Sunday, June 24, 2012

MWR Weekly Wrap-Up: Tasting victory in wine country

Clint Bowyer raises his glass of victory wine after winning the Toyota/Save Mart
350 at Sonoma Raceway. Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Michael Waltrip Racing paced the field at Sonoma with drivers who are not road course ringers but just your "average" oval drivers. Clint Bowyer led a total of 71 laps on the path to victory during the Toyota/Save Mart 350. Together, Bowyer and teammate Martin Truex Jr. led for a combined total 86 of the 112 laps as the team looked towards all top 5 finishes. On the last lap, Truex got a flat and was relegated to a 22nd place finish.

This is Michael Waltrip Racing's third victory and first since Chicagoland Speedway in 2010.

Though Bowyer was the dominant car of the race, Kurt Busch proved why he is a NASCAR champion. Driving the unsponsored No. 51 for Phoenix Racing, Busch put the past drama aside and focused his energy on track. In the closing laps, Busch was up on the fender of Bowyer and able just to touch him but could not clear him for a pass. Just a few laps later, Busch was reporting that his tires were falling off and something had broke in his car. Although unable to claim victory, Busch stood on pit road overcome with emotions for his third place finish.

"It's an amazing day when you come this close with a small team like James Finch has, with only a third the budget of the big teams. I'm a little choked up because we were so close," Busch said in his post-race comments. 


Drivers and crew members alike were coming over to congratulate Busch on his finish, perhaps this finish will be a much needed positive push for him and the Phoenix Racing team.

Race results:

FINISHING ORDER/DRIVER
  1. Clint Bowyer
  2. Tony Stewart
  3. Kurt Busch
  4. Brian Vickers
  5. Jimmie Johnson
  6. Jeff Gordon
  7. Greg Biffle
  8. Marcos Ambrose
  9. AJ Allmendinger
  10. Joey Logano
  11. Jeff Burton
  12. Brad Keselowski
  13. Matt Kenseth
  14. Kasey Kahne
  15. Casey Mears
  16. Kevin Harvick
  17. Kyle Busch
  18. Ryan Newman
  19. Jamie McMurray
  20. Paul Menard
  21. Carl Edwards
  22. Martin Truex Jr.
  23. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  24. Bobby Labonte
  25. Scott Speed
  26. David Gilliland
  27. David Ragan
  28. Aric Almirola
  29. Boris Said
  30. Josh Wise *
  31. Landon Cassill
  32. Regan Smith
  33. J.J. Yeley
  34. Juan Montoya
  35. Denny Hamlin
  36. Travis Kvapil
  37. Dave Blaney
  38. Tomy Drissi
  39. Robby Gordon
  40. David Mayhew
  41. Stephen Leicht *
  42. Chris Cook
  43. Joe Nemechek

Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota
Start: 7th
Finish: 1st WINNER!!
Points: 7th (-67)

When Clint Bowyer moved from Richard Childress to MWR, many snickered and whispered that his career was over. Today Bowyer can raise his glass full of Napa Valley's best wine and cheer loudly that he is a winner once again.

Clint Bowyer's victory at Sonoma is his first at the both mentally and physically tasking road course, his fifth top-10 finish in seven races at the track. An interesting stat: Bowyer is the sixth consecutive first time Sprint Cup road race winner at Sonoma and the eighth consecutive different winner of the Toyota/Save Mart 350. This is Clint's first victory and ninth top-10 finish in 2012.

Bowyer's post-race press conference was full of hilarity as he was anxious to get done and go celebrate. At mid-point, he was asked his plans for the night and he replied, "I'm fixin' to drink wine, ma'am. Come down here and join me. I don't care if I leave tonight... "

Back to the serious, Bowyer addressed why the team is so good this year. "We’re working together. You know, that’s something that I’m very proud of. All these guys work together and the crew chiefs and engineering staff -- everybody at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) -- that's what it takes. All of our cars ran good today and it’s because everybody works together. I want to say "Hi" to 11-year-old Brady (Bakken) back home. Eleven-years-old with stage three Lymphoma -- hang in there buddy, we’re praying for you and this one is for you." Bowyer made sure to acknowledge Brady, who was riding shotgun with him this weekend - guiding him on this victory!

Team owner Michael Waltrip talked about the teams first win with Bowyer, "Clint told me when he joined our team, he signed his contract on a Tuesday and on Wednesday, he said, ‘Y’all do a good job off the track, but could you give me some cars I could win with?’  I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do just that.’  I’m really proud to sit here and say that Clint drove one of our cars to victory lane.  Big deal for our team."

He further joked on hiring Bowyer and Pattie, who was jobless at the time, "We're a place for refugees. Nobody wants to work for us but we had a place for these two to go." The refugee plan seems to be working well for MWR, look at Brian Vickers finish today as well."

Tweeting throughout the race, Mark Martin was cheering his teammate on with his win. "@ClintBowyer You were the man all day. I'm so proud of you and the job you did today. Awesome job by all at MWR!"

Credit: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR
Brian Vickers, No. 55 RK Motors Toyota
Start: 21st
Finish: 4th
Points: 24th (-255)

In just his third race of the season, Brian Vickers had many obstacles to overcome. Starting in 21st, making his way through the field would be a bit of a challenge when you add in the factor the last time he was in a stock car was back at the April at the Martinsville race.

Quiet on the radio for the first laps, Vickers had worked his way up to ninth when he pitted at Lap 34 for four tires and fuel telling his crew he was happy with the car. Leaving pit road, Vickers was flagged by NASCAR for too fast exiting and would have to serve a pass through penalty.  Dropping back to 20th, Vickers again would have to make his way through the field.

Able to use the skills he learned last week at Le Mans, Vickers gained track position once again and would finish in fourth. In his three finishes this year, Vickers has netted two top 5 finishes.

Asked post-race if this is his audition for a full-time ride, Vickers said, “I hope so. If two top-fives doesn’t do it, then I don’t know what will.  I can’t take all the credit.  Everyone at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) is putting great cars on the race track.  Rodney (Childers, crew chief) has done a great job.  All the guys have done a great job.  They’ve all made it possible for me to take the RK Motors car and put it in the top-five.”

Cheering on his team from home, Mark Martin Tweeted, "@BrianLVickers Man, what a race you drove today. @rchilders55 you are awesome."

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota
Start: 6th
Finish: 22nd
Points: 9th (-76)

From the drop of the green flag, Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Chad Johnston were on their own strategy. Three pit stops while most teams were opting for two would provide temporary gains of track position, overall the call seemed to be working for the No. 56 team until the dreaded G-W-C overtime.

In an incident with Toyota teammate Joey Logano, Truex suffered a flat tire which relegated him to a 22nd place finish.

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