Monday, July 30, 2012

MWR Weekly Wrap-Up: Hitting the bricks and walking away with top-15 finishes

Walking away from Indianapolis, Michael Waltrip Racing can be assured of two things. One, at least one of their drivers will be in the Chase this season (if not two) and two, their team sure knows how to battle back from any issue.

Early in the race, it looked as though MWR was in for a bad day but to my surprise the team pulled out all top 20s and yes, that is an accomplishment on such a difficult track.

Credit: Michael Waltrip Racing
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 5-hour ENERGY
Started: 33rd
Finished: 15th
Points: 10th (-88) 

Clint Bowyer and the No. 15 team showed why they belong in the Chase after they battled back to a 15th-place finish in the Brickyard 400.

Starting in 33rd, Bowyer made steady gains to about 20th when contact with Juan Pablo Montoya cut down Bowyer's left front tire. As the tire went down, he spun into the infield with minor damage to the car. After repairs, Bowyer headed back onto the track in 31st position.

Thankfully there was plenty of time to work his way back up and through the remainder of the race, Bowyer steadily did just that. As the checkered flag fell, Bowyer came home 15th and dropped to 10th in points. With a 55-point cushion over 11th, the No. 15 team has six weeks to guarantee they are locked into the Chase.

“Just was racing and got on that outside -- them outsides on the restarts, you’re in no man’s land. You try to get to the bottom as quick and efficiently as possible, but the 31 (Jeff Burton) got to the inside of the 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya) and I realized that I was three-wide on the outside and tried to get out of there and just barely caught in the left-front and cut my tire down, spun out. Anytime you spin out on a track like this, you usually end up crashing in the infield. Just thankfully everything worked out and we ended up with a top 15. Not what we wanted, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse,” Bowyer said of his accident with Montoya.

Credit: Michael Waltrip Racing
Mark Martin, No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine
Started: 19th
Finished: 11th
Points: 27th (-357) and 12th in Owner Points

Welcome back Mark Martin, you were missed! Nothing against Brian Vickers or even Michael Waltrip but seeing the No. 55 without you just seems odd.

Martin returned to Indy looking for a win. He has been close before but again he'd fall short. The numbers don't lie about Martin's skill at the Brickyard: 19 races with 6 top 5s and 11 top 10s. The only thing missing is a win.

After running about 13th for much of the race, the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota came to life in the late stages and ran as high as eighth until  the final restart cost Martin positions. He was shuffled from the high groove and dropped four positions. Battling back for one of those lost spots to finish in 11th, Mark Martin posted a top-11 finish in eight consecutive races at Indianapolis. (Remember that statistic for fantasy racing next year; Mark Martin is consistently good at IMS)

"The finish is a little disappointing since we were getting up in the top-10 and then we got caught in a losing shuffle there on that last restart," Martin said on his race. "We had a solid top-five car there and I was really proud of it -- proud of our Toyota engine, it was so strong. We need to get a little bit better. We didn’t have a top-five car, but we did have a top-10 and it was a great team effort by our guys. We’ll keep working on it and try to get it a little faster. This car was good on restarts. The outside on that last restart just wasn’t the place to be. I wasn’t able to get a hole and I lost a bunch of spots."

Crew chief Rodney Childers took to Twitter after the race, saying "@55MarkMartin did a great job all day and the pitcrew was awesome like always. Found something late in the race that got it going good. (cont.) Restarts are just so tough on the outside at this place. Just in the wrong position when the caution flew. That's racing though."

Martin Truex Jr. in Turn 3.
Credit: Michael Waltrip Racing
Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS
Started: 17th
Finished: 8th
Points: 7th (-78) 

After a mid-pack start, Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota quickly moved to the front, heading into the top 10 by lap 10. Fighting a tight condition, crew chief Chad Johnston dialed in the car throughout the race and in the end, the race came down to track position on the final restart.

Truex restarted in 11th and gained several spots in some wild racing over the final laps to record the team's 10th top-10 of the season. The results moves Truex to a tie for sixth place in points and he appears destined for the Chase barring any problems in the next few weeks. Truex's last Chase appearance was back in 2007 when he was seeded 7th and finished 11th.

“To have the speed we had today was really awesome. We really fought track position -- starting 17th and then had a little bit of trouble on a couple of our stops and we lost a few spots. Every single restart, but the last one I was on the outside. It’s just so tough on the outside so the last one I got on the bottom and gained some spots. Overall, it was good. It was a good day, the guys did an awesome job. Our new TRD (Toyota Racing Development) motor was awesome -- best motor I’ve ever had so I want to thank those guys. The NAPA car was good -- we were just missing a little bit. We were a little too tight all day long and could just never fix it.”

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