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2013 NASCAR Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Michael Waltrip Racing
Posted by: ASkyler on Jan 23, 2013 - 05:55 PM
NASCAR News
2013 NASCAR Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Michael Waltrip Racing


CLINT BOWYER, driver, No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing How does your 2012 performance influence expectations for 2013?

"I don’t think we overachieved, because I think when you say overachieved it means you did more than you’re capable of. I just think we were beyond expectations and what people expected of us. I’m very proud of what we accomplished last year. I’ve looked forward to this year and what we have in front of us and the opportunities ahead with this new car and continue to build on what we had last year. That’s more important to me right now, is making sure we get the year started off right and the only way I know to do that is to win the Daytona 500."

Do you see momentum in racing?

"Certainly, momentum is alive in any sport and confidence is a big part of that as well. Certainly coming off the season we had -- we have both of those on our side. We just have to keep them on our side. The only thing that builds those two things is success and you have to be able to find success early to get that momentum rolling."

How do you approach the season after finishing second last year?

"Here’s the thing -- in my opinion it’s a successful year if you make that Chase and you’re part of that group. Anything can happen in 10 races. Look at Martin Truex Jr., my teammate, he had some bad luck there in a couple races and he was 11th in points. He had a top-five car. They were definitely a top-five team. That’s the Chase. Look at us, the last race we went from fourth to second and had some good fortune there. Definitely had some bad fortune the race before that, but anything can happen inside the Chase. Setting your goals appropriately and for me, that’s setting out to win races and make the Chase again and have a shot at the championship."

 

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What is it like being around someone like Mark Martin?

"You know, Mark Martin first of all is a class act. He’s a racer, he’s driven beyond belief. His focus and determination is incredible and is just a great asset for our program and to be around as an individual. I’m very, very happy that he’s my teammate. I’m very appreciative of the fact that he’s my teammate and hopefully he’s in the sport for many years to come. You see guys retiring in football this year, and some of them you can tell it was time, some of them -- look at a guy like Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta Falcons), I mean the man was still bringing every bit as much as anybody on the team to the game and I think that’s Mark Martin in a nutshell. As long as you can continue to do that, I see no reason to quit. The man is having as much fun as I think he’s ever had. You can see it on his face and his expressions. It’s fun to be alongside him."

How do you think the new car will race?

"You know, I don’t. That’s the one thing leaving the test is they drive good, they darn sure look good, but I just don’t have that sense of what they’re going to race like. Only time will tell. I don’t think anybody can tell you right now it’s going to race like this and it’s going to put this show on for our fans. A lot of anticipation on everybody as much as the driver’s part of it as a fan or anybody else in this sport."

Do you feel you’re starting fresh this season because of the new car?

"Certainly not, but it’s definitely a new year with new challenges in a big way with the new car in particular. All sorts of challenges. Everybody picks up. You know we see it every year, there’s a team that struggles one year and definitely picks the pace up the following year. I’m super excited about the year and our 5-hour ENERGY Toyota at Michael Waltrip Racing."

Do you think the new car design came at the right time in the sport?

"I think it came at a good time. I think max potential was met with the old car with a lot of teams and for our sport. I never liked the identity side of the car that we had. I thought the car that we had, the only way a fan could determine a Toyota from another brand was basically the emblem on the hood. The identity is back in the sport in a big way and I think we’re all excited about working with that."

Do you feel the new car will be competitive?

"It’s definitely competitive. On a competitive side, it’s bringing the manufacturers back into it. Our Camry is pretty mean and has some aggressive, sexy lines to it. In doing so, that’s made for a good aero platform and good situations on the race track. Everybody else is working on those same directions and trying to work those gray areas as hard as they can to find those crumbs that make up the difference."

Is there any race in the Chase you would have changed the way you raced?

"You know, the one race I wish I had back was Talladega. I think that was the one that cost us a shot at a championship. It just got us too far behind and it was frustrating because two laps before that I was leading the darn thing. That was the one race I wish I had back to keep us in the hunt. Could have, would have, should have -- it's time to put it by the wayside and look forward to working on the not so could have, would have, should haves this year."

How do you approach this season after knowing what your team is capable of?

"It’s no different. Obviously there’s a little bit more pressure on all of our cars at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). I said that last year -- nobody expected us to do anything. That’s a good way to go about your business, especially when you get inside that Chase. They’re going to expect that this year right off the bat for us and that’s going to add a little bit of pressure for all of us -- all the guys, everybody at MWR. I feel like we’re ready for it and I feel like the speeds are there in the race cars. I see no reason to have 100 percent confidence going into the season."

