Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Michael Waltrip Racing has been on a roll in 2012 and car owner Michael Waltrip hopes to keep that going. On Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway the MWR NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner announced contract extensions with Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 56 Toyota for the organization, and the car’s primary sponsor, NAPA.
“Obviously, our cars are performing well,” Waltrip said during a press conference at the track on Friday. “Our commitment to partner with Toyota and work closely with Joe Gibbs Racing as well has elevated our game.”
It's been an awesome road. It's been a lot of fun to be a part of.
In addition to Truex’s No. 56, MWR also fields a No. 15 Toyota driven by Clint Bowyer and a No. 55 Toyota that is shared by Waltrip, Mark Martin and Brian Vickers.
This season has been the best year in Sprint Cup Racing for MWR. Both full-time drivers find themselves in the top-10 of the championship drivers standings, with Truex fifth in points and Bowyer in sixth. The team has also made its way to victory lane this year, with Bowyer claiming victory on the road course in Sonoma, Calif., earlier this season.
Aside from team owner Waltrip, Truex is the senior driver at Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer, Vickers and Martin each joined the organization at the end of 2011, but Truex has been part of the MWR stable since 2010. He left Earnhardt Ganassi Racing at the end of 2009.
Truex is still winless since joining Waltrip’s team, with his only win at the Sprint Cup level coming at Dover (Del.) International Speedway back in 2007. But he’s optimistic about the direction in which the organization is going.
“It's been an awesome road,” Truex said of his time, so far, at MWR. “It's been a lot of fun to be a part of. It's been a lot of work, a lot of ups and downs, but Michael and I got together last year at Texas in April and he said, 'Look, we're going to get our cars better, but I need you to help me.' Ever since, we've been on an awesome road to improvement. With those guys integrating me into the team and giving me some say and making me feel like I'm part of something has probably been one of the coolest and proudest moments of my life.”
As a matter-of-fact, after some growing pains, his No. 56 team is there.
"We're right there,” Truex said. “We've been close; we've been capable of winning races all year long. We just haven't finished the deal. We've run second a bunch of times and we've had the car to beat two or three races and we didn't do everything right. It takes a lot of things to go your way to win a race. On the days where we've had the fastest car out there, we didn't have the cautions go our way or maybe pit strategy or the way the cycles went, but we've had the speed and we've got the team that's capable of doing it for sure. For now, it's just a matter of getting that first one out of the way and quit worrying about it and go after a bunch of them.”
The first race post-announcement for Truex and the No. 56 team comes Sunday night when the Sprint Cup Series takes the green flag for the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta. It’ll be the first of only two races remaining before the 12-driver field is set for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Truex has a shot of locking himself into the Chase on Sunday, due to his position in points. It would mark his first year in the Chase.