(Waltrip and Bowyer hope to team up and put together a successful Sprint Cup Series season in 2012)
The 2011 season didn’t go exactly as planned for Michael Waltrip Racing.
But by the time the final checkered flag of the year flew the duo ended up winless and Truex Jr. had himself a new crew chief while Reutimann was out of a ride.
Truex ended the year eighteenth in the final standings with three top five finishes and a pole as highlights along the way.
But it was a rough year for the New Jersey native who endured a vicious wreck in the spring Martinsville race.
Truex hit the third turn wall at full speed in his April wreck at the Virginia half-mile track and completely destroyed his NAPA Toyota. He was shaken but fortunately otherwise uninjured in the accident.
"Everything was fine and I went to let off [the brakes] to go into [turn] three and it stuck to the floor," Truex said. "At that point, there's nothing you can do. It happens so fast, there's no way you can hit the kill switch or shut the thing off. Just lock up the brakes and you are just a passenger at that point."
Although we walked away from the incident things didn’t go very well for Truex from that point on. The frustration with poor finishes and performances finally boiled over to the point of crew chief Pat Tryson being replaced by Chad Johnston in early June.
The veteran Tryson wasn’t sure why the change was made when news came of his release from the position.
"Somebody always has to be that guy," he said. "I wouldn't say I was part of the problem. As a company we aren't running well. It's a strange deal. I really can't say much."
Improvement came gradually for the 56 team as the season wore on and Truex was pleased with the progress while still disappointed with his overall season.
“I think our team has done a nice job all year as far as bringing fast race cars to the race track,” Truex said. “There have been some other things that we’ve missed on, parts failures and making mistakes and things that really hurt us in the points. But we’ve had fast cars all year long.
“For us ... it’s been a lot of what could’ve been or what might have been.”
Reutimann’s year was worse than his teammate's and ended up in the popular driver’s release. He struggled from nearly the opening green flag of the season and after winning a race in 2010 could muster only one top five finish this season.
The disastrous campaign came to a head when Reutimann was informed he would not return to the No. 00 ride next season and was dismissed from the team.
"I had no indication," said Reutimann, when informed of his fate. "They never told me my job was on the line or in jeopardy.
“It’s been an awful season for us, for sure. We haven’t run up to our expectations or our standards. But I thought I’d have a chance to make up for it. … It’s a bit of a shock. I wasn’t expecting it.”
The team has undergone a huge overhaul heading into 2012 with two new drivers as well as a change in management.
Scott Miller comes to MWR after a long career at Richard Childress Racing and slides into the Director of Competition role of the now three-car team.
“This is the highest ranking role in our competition department and we needed a person with great knowledge of our sport, experience in managing highly competitive personnel, and a vast technical background,” said team co-owner Michael Waltrip. “Scott is exactly all of those things. This is such an important hire for our organization.”
Miller’s job will be to bring Truex Jr. as well as newcomers Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin to the next level and turn MWR into an organization capable of winning races as well as competing for Chase berths.
Bowyer follows Miller from RCR and with 5-Hour Energy as the main sponsor behind the effort of the new No. 15 Toyota believes he can be an impact player in the 2012 championship hunt.
“This is a great opportunity and you can see the foundation for big things in place here,” said Bowyer. “To say I’m excited about what lies ahead is a very true statement.”
Bowyer will be teamed up with veteran crew chief Brian Pattie, who helped guide Juan Pablo Montoya into the Chase for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in 2009.
“I’ve known Brian Pattie for a long time and the thing that impresses me the most is how he calls a race and his knowledge of race cars,” Bowyer said. “We both grew up working on dirt cars and have pretty similar backgrounds. We understand each other and I think we speak the same language. I know once we get together and start working we’re going to see great results.”
Joining Truex and Bowyer for a limited schedule will be Mark Martin, who takes the wheel of Reutimann’s old ride with the Camry now sporting the No. 55. Martin’s tenure at Hendrick Motorsports came to an end this past season and he was seeking an opportunity to remain at the Cup level but on a scaled down schedule.
“I’m really excited about having an opportunity to be a part of something that I can sort of transition to, whether it’s with this organization or another organization when we get around to 2014,” Martin said of his 25-race schedule in the car. “I love this sport. I don’t want to go away. I want to be involved in this sport for a long, long time.”
Waltrip will run five additional races in the No. 55, the four restrictor plate events at Daytona and Talladega as well as the summer stop at Kentucky Speedway.
Things couldn’t have been much more disappointing for MWR in 2011 so a fresh start and shake-up was just what the team needed. The addition of Miller to run the day-to-day operations of the organization is a huge move that should bring stability to a team dearly in need of it. Truex is still the anchor and will need to carry the momentum of his final 2011 outings into the new year. Bowyer and Pattie should make a formidable pair but the chemistry of a brand new team usually takes some time to develop. Martin can still wheel a race car and his veteran presence will be a major benefit to have around. More speed and reliability from Toyota’s engine program is a necessity. Overall things look much better for MWR going forward but the team needs to find some cohesiveness quickly in order to compete with the top echelon of the series.
CHECK OUT MORE POSTS FROM OUR 2011 TEAM REVIEW/2012 PREVIEW SERIES
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