How have you been able to get to know Michael Waltrip over the last year?

"We all know Michael (Waltrip, co-owner) can be a little bit goofy and have a lot of fun. Everybody pretty much knows I’m that way too. The one thing I was kind of intrigued by Michael is his love for this sport. He loves racing. Certainly, I knew he was a part of this for a long time, but I guess before I thought he just enjoyed being around it and enjoyed it from what I saw, but from what I learned last year, he loves this sport and definitely lives it - this is his life."

Do you feel pressure to be better this year?

"I’ve certainly had good success in the Chase before. We finished third a few years back. It is hard to back up a great year like that. I guess the one thing I see with our team is, we’re so young. We were improving up through Homestead, the very last race of the year I saw improvement. It seems like every week there was something that caught your eye or attention that we did better, whether that was communication or qualifying -- we stepped up in a big way in the Chase. It was just several things all the way to the end of the year that we were improving on and I feel like we can continue to do so because there is room still. We certainly haven’t hit max potential with our 5-hour ENERGY Toyota or our organization with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). After the two tests that we’ve had, we’ve had good speed and I left there confident that we picked up right where we left off at the end of the year. Certainly other teams did the same thing. Time is going to tell. There’s going to be manufacturers that picked up more so than the other manufacturer and some are going to be behind, some are going to be ahead of schedule. The only thing that’s going to be able to tell any of that is time."

MARK MARTIN, driver, No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing How do you feel about the new car?

"This is not a dramatic change from what we had. In most ways, it’s subtle improvements all around until it gets to the aesthetics, and then that is -- I would say -- a huge improvement. Aesthetically, it’s a big change. Mechanically, it’s a nice improvement, a nice evolution of what we were doing, so operationally it’s not that huge. We went to the race track and we picked up where we left off at the end of last year and I saw most, pretty much everyone do that. Now, as we get acquainted with the rules, we’ll figure out ways to move forward with the speed of the cars in -- different groups will figure those things out and eventually everybody catches up, but there’s opportunity to gain an advantage through probably I would say more the rules changes than the car change. You relate to the rules changes, but I’m just saying no rear sway bar -- well, that equates to a different setup. I had a rear bar setup that I really, really loved and really worked good for me. Now I don’t have a rear bar, but we still ran equally, fairly as well against competition. But, as we develop along and we find that setup that I really, really love -- something that matches how much I love our rear bar setup -- then we’ll gain a little."

Are you surprised how similar it is to the previous generation of vehicle?

"No, I felt that the biggest change was the aesthetics. The appearance of the car is the biggest change and it’s a huge improvement -- manufacturer identity -- but the basic mechanical stuff of the car is relatively close. They did some things to take some skew -- to keep the cars from running as crooked -- and they gave us something else to compensate for that, so at the end of the day it was not going to be dramatically different. It’s not reinventing the wheel. It’s not like going from the ’79 big cars down to the notchback cars -- that was dramatic -- and going from the car to the COT. That was a dramatic change. This was a subtle improvement in everything except the aesthetics."

MARK MARTIN, driver, No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing (continued) How difficult is it to adjust the new car?

"Right now, we’re slightly limited with some of the rules and it’s easier for Rodney (Childers, crew chief) to answer that than me, but I do know because Rodney and I have discussed, so I understand with the track bar, panhard bar rule the way it is it may be more difficult to adjust the car. Also, I really am concerned about the front ride height rule -- there’s only an eighth inch of tolerance up or down, only a quarter inch window. That concerns me. I hope that we don’t see problems with that because you’re not going to be able to do much adjusting as far as wedge goes in the race and not get out of whack on that -- that’s just so tiny and you’ve got such small springs in the front that they’re very easy to not return to height. Air pressure is going to be big and we’re going to have to learn. We’ve learned and learned and evolved and we’ll have to learn and evolve this car on how we adjust it during the race and hopefully be able to maintain."

What do you like best about the new cars?

"The best thing about the car is the manufacturers’ identity is so much stronger. It is a really cool looking race car and they look like Camrys and they look like the Camry you can get at a dealership, with of course a lot of muscle thrown on them. That’s probably the best thing. There are subtle changes about the car that are improvements from a handling, from a speed, from a safety standpoint -- all those are more subtle. It’s a good looking race car."

Do you plan to drive the No. 55 Camry in 2014?

