Notebook: Big Weekend for MWR
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on March 11, 2014 | 1:44 P.M. EST
Clint Bowyer has had a slow start but Bristol could change that this weekend based on past success there. (Photo: Getty Images)
Three races into the season and Michael Waltrip Racing remains without a top-10 finish. That makes this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol critical for the organization.
The short tracks have been a boon for Michael Waltrip Racing, which has had at least one top-10 finish in the last 13 races at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. That streak dates back to late in the 2011 season. With two of the next three races at Bristol and Martinsville, this could be a time for Michael Waltrip Racing to break free of its early struggles.
So far the best finish by an MWR car has been 13th. Clint Bowyer finished there at Phoenix, and Brian Vickers placed there last week at Las Vegas.
Bristol, though, has been favorable to both drivers.
Brian Vickers has top-10 finishes in his last four Bristol starts. Last August’s race marked the first time in four Bristol races that Clint Bowyer finished outside the top 10. He led that race until spinning after contact with a lapped car.
Bowyer enters this weekend after placing 23rd at Las Vegas. He suffered damage on a restart that forced him to pit, ruining his race.
“Well, that stinks,’’ he said after the race. “My guys worked so hard and we were good all weekend.’’
NASCAR continues to study the qualifying format after some drivers have complained about having to cool engines by driving on the track as others are qualifying.
Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski, says his team will be ready if there are any changes in the coming weeks.
“I guess for myself and for our team at this point, we're just trying to be able to react to any type of change that there is and do the best job,’’ Wolfe said. “As far as the ‘2’ car over the last two weeks, there's only one instance really where we needed to go out and cool down. I think it's those guys that are right on the edge that need to make multiple runs.
“I think as we go to different tracks with different tires and things like that ... it's all going to continue to evolve. Now, the first two weeks of it, we've been at tracks where the tire, where a scuffed tire potentially has more speed than a sticker. As we get to tracks like a Texas or an Atlanta, I don't even think running a second time is an option to pick up speed. So that'll change the dynamics, as well.’’
Matt Kenseth was the biggest gainer on restarts among drivers who placed in the top 15 in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas. He gained 13 spots within a couple of laps after restarts and the start of the race. He finished 12th.
Ryan Newman (seventh) and Martin Truex Jr. (14th) each gained six spots over the course of the race’s start and the four restarts.
Kyle Busch has eight top-10 finishes in his last 11 Bristol Cup starts, including four wins. ... Matt Kenseth, who won last August’s race, has seven top-10 finishes in his last nine starts there. ... Despite winning the 2012 night race, Bristol has not been kind to Denny Hamlin. He has finished 19th or worse in six of the last eight races there. ... Kevin Harvick has one top-10 finish in his last 10 races at Bristol. ... Tony Stewart has finished on the lead lap in less than half his Bristol starts (14 of 29).