71 days and counting until the 54th Annual Daytona 500, but Michael Waltrip Racing’s new No. 15 5-hour ENERGY team is ready to hit the track.
Earlier this week the team took to Walt Disney Speedway in Lake Buena Vista, Florida for a three day test-session to prepare for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
When Brian Pattie, Bowyer’s crew chief, scheduled the session he knew it would help with team building more than being a technical test session. NASCAR put testing rules in place years ago to keep drivers and teams from testing at tracks the series races on full time. Bowyer and the No. 15 crew have a lot to catch up on since they are a new team.
“We’ve put together people from four or five different race teams [including MWR's No. 00] to assemble this team,” Pattie said. “It’s neat, because it’s the first time I’ve ever had a chance, since I first started back at Joe Nemechek’s when I was building the Nationwide Series deal in the late ’90s — it’s the first time I could actually build a race team.
But new number, paint scheme, manufacturer and engine combination — MWR uses Toyota Racing Development engines — turned out to be irrelevant, and Bowyer was thrilled.
“When you get out of a Chevy Impala and get into a Toyota Camry rental car, they sure seem a lot different, but when you get into these race cars, with the rules package and the restraints that we have — they’re the same,” Bowyer said. “The roll cages are the same, the bodies are the same and even the engines are a lot the same any more, especially with all this EFI [electronic fuel injection] stuff in ‘em.
But the team agreed the interaction they were seeing at this test was the biggest measure of what their potential success might be.
“Obviously the communication, the engineering and their thought process and what they go about attacking certain situations is different,” Bowyer said. “That’s what you have to learn and that’s what you’re here for. We’re here to get on the same page with one another and learn as much as we can about one another and the communication back and forth.”
The car that Bowyer tested is the latest version of MWR’s new-car evolution that Martin Truex, Jr. had success with in the last couple of races of the 2011 season, including a third in the season finale Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
When asked about the test at Walt Disney Speedway, Bowyer said”It gives me a chance to get in their stuff before Daytona [testing in January and February's Speedweeks], but more importantly, it gives me a chance to get to know these guys’ names, and to get them to know me. It doesn’t matter what the track configuration is and what you can and can’t learn [from that] — what you will learn is what I say and how I say it and vice versa. I need to learn how they go about their business, their demeanor and things like that. That way you’re not caught off guard when the pressure-cooker heats up. That’s what it’s all about.”
For race fans that don’t know, Walt Disney World Speedway is a one mile tri-oval that hosted NASCAR truck races in 1997 and 1998 as well as five IndyCar races and now serves as a home to driving schools.