"I don’t expect to be in it. That’s not my goal. My goal is to see Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and the 55 car race for a championship driver-wise, as well as owner. This year, we’ll do everything that we can to try to win races and perform, but I want to help Rodney achieve his ultimate goal, which is to be a champion crew chief."

Where does that leave you for the 2014 season?

"I’ve really felt comfortable at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) -- very, very comfortable. It’s such a great working atmosphere, so I might -- I’ll still be around. I just don’t know. No need in worrying about what’s next. What’s next is my 25 races that we’ve got on board this year and having fun and being a part of the organization and hopefully continue to get stronger and build a stronger organization."

Would another successful season solidify MWR as a top-tier NASCAR team?

"Without question it would solidify them. This year will judge whether you really get your position up there with the very top teams in the sport -- owners and teams. If we’re able to come back and do what we were able to do last year or more than I think we’ll be seriously considered like the Roush and the Hendricks -- the very top teams."

Do you think MWR will repeat the successes of 2012?

"I think it’s possible. I mean, I think that we didn’t luck into what we did last year. I think that Scott Miller (executive vice president of competition) and I both we’re like, ‘Is this really happening?’ We know. We’ve been part of tremendous organizations -- he with RCR (Richard Childress Racing), for example, and me with Roush (Fenway Racing). When we went through years that we didn’t perform on that level and we had everything that it takes to do it, but it’s just really, really hard. There’s so much competition and so many smart people out there, but yeah, certainly we can do it. The thing is that there’s just not a lot of turnover. There hasn’t been hardly any turnover in the organization from last year and I know people like working there and maybe the other organizations haven’t tried as hard as they may in the future to raid the camp. That’s always a problem -- was always a problem when I was at Roush was you’d have a good year and you’d lose those people to other top teams because they would just work so hard at recruiting them and that hasn’t happened so far. I think a good, great working atmosphere is a big part of that. Everybody loves what they’re doing."

Are you in the best physical shape of your life?

"That’s hard to say. I really enjoy the training I’m doing. I lifted for 25 years in a similar way and since I got with the strength guys, they have me lifting in a whole different manner with a whole different science behind it and it’s been really amazing and to see any change or any progress for me is huge. I want to hold short on saying I’m in the best shape of my life -- I want to hold short of that because when I was 30 years old I was probably in pretty good shape, but I’m feeling better than I ever have about where I am and obviously I’m another year older than I was a year ago, but I’m really enjoying what I’m doing right now and I’m really enthused and really excited about what we’re working on at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing)."

Are you setting any personal bests with your current workout?

"No, not right now. We may get to that. It’s a lot more tempo training than it is the stuff -- I hit a lot of personal records back in the summer, but that training was geared straight at lifting more weight. This is maybe long term getting to that, but it’s tempo training which is slow. Let’s just say a squat, a normal squat is about one second down, one second up. A lot of this stuff is four seconds down, two seconds up, so instead of squatting 185 (pounds) for eight reps, I’m at 145. So, the numbers don’t look impressive, but you have to look at the tempos of what I’m doing right now. Not all of it is tempo. Some of it is - it’s still not trying to set so many personal records. I’m getting stronger and I started at 140 and now I’m at 145 and hopefully next week I’ll be at 150 for those at that tempo, but they keep changing. Now, the next phase -- each phase last four weeks -- so the next phase may be completely different, but it’s different, it’s different body parts. The last phase I had I did legs three times a week. For 25 years, I did legs once a week. It’s not quite as much volume each time, but it’s doing it more often. They’ve just changed a lot of things up and I’ve actually managed to gain five pounds, which ever since I injured my back in the mid ‘90s I’ve continually lost weight by maybe a pound a year forever, for 10, 12, 13 pounds over the total course of time, so the fact that I’ve managed to gain five pounds in three months is amazing. So, I’m kind of digging that, I’m into that. I’m going to keep it going. I’m still wearing the same pants and still in the same belt, although my waist has gotten a little bigger -- it’s still hooked at the same place. That tells me that I’ve been able to put some muscle on."

MARTIN TRUEX JR., driver, No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing What made the difference with your team last year?

"Really, it was the end of 2011 that got it started. We built new cars, we did a lot of things differently, had momentum going into the off-season, felt good and had a good direction going into 2012. I told a lot of people last year -- or last winter -- that we were going to be somebody that could go out and run strong each and every week and I felt like we could go out and make the Chase, and we were able to do that. It started in 2011 for sure, but it was mostly a direction of the team. The direction that the team was going in because of our leadership, because of Michael (Waltrip, co-owner) and Rob’s (Kauffman, co-owner) commitment to put our team where it was last year. And, that commitment obviously is to keep going in that directly and hopefully we’ll be able to do it this year."

