Don’t look now, but the three Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota drivers are so far enjoying another stellar weekend at the track.
Saturday at Kansas Speedway, MWR drivers Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer qualified fifth, sixth and eighth, respectively, for Sunday’s STP 400, race No. 8 of 26 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season.
Through the first seven races of the year, Truex is fourth and Bowyer 10th in the Sprint Cup driver points standings. Martin and Brian Vickers, who split time in the team’s third car, have combined to put it in seventh in Cup owners’ points.
Last year as team, MWR had just four top-five and 16 top-10 finishes over 36 races. In just seven races so far in 2012, MWR already has five top fives and 12 top 10s. If one of the MWR Toyotas finds its way to victory lane on Sunday, it wouldn’t be a surprise, let alone an upset.
A year ago, it would have been a major surprise, verging on an upset.
There have been many reasons for this year’s turnaround — hiring Bowyer and Executive Vice President of Competition Scott Miller away from Richard Childress Racing, bringing Martin and his vast experience onboard and moving Brian Pattie in from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates to be Bowyer’s crew chief.
Truex, now one of the old hands at MWR, said Waltrip himself deserves much of the credit.
“He's done a very good job of putting people in the right places, letting them do their job — not micro-managing, not telling people they are doing things wrong or things aren't good enough,” Truex said of Waltrip. “He's really done a nice job or just letting people do what he hires them to do. He's hiring good people and obviously, right now the team is clicking as a whole. All three of our teams are working very well together. Scott's doing a great job. The engineers are all on the same page.”
It all starts at the top, though.
“He (Waltrip) has done a nice job of just letting people do their job and that's what he's good at,” Truex said. “He understands how this sport works. He understands that he's not an engineer and he's not a competition director, but he is a heck of an owner and he's done a really, really good job of putting the right people in the right places.”
Mark Martin agreed.
“Michael is a very, very creative soul and very, extremely bright,” said Martin. “Usually when you have someone that is really creative, they're a little bit different and Michael is a little bit different. Michael is smarter than I realized — he is — he's a very smart guy, very bright, very creative and I'm enjoying driving for an owner/driver because that's different than I've done in the past.”
Bowyer, who left a very successful team at RCR, has fit in well at MWR, and says his new team still has plenty of upside.
“We're not where we need to be yet,” Bowyer said. “Obviously we've got some areas to work on. You're not winning every race and until you're doing that, you can't say that, but certainly the consistency across board has been good with all three of our cars. It's been fun.”
For Martin, who is now driving for his fifth owner since the start of the 2006 season, 2012 so far has been big fun as well.
“It's really, really a lot of fun whenever you can perform up to your expectations or exceed. That's good times,” said Martin. “For me, I felt like we were going to have to work for a good while to be able to enjoy the kind of success that we are seeing right now. They are very good stuff, very good cars, very competitive and the teamwork is really fantastic there.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.