(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Going By the Numbers: No Dancing Around Issue of Michael Waltrip Racing’s Sudden Decline

When millions of people turn on Dancing with the Stars this fall, many will be introduced to Michael Waltrip.

Those unfamiliar with him – non-NASCAR fans, mostly – will become acquainted with the part-time driver and full-time owner, some taking a liking to him due to his ebullient, lively nature. Waltrip’s personality should translate well, especially among the show’s older viewing demographic (come on, you know your non-NASCAR-savvy mom or grandmother will call you all the time to tell you how much she just thinks he’s adorable).

Perhaps Waltrip’s new fans will be moved to try out a NASCAR race, either at the track or on TV. They won’t get much of a look at him inside the car, as his schedule is reduced to just the restrictor plate races these days. But they will get some Waltrip on the race broadcasts from time to time, in addition to being able to root for his team in the Sprint Cup Series.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Struggling in 2014, Clint Bowyer and his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing team will spend the rest of the season searching for answers. After Richmond, they officially missed the Chase two years after posting a second-place finish in the point standings. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Only problem? They’ll see the shape it’s in, never see it on TV and potentially never return again.

Two years ago, Michael Waltrip Racing was one of the up-and-coming teams in the Cup garage. From its humble beginnings as a part-time organization and an ill-fated full-time expansion in 2007, one that failed miserably, the team rose to prominence as one of Toyota’s top partners and an outfit that could actually challenge for wins, not just top 20s.

In 2013, the team continued its hot streak, grabbing two wins and slotting itself into the Chase come Richmond with two cars in the No. 15 of Clint Bowyer and the No. 56 of Martin Truex, Jr.

Then came Spingate.

The 2013 fall Richmond post-race result saw Truex booted from the Chase and Bowyer docked considerable positions, penalized after team orders for the No. 15 to purposefully spin out to help the No. 56’s chances of making the postseason got revealed. Truex’s team was gutted, the fallout causing longtime sponsor Napa to depart and, eventually, the No. 56 to cut back to part-time status for the 2014 season, re-emerging as a test team partnered with underdog Jay Robinson. Truex was sent off, banished to perhaps even grayer pastures with Furniture Row Racing, even if he didn’t know it right then.

Yes, the times have certainly changed for Waltrip and his team – and after last weekend, their slump hit a higher level.

MWR enters Chicagoland Speedway without much to crow about. Neither the No. 15 of Bowyer nor the No. 55 of Brian Vickers made the Chase. Both were in contention, Bowyer barely missing out on the final wild card spot to Greg Biffle while Vickers, unfortunately was felled by faulty equipment, a summer slump that sent him too far back in the points. The Jay Robinson-aligned team rarely pops up at the track with funding – and when it’s there, the No. 66 isn’t very good.

Call it a broader issue with the woes of Toyota, which has struggled across the board, but also wonder if we’re witnessing the beginning of the end for Waltrip and co. As it currently stands, the team is on pace to have one of its worst seasons in years.

Entering Chicagoland, MWR cars have managed zero wins, seven top 5s and 18 top 10s. Suddenly, they’re back to 2011-esque levels, when the team was made up of Truex and David Reutimann, plus a part-time Waltrip. In 2011, the organization as a whole had only four top 5s and 16 top 10s, Truex carrying much of that weight.

Make no mistake – the 2014 squad has already bested those numbers and will obviously exceed them even further. But the idea that they could match 2012 or ’13, let alone the lack of Chase berths? Absolutely not, and that’s a problem.

That’s not to say it’s a totally fair comparison. In those two years, the organization had three full-time teams, two populated by the same driver all year and a third, the No. 55, filled out by Mark Martin, Waltrip, Vickers and Elliott Sadler. The more cars one has starting a race, the better chance one has to rack up some top-5 and top-10 stats, in theory.

And sure enough, that’s what they did. In 2012, MWR cars combined for three wins, 24 top 5s and 58 top 10s, with every driver pitching in to some degree. Bowyer was the class of the field, winning the three races and placing second in the standings, announcing the organization as a force to be reckoned with in NASCAR. The next year brought slightly lesser results, but they were still admirable. There were two wins, plus 22 top 5s and 44 top-10 finishes.

But after Spingate, the organization as a whole seemed changed. Even though it still had Bowyer in the Chase, the resources behind him faltered. As a whole, MWR only managed three top-5 finishes during the Chase, along with 11 top 10s. That means out of 30 chances to do so, it could only manage a top 10 just a third of the time, and most of that was due to Bowyer’s Chase performance, which was middling compared to his championship-contending peers. Keep in mind rival Jimmie Johnson has nearly won a third of the Chase races all-time.

