Bowyer brings new level to MWR

Michael Waltrip Racing announced on Friday that Clint Bowyer will join its driver lineup in 2012.

After five unremarkable seasons in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, could Bowyer be the spark that ignites a fire under the organization that claims two wins since expanding to a full-time operation in 2007?

Certainly, MWR has experienced growing pains as it first partnered with Toyota as the manufacturer made its foray into NASCAR’s top tour. While Toyota has enjoyed a long history in motorsports, its early alignment that included working with a brand-new team (Red Bull), an organization moving full-time to Cup for the first time (MWR) and the fledgling Bill Davis Racing did not provide a solid foundation to build on.

With the assistance of Dale Jarrett, and his past champion’s provisional, the No. 44 MWR Toyota had some insurance in that opening season. But his pair of teammates failed to make races early on and, similar to Red Bull, dug themselves into a hole that year.

The following season, Toyota added Joe Gibbs Racing to the stable and the bar was raised. All three of JGR’s drivers — Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch — qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

To date, the closest MWR has come to making NASCAR’s postseason was David Reutimann’s 16th-place finish in the standings in 2009, the same season he earned the company’s first of two Sprint Cup wins.

The addition of Martin Truex Jr. in 2010 hasn’t electrified MWR’s results either. Since a change in crew chief from veteran Pat Tryson to engineer Chad Johnston at midseason this year, Truex has scored his only top-five finishes (two) of the season and earned his first pole in 52 races last week at Dover International Speedway.

But a rollercoaster of finishes from second place at Bristol to 35th and 30th at Daytona and Dover, respectively, have Truex Jr. 20th in the points standings — one position better than when Johnston inherited the team.

Inconsistency has plagued both teams since the organization’s inception. Certainly, adding Bowyer to the roster could be a catalyst to motivate the other programs.

Bowyer, 32, has qualified for three of the last five Chases and finished in the top five twice. While he has just four career wins, 90 of his 210 career Cup starts have produced finishes in the top 10. Certainly, Bowyer possesses the stability that both Reutimann and Truex have lacked throughout their careers.

From a performance standpoint, his current crew chief Shane Wilson feels Bowyer will be an asset.

“Hopefully, he’ll do well at MWR,” Wilson said. “They’re an upcoming organization, it’s not whether they can get to where we’re at. To me, they’re not way behind us. He’ll probably be a bigger fish in a much smaller pond there.

“He’s been good and been good with us through all this. We’re going to keep on racing hard throughout the end of the year, make it all very civilized and easy and hopefully win a race.”

MWR’s addition of Scott Miller for next season will offer Bowyer a familiar face at his new NASCAR home. Miller, who was the former competition director at Richard Childress Racing, will start his new role as executive vice president of competition in November. While MWR has enjoyed a cadre of engineers, Miller’s pragmatism will add focus and direction to the program.

Although sponsorship isn’t clear beyond the 5-hour Energy element of Bowyer’s program, which is 24 races, like the company’s namesake Michael Waltrip, the driver has an affable personality that should attract further financial support. The two should work well together.

Certainly, Bowyer brings cachet to the organization from a driver standpoint — an element that’s been missing since Jarrett’s retirement. If he can maintain his current level of performance and inspire his two teammates, the future will be bright for MWR indeed.

“I believe Clint is going to be a really good addition to Michael Waltrip Racing," Truex said. "He’s going to be very helpful and it’s going to be good to have someone of his caliber and experience join our team. He’s also very familiar with Scott Miller so that will help get us going in the offseason, too. It’s always been a goal of Michael’s to grow to a three-car organization and he has achieved that today.

"I’m happy for him. Adding Clint’s team is going to help us at the track on weekends because we really do share information between our group to make our cars faster. Hopefully, we’ll still have our technical alliance with JTG Daugherty Racing because Bobby Labonte and his team are an asset to us as well. I like David, Clint and Bobby a lot. I’m really looking forward next season because a lot of good things are happening at Michael Waltrip Racing.”