MWR's 55 team showcases versatile group
July 15, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Michael Waltrip, Mark Martin and now Brian Vickers have all had success; what's next in 2014?
LOUDON, N.H. -- It’s been a good summer for Michael Waltrip Racing. Happy times.
Brian Vickers’ victory Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was the organization’s second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in the last four races. Martin Truex Jr. won at Sonoma on June 23. And MWR driver Clint Bowyer sits second in the championship standings.
All of the team’s cars are championship caliber in one way or another.
Vickers’ winning effort Sunday gave the No. 55 Toyota -- driven by Vickers, Waltrip and Mark Martin -- a Wild Card position in the owner’s points standings. And with seven races left to set the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field, Truex currently holds the first of two Wild Card berths.
In the moments following Sunday’s Victory Lane celebration, both Vickers and team officials took time to note how much this latest achievement means to both driver and team.
“Our organization is ready to win consistently, and we have won two of the last four, and so I would say if we can keep that 50 percent streak going, we'll be all right,’’ MWR Executive Vice President and General Manager Ty Norris said.
Norris smiled when he told reporters that, but he also realizes his team is absolutely holding its own with the larger, longer-tenured organizations. Only Hendrick Motorsports has more drivers (four) ranked among the top 12.
And at a time when sponsorship is at a premium, it’s the kind of momentum the organization needs -- especially as it tries to lock down sponsor and driver plans for 2014.
While Norris stopped short of confirming Vickers for a full-time job in the No. 55 next year, the performance at New Hampshire sure didn’t hurt.
In addition to a part-time program with MWR, Vickers is currently competing full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, his first full season of competition since serious health problems -- blood clots in his leg and lungs and surgery for a hole in his heart -- sidelined him in 2011.
This is his first Cup win since and is remarkable when you consider what he’s overcome personally and what it says about the team that fields and prepares cars for three different drivers alternating almost weekly.
“Michael (Waltrip) has made no bones about it; in the last 30 to 45 days, he talks about Brian (Vickers) a lot as being that candidate that we want to go ahead and try to get moving forward with,’’ Norris said. “All I can tell you is wins help a lot of business issues, and so this was a great day for that.’’
As for the team, the last month is at the very least a vivid testament to progress.
“If we for one second decided to sit back in our chairs and kick our feet up on the desk, (crew chiefs) Rodney (Childers) and Brian Pattie and Chad Johnston, all the drivers would be over there kicking them off and saying we have to get busy,’’ Norris said. “We raced in Pocono, what, a month ago, and we race there in three or four weeks; we won't come back the same. By the time the Chase happens, we'll have another version of our next iteration of our car.
“We are right dead in the beginning of our third performance improvement plan, which was put in place ‑‑ the first one was put in place in 2011. And Toyota continues to bring out more steps on the engine side, so there's absolutely more to come.
“So,” he added, “I'm happy ‑‑ I'm probably happiest for those guys, because Michael’s got his whole life in this and co-owner Rob (Kauffman)’s got a lot of passion for it, so it's cool.
“Michael always tells us, you'd better wake up every morning like you're behind. I know Rodney and those guys will do that, we're going to the next race. He feels like we're behind and we have to do more and we have to work harder.’’
But first there’s a victory to celebrate.