Make or break? After 2014 struggles, Michael Waltrip Racing changing how it does busines

Rob Kauffman, left, drivers Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers listen as team owner Michael Waltrip, right, addresses the media from the podium during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour at the Charlotte Convention Center on Jan. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Bob Leverone/NASCAR via Getty Images

It might be too strong to call 2015 a make-or-break year for Michael Waltrip Racing, but at the very least it’s a critical one.

Last year, the team failed to win a race and got shut out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as well, and that was bad for business.

Winning is how teams sustain success — winning races and making the Chase pays millions of dollars in NASCAR bonus and prize money, and sponsor incentives, and it’s how teams attract and retain sponsors and top employees.

So when a team comes up short in those departments, it has to re-evaluate how it does business.

During the team’s Tuesday morning slot on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom, MWR founder and co-owner Michael Waltrip said he is confident changes made over the offseason will pay dividends this year.

"Scott Miller, our competition director, just looked internally at a couple of his departments and decided — or had to figure out a way to make them more interactive with the other parts of the building, the other pieces of the process," said Waltrip. "We made some changes internally with a couple of people and we’ve immediately felt the results of those moves."

Waltrip said there’s a more positive vibe to the team this time around.

"It just feels different," he said. "It truly does. People are more energetic. There are more meetings between the fabricators and the engineers and the crew chiefs — everybody’s working really close and hard together."

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Clint Bowyer, who was runner-up in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship during his first season driving for MWR, said the team needs to step up this season.

"There’s no need to sugarcoat anything," Bowyer said. "I’m a race-car driver and have been racing a long time. Last year sucked. For all of us, it was a struggle. The first two years here were great, exceptional. Last year was a wake-up call for all of us."

One order of business is finding additional sponsorship: Waltrip said Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota still needs sponsors for eight of the 36 races on this year’s Sprint Cup schedule.

MWR’s other driver, Brian Vickers, will miss the first two races of the season as he recovers from heart surgery he had in December. But Vickers said doctors have given him a clean bill of health to return in the third race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"I’m really excited to be back," said Vickers. "I feel like I want to get in the car tomorrow. There’s something about my chest that’s not quite grown back together enough for that, unfortunately. But they tell it’s going to be great and ready for Las Vegas and I couldn’t be more excited about it — just in time for another run at the championship. And that’s important to us."

Of course, this time of year, every team owner, driver and crew chief is optimistic. The proof will start to show up next month at Daytona.