How does Michael Waltrip Racing work with its sponsors?

"It’s quite a bit different. The difference is at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) they are all in truly. They work for their sponsor. They don’t find a sponsor and put it on their car and say, ‘Here’s what you get. You get the car and it costs you this much.’ They go above and beyond. They really truly form a partnership and try to help that sponsor not only get what they want out of the race car, but try to make them feel like part of the sport -- be part of the team -- and truly try to elevate -- in the case of NAPA, try to elevate their position in what they do and not only what we do."

How much of MWR’s success should be credited to Michael Waltrip?

"I would say he (Michael Waltrip, co-owner) has a different approach I think. With him having Rob Kauffman (co-owner), it allows him to do a lot more and a lot of things differently than maybe he would have. He’s not so focused today -- in 2007 he was focused on keeping the team alive and where he was going to find money and this and that. I think today he can put more of his efforts into other things. Certainly, the way he has always treated his sponsors and things definitely has rolled over to the team. Taking care of those folks is definitely one of our first priorities."

How do you find the balance of being more aggressive to win races?

"It’s difficult. That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think that’s something we have to find. It’s something that is going to take us some time. I think there were opportunities for us to take chances to maybe roll the dice a little bit that looking back on would’ve worked out. It’s something you just have to have confidence in. You have to have confidence in yourself. We’ve seen what Clint (Bowyer) -- he was able to win two races on fuel mileage. The fact of the matter is we could’ve done the same thing. We were running right with him both of those times. You just need to have that confidence, you need to have that experience and that’s something that Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and I have worked on together as far as race strategy and talking to each other. And, talking each other not out of doing things and into doing things and really just letting it happen natural. So, it’s something that we just honestly, it’s going to take us a little bit of time to get that confidence up."

How much pride does it give you to have been such a big part of Michael Waltrip Racing’s turnaround? "I was a part of it. I wouldn’t say I did it. We all did it together. There was a lot of people that worked hard to get to where we were and I was just a small part of that. Last year was fun. It was so much fun to work with those guys -- with Clint (Bowyer) and Mark (Martin) and Brian (Vickers). The camaraderie was just great. It made me a better driver. It’s made me look at things differently and I can honestly say I learned more last year in one season than I probably have in the last four or five years combined. Just about how to be more a part of the team, how to be smarter, how to look at things a little differently and kind of step back. So, I just had a blast working with those guys and it was fun to be able to get the results we were looking for."

Is the team dynamic at Michael Waltrip Racing different than other race teams you’ve been with? "At DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) we were one team working here, one team working down the hill. You tried to help each other if you could, but sometimes you had to deal with egos or people wanting to do their own thing and it just wasn’t connected. We truly are one team with three cars. We’re not three teams. We’re one team with three cars. We have guys that work in the shop on my car and go on the road and work on the 55 and vice versa. It’s just a good thing."

How was the test last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway?

"Testing went very well at both Daytona and Charlotte. We’re very pleased with how we rolled our Gen6 cars out of the shop and we’re pleased with the efforts of the guys over the winter in the off-season. I know it’s been short and they’ve been busy building cars, but they’ve done a good job and we feel good about where we stand. I think that we’re kind of right where we want to be. As Mark (Martin) said up there, I felt like we had good speed at the end of the year and we rolled out the new cars with very good speed again, so that’s a good thing for us."

How much difference do you notice between the older cars and the new car?

"There’s quite a bit. Daytona not so much, but at Charlotte with the new aero package the cars have a ton of downforce. They’re very, very fast speeds. Obviously, the weather was cool so that kind of throws a little bit of an extra thing in there where it’s definitely an advantage for grip and it’s going to make the cars feel better and make them fast. But, the speeds that we saw there were pretty impressive and we’re talking qualifying speeds in race trim. The car drives great and obviously a really good looking car. We all really like it and I think it’s going to be good. Have to wait and see what kind of racing we put on with it."

What type of goals do you set at this point in your career?

"You always want to do better. Obviously, last year was a good year for us. There were opportunities for us to make it a great year. We didn’t take advantage of those and we need to this year. My goals are to get back in the Chase again and do better than we did last year, and obviously get back to victory lane. I’m tired of talking about it -- I’m tired of thinking about it. We were so close last year. We just need to catch a break and hopefully we’ll be able to do that this year."

