In six years with Richard Childress Racing, the only Sprint Cup team he’s ever known Clint Bowyer has quietly racked up a set of statistics to be proud of. During that span, he’s got more Chase bids (three) than Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin and 2012 Hendrick signee Kasey Kahne. His four victories rank second in the RCR stable during that time period, to Kevin Harvick and he’s never ended a year lower than 17th in points.
Let’s compare that to Michael Waltrip Racing for a minute. The team, in partnership with Toyota since 2007 has zero Chase appearances, just two victories (both by David Reutimann) and has struggled with consistency, the hallmark of Bowyer’s Cup career throughout its existence. So why did the 32-year-old choose MWR when he had, at the very least, two top-caliber teams (RCR and Richard Petty Motorsports) interested in his driving abilities?
“I see a young, aggressive team, a great backing with Toyota behind them in a down market,” said Bowyer on why he chose the No. 15 car, a new, third MWR program being created just for him and 20-race sponsor 5-Hour Energy. “I see a young, energetic sponsor in the same boat. Both of them are pushing forward. They’re spending. And I see this as an opportunity to catch up. There’s no question MWR has done a great job with marketing for their sponsors and keeping sponsors better than anyone in the garage area. I see their performance improving week in and week out. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to prove myself to everybody.”
Indeed, Aaron’s has been with the organization since the team’s humble beginnings and NAPA has been a longtime sponsor of Waltrip’s throughout a majority of his career. Even with limited success, these companies find the wily, articulate Waltrip and his race team attractive and have stuck with them through the best and the worst of times. Making the money work with their other drivers, Bowyer should have no worries filling out the 16 races where 5-Hour Energy will be a major associate instead of on the hood.
That’s a testament to an owner whose unique brand of marketing has worked for decades. Speaking of Waltrip, he and Bowyer haven’t always gotten along well in the past. One of the most infamous quotes between the two drivers came during a race at Bristol Motor Speedway a few years ago, where Bowyer referred to Waltrip as, “The worst driver in NASCAR.”
However, it was obvious during the press conference that there is no longer any bad blood between the two. Waltrip even joked about the incident, stopping mid-sentence and asking, “Did you mean the worst driver _ever_, or just in this era?”
Past tiffs aside, though, both Bowyer and Waltrip have an eye on the future, with Waltrip promising that all three cars will be competitive next season.
“Having drivers like Clint, David, and Martin, we’re poised [to make the Chase],” said Waltrip. “We’re on the edge of being able to go accomplish that. Our cars are solid here. Clint outran them both, which is cool, but our cars are right up near the top of the scoring pylon (in practice) and we feel like that will be something you’ll see a whole lot of in 2012.”
I’ll be honest. Prior to the announcement, I thought Bowyer was out of his mind to choose MWR. Afterwards … Ok, I admit it, I still think he’s crazy. But _he_ is confident about the future, and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it? What’s different about Bowyer is that he’s thinking long-term. Both MWR’s ability to keep sponsors and their continued experience and improvement in the series was enough to convince Bowyer they will be a huge factor in this sport in the coming years. It certainly makes sense, although he might have to endure a few seasons of struggle before the team finally reaches their full potential.
Regardless, Bowyer, Waltrip, and even Executive Vice President of Business Development Ty Norris were all smiles while making the announcement and unveiling the new racecar, a promising start to a new venture inside a fairly new race team.
If Bowyer is able to jump into this deal headfirst and be successful, I say all the more power to him. I highly doubt that happens, but maybe Bowyer’s talent and knowledge will do a world of good for the organization that currently flies under the radar on most weekends.
It may not have been the best decision in _my_ mind, but to Bowyer it was the right choice. And that’s enough for me.
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