By Michael Guzman (JOLIET, Ill.) — @ClintBowyer and @BrianLVickers may have missed the inaugural, win-centric Chase for the Sprint Cup, but the team’s namesake and quirky team owner Michael Waltrip (@mw55) says he isn’t worried about it.
Waltrip has plenty to worry about these days as he is set to dance in front of millions on Monday night as he makes his debut on Dancing with the Stars. The 51-year-old Kentucky native has certainly kept busy since stepping out of the NASCAR cockpit on a full-time basis in 2010, including becoming a best-selling author and driving a Ferrari in the World Endurance Championship.
The two-time Daytona 500 winner believes that his team will return to the level it had achieved prior to suffering a setback during the off-season. Even with NASCAR’s new playoff system presumably being wide open, Waltrip is glad this year played out the way it did.
“If we were in the Chase, I don’t think you’d be talking about us being champions, and that’s what the Chase is all about, being a champion.” Waltrip said on Friday. “So, we would have tiptoed into the Chase, but we know that over these next 10 weeks, we continue to improve our cars and continue to improve the engines, we can build momentum and race through these 10 races and win and be ready to be championship contenders in 2015.”
Much of MWR’s struggles have been attributed to the overall lack of power produced by Toyota Racing Development (TRD)’s engine package this year. Waltrip, though, was the first major team to feature Toyota support at the Sprint Cup level, and the team owner remains confident 2015 will see a significant rebound out of team and supplier.
“I’m so proud of Vickers and Bowyer for their constructive help towards what the engines feel like at specific points on the race track. This one has more power, well it doesn’t feel good at this RPM, it feels better at that.” Waltrip said. “We’re total partners and I wouldn’t be racing without them and we know we’re with the right manufacturer.
“We believe the will have the best engines in 2015 and beyond and we’re going to help them to continue to provide feedback so they can get there.”
The 2014 Chase may be treated as a large testing session for MWR, but the numbers have shown the team should not be counted out of victory lane contention due to a poor campaign this season. That started at Richmond last week, but Bowyer hopes the solid run will transfer to Chicago, where he has amassed seven top-10 finishes during the last eight races and ran sixth during Friday’s lone practice session.
“(Richmond) we finally executed like we needed to. Everything came together. We’ve had flashes of that throughout the year but Saturday it showed… “I’m happy with the way we performed at Richmond. That’s what this team is capable of.”
“This team has done a good job for our first year together” Vickers added. “We’re going to go out and try to win a championship next year, and there’s still 10 races left this year where we can win some races and get some top fives and top 10s. Everyone at MWR has done a really great job giving us some really great cars the last month or two, stepping up our downforce and car potential and its showing in our performance.”
Vickers may not yet be acclimated to his new team, but for Bowyer the standards and expectations are that much higher. Despite not having the yellow trim that signified he was championship eligible, he nonetheless still has the confidence of a winner and a contender.
“I wouldn’t say that we are ready to compete for a championship right now but we are going in the right direction and we will use the rest of this year to get a win and get ready for next year.”