2013 Ride(s): No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
2013 Primary Sponsor(s): 5-Hour Energy (20 races), Peak Motor Oil (4 races), RK Motors (4 races), Toyota (3 races).
2013 Owner(s): Michael Waltrip, Rob Kauffman
2013 Crew Chief: Brian Pattie
2013 Final Points Standings: 7th
Stats: 36 races, 10 Top 5s, 19 Top 10s, 14.2 Avg. Start, 11.9 Avg. Finish, 2 DNFs, led 354 laps.
Best Finish: 2nd (twice) – STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville (April 7), Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond (April 27).
2013 Team Ranking: 1st out of 3.
High Point: It likely came in the spring race at Richmond where he led 113 laps and went on to what turned out to be his second and final second place finish of the season. Even though he couldn’t find Victory Lane this year, Bowyer was a regular finisher in the top 10 this past season and also had two third-place finishes. Richmond turned out to be his best track in terms of leading laps as he led 185 laps in the two races there this year.
Bowyer couldn’t find the magic that most teams need in the Chase. While he stayed consistent with four top 10 finishes in those races, his best finish in the final 10 races was a third and he had only one other appearance in the top five with a fifth in the season finale at Homestead.
Low Point: It without question came in the week after the final race of the regular-season at Richmond in what will forever be known as Spingate in NASCAR circles. Bowyer was easily in the Chase and Michael Waltrip Racing was desperately trying to get Bowyer teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase as well. But in order to do that, they needed a yellow flag, so Bowyer followed team orders and spun with seven laps to go to cause a yellow flag that directly benefitted Truex Jr. Bowyer was caught in the unenviable position of trying to explain what happened, but once the team’s radio communications became public, it was obvious what was going on. While Bowyer was docked 50 pre-Chase points, he remained in the Chase, and Truex was booted out of it. The result is that MWR lost a full-time sponsor in NAPA and while having two cars next year, will only run a partial schedule with a third car in 2014.
Summary: Bowyer finished second in the 2012 point standings and was hoping to become a legitimate contender for the title. And early in the season, it looked like Bowyer and his team would be able to meet that expectation as he had four top-five finishes in the first nine races, including two second-place finishes and looked like it would be just a matter of time before he would get a win. But that part of the equation never happened. The No. 15 needed eight more races before it could reach the top five again with a fifth-place finish at Sonoma. Bowyer went on to finish third and fourth in the next two races, but only managed a single-digit finish in just five of the final 18 races of the season.
Just how much Spingate affected Bowyer and his team’s performance late in the season will forever be an unanswered question. However, competing for the championship in NASCAR is difficult enough without distractions, so it would be hard to believe that Spingate had no effect on Bowyer and the No. 15 team. The end result involved some team members losing jobs because of NAPA’s decision to pull out as a full-time sponsor.
2014 Outlook: One bit of good news for Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing is that 5-Hour Energy decided to remain as the primary sponsor for the No. 15 car for next season. Certainly Bowyer and MWR will be looking for a bit of redemption next season in what will also be the final year of Bowyer’s and 5-Hour Energy’s contract with the organization. So it will be a key season for Bowyer and MWR with the main question of having to prove they can contend for a title and at least be in the Chase to continue to receive significant financial backing. However, if the team slips out of the Chase, and has a first half similar to its second half in 2013, then there could even more changes coming for Bowyer and at MWR after the 2014 season.
2013 Frontstretch.com Grade: B.
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