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MWR has come a long way with Toyota

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

Qualifying in NASCAR doesn’t seem to be considered that big a deal these days.

In fact, drivers have won races starting up front and starting dead last. But qualifying means everything if it’s the only way to make a race.

Michael Waltrip Racing knows about those ramifications all too well.

MWR put drivers – Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. – into the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time this season.

Yet it was only five years ago, when MWR and Toyota debuted in the Cup series, that making races was considered a victory in itself.

In MWR’s first season, then-driver David Reutimann failed to qualify for eight Cup races, Dale Jarrett missed 12 races and team owner Michael Waltrip missed 19.

By April of his first season as an owner, Waltrip was losing money and in search of investors.

“We probably appreciate (winning) more than anybody ever could because we know how close we were to just not being around anymore – just six months after our start,” Waltrip said.

It’s a much different storyline this season.

After the first 29 races of 2012, MWR drivers have earned two wins, 20 top-five, 47 top-10 finishes and five poles. MWR already has more top-five finishes in 2012 than the organization had in the previous five seasons combined (16).

Qualifying for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. Thursday.

To say MWR has traveled a difficult road to where it is today with Bowyer and Truex both still in the hunt for the Cup series title would be an understatement.

Yet of the three organizations that debuted with Toyota in the Cup series in 2007 – Bill Davis Racing and Red Bull Racing were the others – MWR is the only one still in operation.

“It’s just amazing what Michael Waltrip Racing has accomplished. It’s almost unbelievable and it’s all about having the right people,” said Lee White, president of Toyota Racing Development.

“Michael put together a team in 2007 and we at TRD were a bunch of rookies building motors with a vision of what we wanted to create.

“I don’t think none of us really understood the uphill battle we were facing.”

Waltrip took on investor Rob Kauffman that first season and over the years has gradually made progress. Reutimann won the organization’s first two races – at Charlotte in 2009 and Chicagoland in 2010.

In the past year and a half, MWR has added a new competition director (Scott Miller), extended the contract of Truex and added new drivers Bowyer, Mark Martin and Brian Vickers.

While MWR has always been able to battle some of NASCAR’s elite teams on the marketing and business end, it was performance where it came up short.

Not anymore.

“It was barely a year ago when things began to move on the performance end,” White said. “We saw a dramatic change last year during the Chase when Martin Truex was up front leading races.

“Now through in Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin and all the people changes, it’s just time for MWR to shine.”

While only a recent addition to MWR himself, Bowyer said he can already tell what the on-track success means to longtime employees.

“When you go to the shop there are so many people that are excited. They are like, ‘Thank you,’ and I’m like, ‘No, thank you man, you’re the reason and your hard work is the reason that we’re here.’

“I just walked into a wonderful situation and it’s really a lot of fun to be a part of it.”

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