JOLIET, Ill. — Last weekend it was a win for Clint Bowyer. On Friday, it was the announcement of a new sponsor.
Today, the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship will begin — for the first time with a driver from Michael Waltrip Racing.
Two, in fact.
"It seems like ever since I made this change over to Michael Waltrip, it's almost daily that there's more good news around the corner," Bowyer said.
Five years after an atrocious showing for Toyota in the manufacturer's first season in NASCAR's top series, MWR has had an impressive season. Bowyer and Martin Truex are both in the Chase, which starts at Chicagoland Speedway.
This is quite a step for a team that had four top-five finishes all of last year.
"We just have a great core group of folks that embrace the team atmosphere, just love working at MWR," Waltrip said after Bowyer's victory last weekend at Richmond. "That's probably the thing I'm most thankful for, is the fact that everybody gets along, everybody wants each other to do good."
MWR launched in 2007, but Waltrip became embroiled in a cheating scandal at the season-opening Daytona 500 and quickly ran out of money. Rob Kauffman, an investment fund manager and racing fan, bought into the organization and pumped in cash, and Joe Gibbs Racing defected from Chevrolet to Toyota at the end of that year. When ties to Chevrolet were officially over, J.D. Gibbs visited with every Toyota team to offer support, including technical advice.
MWR's commitment at the Cup level really increased last season. The organization expanded to three cars by hiring Bowyer for 2012, and he's come through with two victories and six top-five showings. Truex also has six top-fives this year.
Bowyer owns two of MWR's four Sprint Cup wins — David Reutimann of Zephyrhills brought the team its first two victories, one in 2009 and one in '10.
"Michael really put everything he had into it, made the full commitment right out of the box," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was teammates with Waltrip at Dale Earnhardt Inc. when Waltrip won his two Daytona 500s. "They did struggle. Now he's able to enjoy all the efforts and the sacrifices he made."
Friday, Waltrip and Bowyer announced a deal with PEAK Motor Oil for partial sponsorship from 2013-15. That only added to the loose atmosphere surrounding the team.
Bowyer's attitude seems to personify the team.
"There was this one time he said I was the worst driver in NASCAR. That showed a lot of personality," Waltrip joked. "It's genuine. That's most important."
Bowyer has five top-10 runs in six starts at Chicagoland, and now he'll have a chance to start the Chase on the right note there.
"I hope I haven't changed any. I'm running better than I ever have, and when you run better, you're seen more," Bowyer said. "I've always kind of enjoyed being under the radar, enjoying this sport and having fun with my guys and my team, the organization around you and your sponsors. I've never worked with an organization that does a better job of networking with their sponsors."