For Clint Bowyer, timing truly was everything.
If forced to look for a new ride two years ago, Bowyer admittedly wouldn’t have given Michael Waltrip Racing much consideration.
But when it became apparent near the end of 2011 that dearth of sponsorship meant the end of Bowyer’s days at Richard Childress Racing, MWR was the place Bowyer sought unemployment.
Luckily for him, the interest was mutual.
Bowyer signed a multi-year contract with MWR and will compete full-time in 2012 alongside teammates Martin Truex Jr. and veteran Mark Martin, who will share seat time in his first season at MWR with team co-owner Michael Waltrip.
Calling the shots for Bowyer is crew chief Brian Pattie, who joined MWR late last year from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
Bowyer’s surroundings aren’t all new, however. Scott Miller, a former crew chief and manager at RCR, is now the competition director at MWR.
With solid sponsorship from 5-Hour Energy, a familiar resource in Miller and team that is hungry to prove it belongs among NASCAR’s elite, Bowyer could be in for a big 2012.
MWR made a believer out of Bowyer when former driver David Reutimann scored a dominant win at Chicagoland Speedway in July 2010, and Truex came on strong for the organization at the end of 2011.
Adding drivers of Martin’s and Bowyer’s caliber will likely further boost the Toyota organization, which has never fielded a Chase qualifier and boasts just two wins in five years of full-time Sprint Cup competition.
“There’s definitely momentum,” Bowyer said. “There’s a wave forming and being built. It’s happened over the course of the last couple years. A lot of hard work, a lot of dedication goes into that, and it’s a very young, good company, a very young organization. Mark and I both talked and when it became a reality I wasn’t going to have a home at RCR and I had to find a good home where I fit and belonged and could have success on the race track, everything I did, every direction I looked, led to this place.”
In addition to MWR still wanting to prove its potential as an organization, Bowyer believes he still has something to prove as a driver. All five of his career wins have come with RCR, a winner of six Sprint Cup titles and a perennial championship contender.
“It’s nothing to prove there,” Bowyer said of legendary team owner Richard Childress’ organization. “It had been proven hundreds of times over. Richard has won many championships, 100 races, he’s just done so much. I was very fortunate to be a part of that but as far as a driver, the only thing you can do is just not screw up and not screw up the opportunity.
“Here, I’m going to have to be a part of the moving on into a championship-caliber organization, and that’s exciting and that’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”
Bowyer’s 2011 season was frustrating on multiple levels as he missed the Chase for just the second time in five years, operated under a cloud of uncertainty about his future with RCR, and was ultimately left without a ride when the company failed to find a replacement for departing sponsor General Mills.
While MWR doesn’t offer the history or depth of resources at RCR, a new team and a fresh start might be just what Bowyer needs to keep climbing the ladder of achievement.
“Sometimes change isn’t bad,” he said. “There’s no question that last year I didn’t have the success that I expected and that I wanted, and that’s not good enough. That wasn’t where I wanted to be standings-wise, statistics-wise. All of that isn’t what I wanted and expected out of me and racing, so maybe it was time to make a change, but 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 right on into the future.”
Miller, who knows Bowyer well from their days at RCR, has no doubt the 32-year-old can be a force at MWR. In fact, Bowyer could even take on a more prominent role than at RCR where he sometimes competed in the shadow of teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton.
“I think he can pick up where he left off and hopefully we can be the organization that vaults him into sort of the next jump in his career,” Miller said. “I certainly hope that we’re not going to be what holds him back from making the next step in his career. I hope we’re going to be what helps him make the next step in his career.”
Jared Turner is an Associate Editor for SPEED.com, covering NASCAR and Formula One, and is an Editor for TruckSeries.com. His professional motorsports writing career began in 2005.