|Martin Truex, Jr.: On the upswing.|
All three MWR drivers made the most of a minimal pit stop strategy, repeatedly staying on the speedway to improve track position while others pitted for new tires. A harder Goodyear tire allowed all three drivers to advance to the front of the pack by staying out during the afternoon’s first caution period, and Truex and Vickers utilized the no-tire strategy again on the afternoon’s final caution with just 21 laps to go, putting them in a position to win.
Truex’s third-place finish pushed him to fourth in the championship standings, and the New Jersey native sang the praises of his team and crew chief Chad Johnston after the checkered flag fell. “We've come a long way in the last 10 or 15 races,” he said. “We've had a really consistent, really good race team (and) we've got a lot of confidence.”
|Bowyer: "A heck of a day for MWR."|
He called Johnston’s decision to bypass the final pit stop, “the call of the race. We got back up to fifth, sixth, seventh before that last caution and stayed out. I just want to thank Chad (and) everybody on the NAPA team. We’ll go to California and try to get to Victory Lane. We're getting close.”
Truex has said his team’s turnaround began in June of last season, when a decision was made to scrap most of the team’s arsenal of Toyota Camrys. “Our Competition Department laid it on the line, telling Michael Waltrip and (partner) Ron Kaufman that our cars were not up to par,” he said. “Ownership stepped up and said, ‘If building new cars is what we need to do, that’s what we’ll do.’ It’s been a steady, upward climb since then.”
A series of personnel changes have also had a major impact. Johnston joined the team in June, with former Richard Childress Racing hand Scott Miller coming aboard as Vice President of Competition in September. The team severed ties with Executive Vice President of Operations Cal Wells and Executive Vice President for Competition Steve Hallam near the end of the 2011 campaign, and brought Bowyer, Martin and veteran crew chief Brian Pattie on board during the off-season, providing a much-needed foundation of experience and stability.
Bowyer called Bristol, “a heck of a day for MWR,” adding, "these cars have been good ever since Truex was running good at the end of last year.”
|Big day Sunday for Brian Vickers|
Vickers, meanwhile, enjoyed one of the strongest days of his Sprint Cup career, leading 125 laps in his inaugural start of 2012. The former Red Bull Racing driver was the proverbial “bull in a china shop” at the end of last season, wrecking a number of cars in an ill-advised feud with Matt Kenseth that likely diminished his standing in the Cup garage. Tabbed to drive the #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine at Bristol, Martinsville and New Hampshire after Elliott Sadler declined the ride, Vickers made a strong statement Sunday, keeping his car clean from start to finish and recording the team’s third Top-10 finish (and first Top-5) in the opening four events.
“When it's your only one, you have to make it count,” said Vickers. “I can't take any of the credit… I'm just proud to be a part of MWR and get three cars in the top five. What an exciting day. Rodney Childers bolted together my first go-kart 20 years ago and… he called a great race (today). It felt really good when we were out there leading. It would have been awesome to hold onto that, but it's the first time back so I can't complain.”
Vickers also praised team-owners Waltrip and Kaufman, saying, “I don't know those two guys that well, but I can tell a lot about them by the group of people they've built and the team they've built. What an incredible organization.”