Taking a car out of the equation this year certainly hasn’t helped matters, but in 2013, the No. 55 – the lowest on the totem pole that year and closest to the No. 66 in that it featured a cast of rotating drivers – actually contributed. Outside of Vickers’ win, the merry-go-round collected five top 5s and 10 top 10s. Compare those to this year when the No. 66 is prominently Waltrip-operated and the team is still lagging behind considerably.

That’s interesting, because one might have expected it to go differently at the beginning of the season. Losing a competitive team is never easy, but with only two fully-funded cars to worry about, there was the opinion that Waltrip could better focus resources rather than being spread out to three. It’s the same argument people give when a new team announces it’s expanding, even though its one-car operation still isn’t up to snuff – zeroing in on making one team better seems more effective than having to worry about two underperforming.

So September comes at an interesting time for Michael Waltrip. He’s about to be in millions of homes he might not otherwise reach every week as part of Dancing with the Stars, undoubtedly able to gain some new followers for his team even if he’s eliminated early. Given his Napa commercial, where he dresses up like Elvis Presley, it could honestly go either way. But at the same time, he’s presented a conundrum, with zero Chase teams, no win and a test car of sorts going nowhere.

Two years ago, things were looking up for Michael Waltrip. Now, while his showbiz career might still have legs, his racing team may not be so lucky.

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About Kevin Rutherford

Kevin Rutherford
Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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32 comments

  1. Avatar

    The race team will be fine for as long as Kaufmann wants it to be. While the results on the track have fallen off, thats not where the real money comes from. Once Toyota’s engineers catch up with Penske’s and HMS are this will be forgotten.

    • Avatar

      Agree, but they just keep on digging and digging trying to bury MWR, sheesh give it a break will ya.

    • Avatar

      No it won’t, Vickers still won’t win a race and Bowyer hasn’t won in almost 2 years now. MWR dropping in performance is due to two things, Napa sponsorship money and the loss of Rodney Childers to Kevin Harvicks number 4 team. Now that Kevin has Tony’s over the wall gang, watch for Childers & Harvick to start winning more races in the chase and Childers will most likely will be the championship crew chief. I see more trouble for MWR than I do advancement.

  2. Avatar

    Doom and gloom article, just what NascHendrick needs, whoops I mean Nascar. Better hope he comes out ok, the more teams the better and articles like this don’t help, not cool at all.

    • Avatar

      Neither do fans that are so far up a particular driver’s or owner’s arse that they can’t be objective. That is not cool either. It’s not like MWR hasn’t been dinged on some serious penalties before the spin last year. Jet fuel anyone.
      Most people find MW annoying as hell. If you don’t that’s fine but that doesn’t mean the rest our opinions aren’t valid. Articles like this aren’t supposed to be PR fluff pieces to raise the stature of NASCAR of MW.

      • Avatar

        Not just jet fuel, remember the little deal about the Roush sway bar that somehow found its way to MWR? Seems they have a problem with sportsmanship.

  3. Avatar

    Just goes to show CHEATING does not PAY in the long run

  4. Avatar

    DWTS is one of those things that sometimes I am willing to watch but I’ll skip it this year. Mikey annoys the hell out of me when he’s yammering on and on during races so when I do watch the truck races or Fox, it is with the sound off. No way I’m tuning in to some other show to see him whirl & twirl.

    • Avatar

      I can remember when I thought Mikey was an interesting person — but those day are gone !! Now I t is hard to enjoy a race when he is a commentater And flat embarrising when he is running around trying to interview people !! Did you see that horrible thing in NY
      where he was trying to tell people on the street who he was and he was going to be on DWTS !!! Talk about embarrassing ????????

  5. Avatar

    The points made about Michael Waltrip Racing’s struggles the last couple of years are accurate, except for one thing. They were struggling to find speed last year, even before “Spingate”. It’s true that they won twice, but one of those was at Sonoma, where speed is about the last thing needed (just look at how well Roush did there earlier this year for an example) and the other one was from a fuel strategy gamble at Loudon with a part-time driver. When you look at it from an overall perspective, MWR was struggling last year to find speed, even before “Spingate” happened, so perhaps their decline this year may not be such a big surprise at all. And while it’s true that going from three full-time teams down to two has hurt, from an information standpoint, their performance was already beginning to fade, even before the events at Richmond last September.

    • Avatar

      Goo point. Toyoda as a whole have been having issues the past couple of years, even JGR is almost a shadow of itself. The problem has to be with the TRD engines. MWR has been TRD since their start, but Gibbs is only a recent convert. When Gibbs manufactured their own engines they were extremely competitive. Since the switch (which I feel was forced on the by Toyoda) they just haven’t had the speed they once did.

