miller who's going to come on board, and has guided teams to the Chase and [had] chances to win championships. He is going to be a key part of our organization in 2012. Having drivers like Clint, David, and Martin ... we're poised. We're on the edge of being able to accomplish that."

Next season will tell the tale, of course, but on paper at least the Waltrip team clearly seems a more potent organization. That's in no small part due to the addition of Bowyer, who has won four races and made three Chase appearances, finishing as high as third in final points in 2007. In the final year of his contract at RCR, and with current car sponsor General Mills moving into a co-primary role on teammate Jeff Burton's vehicle next season, backing seemed in short supply for the Kansas driver in his current home. About three months ago, though, he said executives at 5-Hour Energy approached him about putting something together for 2012.

"I've never been in that situation," Bowyer said. "I've never had a sponsor that came to me and said, 'We would like to have you. You're the asset. Where are we going to go to build a program?' So, not only was I looking out for myself, now I'm looking out for a sponsor, too. I've got to go to an organization to where I could continue to build their brand and make sure I could continue to bring that sponsor with me as I go on through the years. That was something that was new to me. Usually, you took care of number one and let them do their business, but I felt like I was obligated to help them make the right decision and be influential in their decision as well."

Bowyer first approached RCR, but a deal couldn't be worked out. Why? "We're not here to talk about that," Bowyer said. "We're here to talk about the future, and it just didn't work out. It was a shame." That moment, Bowyer said, was ultimately what led him to leave RCR, the only NASCAR home he had ever known. Childress picked Bowyer out of obscurity after watching him compete in an ARCA race on the advice of a sponsor. Bowyer held his own at a six-time championship team that also featured the veteran Burton and regular title contender Kevin Harvick.

Now, it's time for him to step into the role as lead driver. "This is a wonderful opportunity for me to prove myself to everybody," said Bowyer, whose four Sprint Cup wins are double the number MWR has. "When you go into RCR, which has already won many championships, and to have the success Richard has had, you're just kind of another guy there. If we can go on and put them in the Chase and continue to move forward with MWR, you're going to build your brand even better."

Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon believes the addition of Bowyer will make a difference for MWR. "Absolutely," he said. "He's coming from a championship-caliber organization. He can bring a little bit of that knowledge over there, plus I think that his talents will help them just continue to gather more quality information that always makes an organization stronger."

MWR executive vice president Ty Norris said Miller and Bowyer were pursued independently of one another, although there seemed no doubt the acquisition of the former smoothed the way for the latter. "One of the things we were up against was the fact that Clint didn't know many people at MWR," Norris said. "Him knowing Scott was coming over, that was a comforting piece for him."

Clearly. "Scott Miller is a great friend," Bowyer said. "As soon as I heard they were talking to Scott Miller, that kind of tripped my trigger."

Bowyer will drive the No. 15, which Waltrip ran during his best days at Dale Earnhardt Inc., a span in which he won a pair of Daytona 500 crowns. A crew chief is yet to be determined. The deal is for three years, and 5-Hour Energy will act as primary sponsor on the vehicle in 24 of 36 points races next season. The brand moves up from the Nationwide Series, where it backed the car of Steve Wallace at Rusty Wallace Inc.

"When we decided to make the move up from Nationwide, we thought really long and hard," company president Scott Henderson said, "because this is a huge investment for us."

It's also a big step forward for MWR, which realized the status quo wasn't working, and that it needed to make changes in order to break through that Chase ceiling. "We expected to be a Chase contender this year, and it didn't happen," Norris said. "We had to make some moves because of that. We need to be a Chase participant, not a Chase contender. We need that for 5-Hour Energy, we need that for NAPA and Aaron's and all of our sponsors. We couldn't sit still and do the same thing. We needed to make a series of moves, and a lot of them came together at the same time."

Now, there's just one last thing to clear up. "Did you say I was the worst driver ever?" Waltrip said, turning to his new hire. "Or did you just mean during that era?"

Indeed, Bowyer made such a comment over team radio after an incident involving the two at Bristol Motor Speedway three years ago. Now? "You never know when you'll have to eat those words," he said. "He's promised me he'll be the best owner ever."

Watch: Bowyer, MWR make it official | Bowyer's 2011 season highlights