[media-credit name=”Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Michael Waltrip Racing said over the last year they’ve changed everything but the kitchen sink in their organization. After all, the company has struggled so bad at times, a do over looked needed.
Sunday in Bristol driver Martin Truex Jr. led the charge of the three MWR drivers, as they continue reward the company for their efforts.
On a mission was the No. 56 NAPA team, looking for more of the success they had at the short track last fall when they finished second to Brad Keselowski. Starting the Food City 500 from the 15th position they quickly found a comfortable spot in the top 10 and went to work keeping the car in one piece and being around at the finish.
The New Jersey native did just that, battling in the top five with teammate Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers along the way before eventually finishing in the third position.
“It was a good day for obviously the whole company,” said the Michael Waltrip Racing driver afterwards. “Really good weekend for all of us. We’ve had good speed in our cars all weekend. I was a little bit worried coming into the race today. We weren’t exactly where we wanted to be at the end of Happy Hour.
“Chad [Johnston, crew chief] made some changes last night. We weren’t perfect throughout the day but we worked it really hard. In the middle part of the race we were off a little bit, pretty loose. Of course, at the end staying out really paid off for us. We picked up I think five spots.
“Overall just a good day for the NAPA Toyota. We were second here in the fall. Hoped to have a shot at winning today. We just fought track position too much. I felt at times we were as fast as anyone. Overall a great day, great call by Chad to stay out at the end, and good job by the team and the pit crew.”
It was a solid finish for a driver who has become known for starting strong but sputtering at the finish. Truex has led and been in contention for wins the last few seasons, only to have them slip away.
On Sunday his team was right there from start to finish, providing MWR with plenty to be happy about. Bowyer finished fourth in a trouble free race, Vickers led 125 laps and finished fifth. And according to Bowyer the company as a whole has been getting better ever since Truex started finding consistency near the end of 2011.
But like many around the garage MWR wasn’t immune to making changes. From hiring new drivers, crew chiefs and changing personnel, Scott Miller left Richard Childress Racing in September to be the new executive vice president of competition.
Johnston joined the 56 team midway through 2011 as well, and Truex said it took him time to build his own confidence and to learn what Truex liked and didn’t liked in the cars.
Then came the hiring of Mark Martin to drive a limited schedule in the No. 55. That move was a boost to not only that team, but the company as a whole said Truex. It gave them more confidence and a swagger to have a driver of Martin’s stature say that he liked what he saw.
“He went to Phoenix and Daytona and Vegas, all three places he was very happy and very complimentary of the team and the direction they were heading,” said Truex of Martin.
“I think that gives the team a lot of confidence, that’s something he definitely brought. Just his experience … he can get in anything and go fast. When he says you got good racecars, he gives your team good direction, good direction to head in when they’re not great. He’s definitely brought a lot to the team.”
Whether it’s Martin’s influence or the changes made to the 56 team, perhaps both, it has Truex leading the MWR charge. He sits fourth in points heading into California next weekend and he’s looking better than ever to snap his winless streak.
It’s a long way from last year when it seemed the team couldn’t do anything right. The luck wasn’t there, the speed wasn’t enough and anything that Truex could get caught up in, he did.
Now the correct pieces have been put in place with new parts and equipment finally heading to the racetrack and making a difference.
“We started building some new cars, TRD [Toyota Racing Development] was giving us a lot of input,” Truex said of all the changes. “Toyota had a lot of influence on the direction we headed. Really kind of started from scratch almost.
“There was a while there last year where we were building new stuff. It felt like we were going to the racetrack without using any of our new stuff because it wasn’t ready yet. It kind of took a while to get everything put in place to make sure that it was going to be good. Once we started bringing new cars out, Scott coming onboard, it’s just been a constant evolution throughout the middle of last year and towards the end of the year we started having good runs, having consistently.”
The work hasn’t stopped for MWR and as the season goes on, it probably won’t. Truex and Bowyer could put MWR in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time and all the MWR drivers want to be the first to put the company back in victory lane since July of 2010.
“We just got a good organization right now, a good bunch of people,” said Truex. “We got three cars that seem to go to the racetrack and run really well each week. We’re able to feed off each other. We really showed that today, all running up front at different parts of the day. All season our cars have been strong.
“Across the board it’s been a lot of hard work and dedication by the team. In the end, all the people doing the jobs the best they can do and things have been working out for us.”