Waltrip aims higher after 2012

Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013

Michael Waltrip Racing enjoyed its most successful Sprint Cup Series season during 2012.

Yet with all the trials and tribulations the organization has been through since its debut in 2007, the hardest work might remain ahead.

That’s maintaining the success it enjoyed and building upon it.

“It’s a challenge and we all know that. Everybody at MWR has been in the sport a while and they know how it works,” Mark Martin said Tuesday on Day 2 of the Sprint NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We were extremely thrilled with what we were able to do last year. We’re realistic. We know to come back and repeat the kind of level of competition we put out there is a huge challenge for us and to step it up is an even bigger challenge.”

Martin, entering his 31st season in the Cup series, also knows first-hand what accomplishing that goal can do for MWR.

“This season will judge whether you get your position in there with the very top teams in the sport,” Martin said. “I think we’d be seriously considered like the Roush and Hendrick – one of the very top teams.”

Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 team enjoyed the most 2012 success. He won a career-high three races and finished a career-best second in the standings, 39 points behind Brad Keselowski.

Martin Truex Jr. failed to win last year but joined Bowyer in the Chase and finished 11th in points.

Martin, Brian Vickers and team owner Michael Waltrip shared time in the No. 55 Toyota and were in position to win several races.

Waltrip said the next step doesn’t sound difficult on paper.

“We have to win more races than we did last year,” he said. “To have two cars competing for the championship (like in 2012), that’s pretty much all you can ask for.

“It’s very competitive. At both the Daytona and Charlotte tests, our team appeared to be on the same plane with the best.”

It has been a long road to get there.

In MWR’s first Cup season, David Reutimann failed to qualify for eight races, Dale Jarrett missed 12 races and Waltrip missed 19. By April of his first season as an owner, Waltrip was losing money and in search of investors.

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

Over the past two seasons, MWR has added a competition director (Scott Miller), extended the contract of Truex and added drivers Bowyer, Martin and Vickers.

Waltrip isn’t ready to pronounce MWR as “one of the best” but said if you compared the organization in 2012 to everything previous, “we’ve definitely arrived.”

“I think people appreciated the commitment and determination and sacrifices that I made in NASCAR, but now it’s different,” he said.

“It seems like we’re more respected. I don’t think if we just bounced in and had a 2012-type season right off the bat you’d get that type of respect.

“We worked really hard to enjoy some success in 2012.”