      • Avatar

        Funny, because I seem to remember that JGR won one-third of the races in the Cup Series last year, a series-high seven by Matt Kenseth, four by Kyle Busch, and the season finale at Homestead was won by Denny Hamlin. They didn’t seem to have trouble getting speed out of those TRD engines last year. Reliability was a big problem for TRD across the board, no doubt, but the speed was there for the JGR teams (at least the #18 and #20). We must also consider the changes that were made to the car this year, which could very easily have thrown JGR off. So JGR’s behind on that, which has contributed to their overall lack of performance. But MWR was off virtually all of last year, and is even worse this year

  6. Avatar

    If Michael’s last name was Smith he would have been lucky to be driving a school bus. If I am not mistaken he holds NASCAR’s consecutive starts without a win at somewhere close to 500. So by any measure he is a loser. That a race team that he owns would be a mediocrity should be a surprise to no one given his skill set. A sad fact of life is that losers lose. If not for spingate Michael would have eventually found a way to field an also ran team.

  7. Avatar

    Michael Waltrip’s team has been fraught with integrity problems from the very first race; remember the foreign substance in the manifold. When the team has to compete on a level playing field the true talent is transparent. Hopefully he has learned that integrity and hard work are the way to real success. No shortcuts, no cheating, but work harder and be smarter than your competition.

    • Avatar

      no team in nascar has less integrity than felon(hendrick) from bribing Honda officials for extra over quota accords & getting caught, pleading to a lesser charge,then feigning leukemia to avoid jail until he could buy one of Clinton’s bogus pardons then he was suddenly cancer free.

      • Avatar

        It truly was a miracle, including Jeff Gordon after his wins, praying for Rick. It was a farce indeed..Then presto..it seems the cure worked..just an observation. I am in no way a medical doctor or a witness to the miracles at Lordes. Just saying.

  8. Avatar

    Ever notice that the smart, respected owners are working to get their race teams better. With his team being non competitive here this goofball is going off to DWTS.Something about those buffoon Waltrip brothers, they have an insatiable need for self promotion and forcing their mug in front of a camera, any camera.These two blabber mouths are a HUGE embarrassment to the sport of racing.

  9. Avatar

    For the record, Tommy Chong will also be a contestant on DWTS this season. That says a lot about the casting for the show… the bigger the buffoon, the more likely they are to get selected.

  10. Avatar

    I don’t give a damn about ” Spingate”. Especially considering the uphill battle these teams face with Nascar/Hendrick and those mysterious yellow flags. Talk about manipulation!

    Frankly I’m surprised Toyota is still in Nascar. Something tells me that when Nascar does an inspection, they look just a little bit harder at those Fords and Toyota’s than when looking at the 48 or 88.

  11. Avatar

    let us remember that the first year this team was with Toyota, carrying the banner for the first year the manufacturer was in racing, how Michael Waltrip’s car was found to have some type of fuel additive, in a very simplistic attempt to circumvent the rules? I also remember him saying he would report what happened. Nothing That fact only led to what happened at Richmond last year. A goober can’t run a multi-million dollar operation. He’s a goof-ball and just plain ignorant. So his his brother.
    NASCAR wants to know what has happened to the sport, take a look at those two.
    What jokes.

  12. Avatar

    I’m still trying to figure out why Napa just didn’t go with Truex to wherever he went? I still think its bush league for leaving Truex when he had nothing to do with what happened. The funny thing is, Truex and NAPA could have gone to any team. Team owners seem to like quality drivers with full sponsorship. Hmm wonder why that is???

    But at least we won’t have to see Mikey on the truck telecasts while he’s dancing. Here’s hoping he makes it all the way to the finals.

    • Avatar

      do you really think mikey’s dancing will keep him from the truck races? dancing is monday night. other people who have done dwts have done other things during the week.

      it’s just another way to get his face on tv. I WILL NOT BE WATCHING. he’s no helio. watching a big buffon clod hop around is not going to be good.

      i’m sure bill france jr is rolling in his grave with the waltrip clown. not a way to mainstream na$car.

  13. Avatar
    BobbieJoeJimmyJackKennyDale Smith

    Looks like karma has caught up with MWR, finally.

  14. Avatar

    Great job of mentioning that MWR is co-owned by billionaire Rob Kaufman, who is the driving force of the race team alliance. The race team alliance goal is to minimize spending, have communication between the teams, and eventually force NASCAR to control costs. Rob Kaufman and Michael Waltrip are in it for the long haul, it’s trash journalism for you to say they are going out of business. Who pay’s you to write? RCR barely made it into the Chase, so if the #31 would have missed the Chase, were they going out of business.

  15. Avatar

    We all know France is trying to go Hollywood with Wrascar. What a better way than farm out hyper-poodle to DWTS. I’m surprised DW isn’t his partner. I can’t wait for Dale Jr. to be mandated for an
    appearance by Brain Farce.