Michael Waltrip has said that his team is in a stronger position than ever before ahead of the 2012 campaign. Waltrip, who founded Michael Waltrip Racing in 2007, will have closer ties with fellow Toyota outfit Joe Gibbs Racing in 2012 in a move which he feels will help MWR get closer to its first win and first Chase appearance.
“If you look where we are today, it's facts, it's science, it's black and white,” Waltrip said. “We have partnered with Gibbs on the engines. We're going to have the same engines that they have. We couldn't say that a year ago. Our aerodynamics have improved to where our cars are as good as theirs, we couldn't say that a year ago.
Our driver lineup, if you just look at the numbers, we have more wins than we've ever had before. We have more Chase appearances than we've ever had before, so I love our driver lineup. Everything is pointing towards us having a banner 2012 season and I'm confident in that and I couldn't have said that a year ago.”
Waltrip, who retains Martin Truex Jr., has added a third team to his operation for Clint Bowyer, who moves across from Richard Childress Racing, while 53 year old veteran Mark Martin moves across from Hendrick Motorsports to share with Waltrip.
“I really believe in my heart that we never have gone into a season like we're going into 2012 – we're ready,” Waltrip said.
“I just love my lineup. I think that Clint is a very energetic, engaging guy. I like the way he likes to have fun. That's a good step up for our organization. Then you have the respected, savvy, tough, committed, dedicated veteran Mark Martin.
“I think both those guys will revive Martin [Truex]. You know, Martin is a really fun guy and he's a guy that is very popular and won the Nationwide championship twice and made the Chase early on in his career, but he hasn't had a whole lot to smile about lately. Now, with the cars that we're building and the way he ended the 2011 season, we're giving him something to smile about and we're surrounding him with guys that like to smile and like to have fun.”
MWR has come a long way since its involvement with Toyota began in 2007, when the three teams racked up an astounding 39 failures to qualify, which required Waltrip to float shares in his team on the stock-market.
“We started it up and it makes me a little sad today to look back and see how naÃ¯ve I was and how unprepared we were and how much ground we needed to make up in order to be able to ever contend,” Waltrip said. “We missed a ton of races in '07, we made them all ever since. We've been able to make races and consistently and steadily get a little bit better.
Now Waltrip, a twice Daytona 500 winner as a full-time driver, feels the time is right to mount a challenge for the Chase.
“We have to win more than a race, we can't just win a race and finish 16th in the points. I think we have to win multiple races and we have to make the Chase. We have to be right there fighting for it at least to make it,” Waltrip said.
“I think if you break it down, there was more pressure last year because we basically had the same goals as we have this year. But, we didn't have the equipment to go do the job with. So, now we still aspire to accomplish the same things but we have a better toy, you know – we have a faster car. We have a more aerodynamically designed, we have a better Toyota Camry to go race with. I'm glad our expectations are high and I'm glad they were this past season, but now we have a car I believe we can go win with. I believe we're going to do the job.”
Waltrip's no holes barred approach concurs with that of Truex, who believes that there will be no excuses this season if he fails to make the Chase.
“We had a performance easily last year to make the Chase,” Truex said. “You look at our finishes, we had six finishes worse than 34th or 35th and without those we were in. I made just as many top-fives and top-10s at the start of the Chase as Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. did and he was sitting fifth or something. If you take a step back and really look at it – last year we had the performance to make it, we just didn't do all the little things right.
“There was a few races where we had the speed to win and we threw it away so we need to do better at that. We need to be smarter, better prepared and I know what it takes to do it. We just need to do it consistently and we will work on that.”
Bowyer agrees that the potential is there to make a realistic challenge for wins this year.
“I really see a lot of potential here – a lot of things coming together at the right time for me to make a change and ride that wave on into the future,” he said.
“You see the speed in the race cars, the people on my team, the potential. We've got a good group of guys. We were able to take advantage of a not-so-fortunate time in this sport — a lot of teams and organizations pulling back. We were able to go out and pick the cream of the crop so to speak and I feel like we've done that with our group of guys on the 5-Hour Energy car.”
“It's been a lot of fun,” Bowyer added. “There's some history there. I [once] called him the worst driver in NASCAR and I knew that was going to come up at some point in time and it came up the very second that I walked in the door of his office. He was like, 'Do you still think I'm the worst driver in NASCAR?' I was like, 'Well, good way to break the ice.' That's when I told him yes, but he could be a very good owner. I hope that he is.”