The 2014 Sprint Cup season could be a season of redemption for Michael Waltrip Racing.
When placed in comparison to their disastrous 2013 campaign, anything would be a measure of success as long as they could distance themselves from the humiliation of having a long-time sponsor leave the organization causing the shutting down of one team as well as the humiliation of having a Chase spot taken away from them due to allegations of cheating.
They earned two victories through the course of the season, but in the long run those two victories didn't hold meaning for the team.
Now, with the organization downsized to two full-time teams, MWR can focus on putting both Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer in the Chase. It shouldn't be too tall of an order, considering how the MWR Toyotas have progressed over the seasons from being a laughing stock to a legitimate contender.
With Brian Vickers being moved to full-time in the No. 55 Toyota, MWR can expect a team that can contend for a Chase spot easily. Since his first start with MWR in 2012, Vickers has posted a win, five top-fives and 11 top-10s in 25 starts (one of those top-10s was an eighth at Texas in April 2013 substituting for Denny Hamlin).
He's been a consistent driver with MWR and has appeared to post a better finishing average in the No. 55 than he ever did in the Hendrick cars or the Red Bull Toyotas. In his first start in the No. 55 at Bristol in March of 2012, Vickers managed to finish fifth after leading 125 laps. Two races later Vickers placed fourth at Sonoma. He didn't luck into any of his strong finishes.
Instead, Vickers did it with something he hasn't had much of in his career, and that is good equipment. Vickers found a certain strength with MWR, and it will give him the rejuvenation he needs.
Most of his strong runs have come on tracks a mile in length or shorter. Of course, that's not to say he hasn't had a few good runs, like a 10th at Atlanta in September of 2013. But that's not to say that he'll only do well on the smaller speedways. Mark Martin took the No. 55 to back-to-back top-10s in the Daytona 500 (including a third in the 2013 edition) and a second at Pocono in June 2012.
The No. 55 is a well-rounded team that can excel on the short tracks, speedways and superspeedways. Vickers has done well on all types of tracks, and with the No. 55 being a strong team there is no reason to think Vickers won't earn a Chase spot.
Whereas teammate Vickers will contend for a Chase spot, Bowyer could once again contend for a championship, especially after suffering the indignity of going winless and being the focal point of last year's Richmond scandal. But that isn't to take away from the fact that Bowyer and the No. 15 equate to a wonderful union.
To draw the conclusion that Bowyer is a championship contender one doesn't have to look further than his 2012 season, which was highlighted by three wins and a runner-up points finish at season's end. As a matter of fact, if it wasn't for his dust-up with Jeff Gordon in the penultimate race at Phoenix there stands a chance that he could have been in the hunt for the championship until the last lap at Homestead.
In 2013, Bowyer could very well have contended for the title had the Richmond incident not transpired. Instead, with the weight of what amounted to one of the strongest scandals in NASCAR history, there was no way for Bowyer to recover his shattered season. The end of the 2013 season portrayed MWR as a group of pariahs.
Yet with the beginning of a new season just days away Bowyer and the No. 15 crew can now take a refreshed approach to their Chase chances. The No. 15 is one of the strongest Toyotas in the Sprint Cup garage, and it could very well be one of the biggest threats to Jimmie Johnson's reign as champion.
The Organization's 2014 Chances
With the re-instatement of MWR Executive Manager of Business Ty Norris following a four-month suspension due to his role in the Richmond scandal (although his spotting duties are now over), the inclusion of Jeff Burton in an R&D role, and a reduced work load in 2014, look for the MWR Toyotas to be consistently at the front on a weekly basis.
Both Toyotas have shown that they could keep pace with the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas time and time again, and they will win multiple races in 2014. With that being said, 2014 is shaping up to be one of the best seasons in recent memory for this young organization.
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