Waltrip's team emerges with another steady day at the Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- There are two road courses that host NASCAR races in the Sprint Cup Series: Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. Unfortunately for Michael Waltrip Racing, both races have passed, and the drivers who make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will not travel to either venue while competing for the championship.
Martin Truex Jr., who drives MWR's No. 56 Toyota, and Clint Bowyer, the pilot behind the team's No. 15 Camry, have been consistent on oval tracks, but this season exceled on the series' road courses. Both drivers finished in the top five at Sonoma earlier in the year, and Bowyer's sixth-place finish at Watkins Glen International on Sunday was just short of repeating that statistic. Truex was hoping to follow up his Sonoma win with a road course sweep, but instead came home with a third-place finish.
“Obviously, we wanted to win this race,” Truex said following the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. “It would have meant a lot to us.”
For a team to be so successful on a type of track that makes up so little of the schedule is uncommon. Carl Edwards was the only other driver to repeat a top-five performance at both tracks this year, and his closest teammate, Greg Biffle, finished eighth at Sonoma and 16th at The Glen.
Yet MWR seems to have found a winning strategy for their cars' successes at the road layouts -- one with a foundation beginning with the man who many believed would make the trip to Victory Lane on Sunday.
"Honestly, when I first came (to Michael Waltrip Racing), Marcos (Ambrose) was there and he really helped elevate that program," said Truex, who started where he finished -- in third. "They spent a lot of time testing different things, and road racers kind of have a different mentality when it comes to tuning on the car and the little things that you need to work on. ... He definitely really led us in the right direction, without a doubt, as soon as I came there."
Bowyer, who started second alongside pole-sitter Ambrose, almost held on for a top-five finish until right turn veteran Juan Pablo Montoya slipped past in the late going. On a track where he says he used to struggle to find speed, holding off a road-course expert for that long shows the power Bowyer had this time around.
"That confidence you get leaving Sonoma having those good of runs, you come here and you run better," he said. "I won last year at Sonoma, came here and (ran) fourth. This year, (I) obviously didn't win but I passed a lot of cars and had a ton of speed and there's a lot of confidence that goes with that when you're passing cars and putting 'em behind you. Confidence is a big part of this sport, and certainly holds true when we come back here."
Bowyer's finishes on the road courses have helped him remain a fixture high in the standings, sitting among the top-10 for all but one week. Truex, on the other hand, has needed the road course wins to push him back into contention.
His victory at Sonoma moved him up from 13th to 10th and put him in the fight for a Wild Card berth. This week after Watkins Glen, he moved up four spots, back into the top 10 and in position for an automatic Chase berth. Though two of Truex's best tracks are behind him, he believes his worst are also in the rear-view mirror.
"… I felt like if we could just get through those three weeks, those three flat tracks -- which we didn't set the world on fire (at) by any means," Truex said. "We struggled but we struggled to 11th at Indy and 15th or something at Pocono, and even though those were terrible results, they were good for us."
None of the remaining tracks spark worry for Truex: Michigan, he says, is one of his better tracks (he finished third there earlier this year), as is Atlanta, where he took fourth place last year. Hopefully, the team’s bad luck is already also behind them.
“It seems like this year every time we got ourselves in a comfortable position in points, we had a really bad weekend, out of our control, places like Daytona and engine problems and things that we’ve had throughout the year,” he said.
“The points are what they are,” he said. “We’re just going to go racing and try to do what we know how to do.”