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Last season Michael Waltrip and team co-owner Rob Kauffmann worked with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing to see what was amiss in the MWR program.
"We found our cars were off. Our drivers were not wrong in the things they said they were feeling," Ty Norris said. "We needed to go to work." Norris, Executive Vice President of Business Development and General Manager for Michael Waltrip Racing has been a part of Waltrip's racing career since the DEI days. Norris served as executive vice president of DEI during Waltrip's tenure at DEI and jumped at the chance to help him guide his own successful Sprint Cup team.
Investing millions into the team, Waltrip and Kauffmann spared no expense to get the organization where it needed to be - competitive. Not only did MWR focus on their equipment and mechanical processes, but they also invested in the right people for the task at hand.
Last summer the team made changes in design and manufacturing. They also worked to improve their testing and aerodynamic programs. The next crucial step was acquiring Richard Childress Racing's director of competition Scott Miller to lead MWR competition.
In an interview with David Caraviello of NASCAR.com, crew chief Rodney Childers discussed the equipment changes that have occurred at MWR. "There's not hardly anything on the car that's the same. From this time ... last year to now, there's not anything on that entire car that's the same. It's really basically like starting over."
The effects of those changes was already noticeable last fall. If you remember, Martin Truex Jr. finished eighth at Texas Motor Speedway. Two weeks later, the No. 56 scored a third-place finish at Homestead, one of just three top fives for him in the entire 2011 season.
Further changes took place during the latter part of the season and into the off-season as David Reutimann and the team parted ways, making room for Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer. Veteran crew chief Rodney Childers stayed on board to work with Mark Martin, Brian Pattie joined the team to partner up with Bowyer and Truex continued to work with last season's addition, of Chad Johnston. The last piece of the puzzle came just weeks ago as Brian Vickers was tapped to fill the vacant races in the schedule for the No. 55 car. All essentials piece in the puzzle are there and now the team is making the pieces fit together.
To catch up on the recaps of each individual race head over and read the Weekly Wrap-Ups.
After focusing on MWR throughout these first six weeks I did some fact finding in support of the positive changes. Last season at this time Martin Truex Jr. was 17th in points with an average finish of 19.5. While teammates Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin were both with different teams, their 2011 rankings also were vastly different. Martin, racing with powerhouse team Hendrick Motorsports, had an average finish of 13.8 and was 10th in the points through the first six races while this season his average finish in only 4 races (due to partial schedule) is 12.2. In points he is in 25th place, but that is because he's sharing the schedule. Bowyer competed in 2011 with Richard Childress Racing but in this same six-race time span, he had an average finish of 18.3 and 16th in points compared to his current average of 12.3 and 9th.
Although only six races into the season, there is some pep in the step of the Michael Waltrip Racing drivers. Or is that a bit of the Mark Martin "swagga" special? Whatever it is, it is clearly befitting of the team. I thought to myself the other evening that since Brian Vickers has proven himself, would Michael expand to a fourth team? Your guess is as good as mine on that, but if this strong pace continues, I say go for it!