Michael Waltrip is on the verge of something special this season.
There has been no other time in my memory that a car owner has pulled off using three drivers for a single car during a season, especially with the success that the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 car has had so far in 2012.
Before the 2012 season began, MWR announced wholesale changes in the company, including releasing David Reutimann from his ride with the team and adding a brand new third car, which turned out to be Clint Bowyer in the No. 15. The void left by Reutimann was not immediately filled, perhaps because Waltrip was plotting out his master plan for the No. 55 car that has burst into one of the most competitive cars every weekend this season, no matter who is in the driver’s seat.
Waltrip eventually announced that Mark Martin was going to take over the No. 55 in the 2012 season, but only for 25 races because Martin didn’t have the desire to run a full season. Waltrip then said that he would drive the No. 55 in five races (the four restrictor plate races and his home track of Kentucky) and said that a driver to be named would fill in the last six races available. It didn’t take long though for Waltrip to announce that Brian Vickers was to fill in the remaining races after he was dropped from his ride at Red Bull Racing because the team shut down.
Between Martin, Waltrip, and Vickers, that’s about the most stout driver combo you’ll ever see for a car. A car having three drivers though leads to the question of if it’s possible to keep the car consistent week in and week out for a full season, especially with a team that has a lot to prove. Since 2007 when MWR became a full-time operation, success has been hard to find, only capturing two wins in that time, both from Reutimann.
It was hard to envision the success that has occurred this season for Waltrip’s whole team, specifically the No. 55 car. But Waltrip may have thought out and executed one of the most brilliant moves an owner has ever had.
For starters, he went out and got a future Hall of Famer in Martin to drive for his team that is still learning and growing as an organization. Martin was the leader that Waltrip had been so desperately searching for and this signing brought a sense of stability to MWR because Martin is a guy who can win any given weekend. Waltrip was also accommodating of Martin, not pushing him to drive more races than he wanted to and that was the key point Martin wanted in a deal with whoever he was going to sign with in 2012. Martin has already scored two poles in the No. 55 this season to go along with four top-10’s.
Secondly, Waltrip played to his own strengths through the races he chose to drive this season. Waltrip has always been a great all-around driver, being able race competitively at nearly every track. But Waltrip has always had a penchant for the restrictor plate tracks, those being Daytona and Talladega. He has scored all four of his career wins on these two tracks, including two Daytona 500’s. So with this move, Waltrip gave himself the best shot to put the No. 55 car in victory lane. And you can’t blame the guy for wanting to race at his home track in Kentucky, so that’s why he threw that one in the schedule for himself too. Waltrip did lead laps in the No. 55 at Talladega this past April.
Lastly, Waltrip went out and got a driver to fill the remaining races who would give everything he had to prove he still belonged in the top tier of NASCAR, that man being Brian Vickers. Vickers was stripped of a Sprint Cup ride at the end of 2011 when his Red Bull Racing team closed down. Waltrip brought him in and it has already paid dividends with Vickers scoring two top-5’s in his first three of eight (originally six) races for MWR in 2012. Rumor has it right now too that Vickers could be auditioning for a potential fourth car that Waltrip could start in 2013.
Waltrip put together the best combination of experience in Martin, and youth in Vickers along with his own talent to create a car that it among the fastest every weekend. Heck, if one driver was just driving that car, they’d certainly be in the top-10 in points, of course, the No. 55 is in the top-10 in owners points. Now it might be a stretch, but if Vickers, Martin, and Waltrip can win a few races this year, we could see driver and car owner champions for the first time in who knows when. Either way, Waltrip has managed to do something no other owner has ever done by using three drivers so successfully, and that’s something he can be proud of.