Auto Racing: Michael Waltrip in Chase at last
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org September 11, 2012 8:38PM
Martin Truex Jr. (from left), Michael Waltrip and Clint Bowyer pose with the Sprint Cup trophy on Saturday in Richmond, Va. | AP photo
Nascar race weekend
At Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet
Gates open, 11 a.m.
Sprint Cup practice, 12 p.m.
Nationwide practice, 1:40 p.m.
Final Cup practice, 3 p.m.
Final Nationwide practice,
Gates open, 9 a.m.
Sprint Cup qualifying,
Dollar General 300, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Gates open, 9 a.m.
GEICO 400, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Tickets are available by
calling (888) 629-7223
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:43PM
A third of the way into the 2007 season — his first fielding a race team on NASCAR’s top circuit — Michael Waltrip found out Michael Waltrip Racing was in big trouble. Despite having lined up major sponsors such as UPS, NAPA Auto Parts and Domino’s Pizza to fund his Sprint Cup cars, Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, was nearly broke.
“In April (general manager) Ty Norris came to me and said, ‘I talked to the accountant and by July we won’t be able to make payroll,’ ” Waltrip said Tuesday via phone from Charlotte, N.C. “We spent every dime that we raised and every dime that I had and we hadn’t even made it to May yet. The word was out that we were in trouble and our sponsors were going to bail on us.”
Fast forward five years to a rainy night in Richmond, Va. Waltrip was standing with one of his drivers, Clint Bowyer, in Victory Lane on Saturday night celebrating Bowyer’s victory in the Federated Auto Parts 400. It was Bowyer’s second win this season.
It was a more significant moment for Michael Waltrip Racing. Both MWR drivers, Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr., cemented their spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
They’re the first Waltrip Racing drivers to earn spots in the 10-race Chase, which begins Sunday at Joliet’s Chicagoland Speedway with the GEICO 400.
Truex and Bowyer, who came over from Richard Childress Racing in 2012, will be going up against drivers from more established teams, including Hendrick Motorsports, RCR, Joe Gibbs and Roush-Fenway.
“Saturday night in Richmond made (2007) even more significant for me,” Waltrip said. “We could have easily folded into one of the other teams had we not found a solution, but we did.”
MWR started out of Waltrip’s barn in 2002 when he had cars running in the Nationwide series. In 2006 Waltrip announced at Chicagoland Speedway that he was starting a three-car Cup team with Dale Jarrett, David Reutimann and himself. The big coup was not only that he snagged Jarrett but the driver’s UPS sponsorship, too.
After that promising start, things got rocky until a mutual friend came through for Waltrip.
A month after Norris told Waltrip the money was running out, a mutual friend introduced Waltrip to Robert Kauffman, who had the financial means to help MWR stay afloat. Kauffman not only helped MWR stay in business but he became close friends with Waltrip and a co-owner.
MWR got its first victory in 2009 when Reutimann won a rain-shortened race in Charlotte, N.C. Reutimann won again at Chicagoland in 2010. But that was all MWR had to show for its race team — until Saturday night in Richmond.
“We didn’t have our culture established or any experience and history to rely on,” Waltrip said. “We were making mistakes and learning and living by them. There hadn’t been any major progress with us. We just decided as the 2011 season began that we had to dig down and rely on our partnership with Toyota to build better race cars.”