Michael Waltrip Racing: NASCAR's Most Improved Team on the Circuit

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IApril 4, 2009

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 03:  David Reutimann, driver of the #00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota, poses in victory lane after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 3, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

A year ago, Michael Waltrip Racing made the highlight reels across the States—for all the wrong reasons.

Michael McDowell, who drove the #00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry last season, made his mark in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with his horrifying, eyes-wide-shut accident in a qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway.

The car, which hit the SAFER barriers along turns one and two, sheered apart into twisted pieces of sheet metal suitable for a junkyard.

Amazingly, McDowell walked away a survivor in one the sport's testaments to its improved standards of safety. That would be the only spectacular moment for the 24-year-old hailing from Phoenix, Arizona in 2008, who was sent packing from MWR in late summer.

Since then, MWR has quietly but steadily made sweeping improvement in its performances from its middling second-year campaign.

Season three of the beleaguered organization has looked promising thus far, with longtime Waltrip driver and Zephyrhills, Floridia native David Reutimann tallying an impressive fourth place finish at Las Vegas, Nevada.

Reutimann, who has collected five top-20 finishes so far in the young NASCAR season, finds himself sitting 11th in the points standings. And that No. 00 Aaron's Toyota, you  may ask?

A year later, that very same team made the highlight shows once more, this time in Texas Motor Speedway's Victory Lane. Reutimann laid down a solid of 190.517 miles per hour to win the Coors Light Pole Award for Sunday's Samsung 500.

Meanwhile, Reutimann's boss has put together a respectable campaign, with three top-15 finishes in the first six events of 2009. One of those solid showing include a stellar seventh-place result in the rain-shortened Daytona 500.

Who's the boss, you may ask? Well, he's a two-time Daytona 500 champion and the brother of a popular NASCAR icon who now gets his kicks calling the Cup races for FOX Sports.

Michael Waltrip, NASCAR's local comedian and the sport's only driver to complete the prestigious Boston Marathon, endured a lot of criticism and scrutiny from the media for the team's poor debut season and performances that greatly humiliated the 45-year-old Owensboro, Kentucky leadfooter.

Knocked down but always one to rebound from struggles, Waltrip and his No. 55 NAPA team head into this Sunday's race in the 17th spot in the championship chase.

With those controversies and embarrassing days long behind, surely MWR does not want to carry the label of NASCAR's Most Improved Team of the Year.

However, if the Reutimann and Waltrip duo continue their consistent ways of 2009, they may also receive tickets to a ten-race showdown called the "NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship."