By Eric Mauk: Everything changed when the checkered flag waved over Clint Bowyer at the end of Sunday’s race, while Brian Vickers came home in fourth, marking the best two-car finish in the history of the team.
A member of one of NASCAR’s most fabled racing families and with more than 1,200 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts as a driver and an owner, the road course at Sonoma was probably the least likely place for Michael Waltrip to have his best day as a team owner.
Throw in the fact that Clint Bowyer is in his first season with MWR and that Brian Vickers was running just his third race with the team, and you could rightfully assume that Waltrip’s expectations weren’t sky high.
That all changed when the checkered flag waved over the #15 Toyota Camry of Clint Bowyer at the end of Sunday’s race, as MWR scored its third-ever win while Vickers came home in fourth, marking the best two-car finish in the history of the team.
"This place just reminds me on how mightily Michael Waltrip Racing struggled when we started back in 2007,”Waltrip said. “We came here and put Terry Labonte in my car just so we could be sure of making the race. Talked to Robby Gordon about driving for us and that was just five short years ago that we were here and wondering what our future was like and how we were going to survive. We probably appreciate this more than anybody ever could, because we know how close we were to just not being around any more, just six months out of our start.”
Bowyer dominated in the 5-hour Energy machine, leading a race-high 71 of 112 laps to claim his first win of the year. Vickers chased Kurt Busch to the flag in the RK Motors Toyota to finish fourth, marking his second-consecutive top-five run for MWR. Despite the fact that Bowyer ran up front all day, he had to sweat out a green-white-checkered restart to seal the victory, with Busch and Tony Stewart breathing down his neck.
We probably appreciate this more than anybody ever could, because we know how close we were to just not being around any more, just six months out of our start.
“I knew Kurt (Busch) really had a good car early and I started to get away from him but I knew there were some guys out there that took tires and I looked in the mirror and the old grizzly himself, Tony (Stewart), was one of them, and he was in third place. I knew it was going to be a tall order,” Bowyer recalled. “You know you have to keep two champions of this sport behind you and you know you have no business leading this damn thing. And, man, I'll tell you, there's a lot of unknowns about the rest of it. But just unbelievable, to have a great car, I knew when we went to VIR and tested, this thing was pretty fast.”
Bowyer was equal to the task as he rolled away from eventual runner-up Stewart to take the victory while Vickers fought off the advances of five-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson to snare the fourth spot.
If two top-fives doesn't do it, then I don't know what will,” Vickers laughed when asked if this was an audition for a full-time ride in 2013. “Everyone at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) is putting great cars on the race track. Rodney (Childers, crew chief) has done a great job. All the guys have done a great job. They've all made it possible for me to take the RK Motors car and put it in the top-five."
The team-best result will likely have effects that last longer than this week as Bowyer vaulted into seventh in the championship standings with the win, putting him two spots ahead of teammate Martin Truex. Both are currently holding berths in the Chase For The Championship, with just 10 races left before the Chase begins.