What has Mark Martin brought to Michael Waltrip Racing?

"You can’t put a price on it. It’s just something you don’t get. It’s something I’ve never seen before in my career. I’ve never had another driver bring so much to the table -- been so much fun to work with, so easy to work with, so willing to help. It’s priceless. He’s (Mark Martin) obviously been doing this a long time and I’m not sure how much longer he’s going to drive. I can tell you, as long as he wants a car to drive I’m pretty sure that the folks at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) will give it to him."

How can you build on the success you had last year?

"I think that you just try to -- obviously there’s a big opportunity here with the new car, the Generation 6 car and I think that we have to look to our strengths and try to get an advantage and figure this car out maybe quicker or more efficiently than some other guys. I think there’s going to be opportunities early in the season to jump on some things to really get a foot out front and hopefully get the results out of that. I think just working the way we have over the past year and a half. Working as a group to try to come up with solutions to problems and try to figure this thing out quicker than everybody else."

What is the outlook for Michael Waltrip Racing this season?

"I think we’re in a good place with being able to keep the whole team intact -- the whole group together. The enthusiasm and the commitment is more than ever. So, I think that bodes well for us. I think that we’ll be able to put together some good race cars again to start the season and who knows. I think this group -- there's nothing we can’t do and it’s just going to take hard work and dedication to make sure we get there."

How do you carry over the success from last season?

"That’s a good question and certainly there’s thoughts of that. What did we learn last time around fixing our cars that we can apply to this? I think a big key to this is Toyota Racing Development. They’re so involved in what we do -- building our cars, building our engines. The engineering side of TRD was a big part of what transformed our competition side and made our cars better. So, we’re using the same process to build the new cars that we did a year and a half ago to build new race cars that we could make as competitive as what we were last year. Hopefully, that recipe will work again."

BRIAN VICKERS, driver, No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing What do you think of Michael Waltrip as a team owner?

"I think he’s (Michael Waltrip, co-owner) done a great job. Michael took a huge leap of faith, but I’m glad he took it because he’s built a great home for a lot of people in the sport. The partnership between him and Rob (Kauffman, co-owner) are perfect really. Those two guys together make a great team. They bring completely different things to the table, but both are needed. I think they built a great staff -- from (Scott) Miller (executive vice president of competition) to Ty Norris (executive vice president of business development and general manager) -- I could go down a long list of folks at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) that really make that place what it is. It obviously always starts from the top and it comes from both of them."

Will you be at a disadvantage with the new car running a limited NSCS schedule?

"I don’t think so. I don’t think in the long run -- I’ve been racing at all these tracks for a decade and they don’t change that much in a year. I’m going to be on all the tracks in the Nationwide Series this year. I’m going to be in the Gen6 car some -- probably going to test it more as well. I don’t think that the differences between the old car to the new car are so great that only running it nine times versus 30 times is going to matter."

What has it been like working with Rodney Childers?

"It’s been great and he (Rodney Childers, crew chief) is an integral component to the team’s performance and the organization’s performance and my performance. Clearly all the guys -- not just him, but all that flows down from the top and he’s done a phenomenal job. I’ve known Rodney for 20-plus years and he was the guy that got me into go-karts so working with him again has been a pleasure on two fronts. One, he builds really good cars and two, we have a great relationship."

How do you think the economy will impact NASCAR in 2013?

"It’s hard to say as far as the broader economy -- that’s really up to a lot of folks -- the job creators and obviously, what comes out of Washington D.C. From the perspective of our sport, I think we’re putting as good or better of a product on the race track as we’ve ever put on the race track. I think that NASCAR is doing as good or better of a job as far as media, social media, reaching the fans. I know this year they’re doing some upgrades to the facilities. Everything on the NASCAR front is going in the right direction that should lead to better fan attendance, higher TV ratings. Obviously, the broader economy is going to affect that -- do people have money to go take a vacation and go to the race track for a few days? I think there’s a lot of people out there who want to because the racing is phenomenal, but it’s hard to say whether they can or not. It’s probably geographical as well. I’m sure every region, every race track is going to have a different feel."

What is it like to have a chance to win all the races you are in this season?

"That’s the reason I’m here. That’s the reason I wanted to stay, the reason I came here and the reason I wanted to come back was that even though I’m not running that many, I feel like when I show up at the race track for those nine races that I have a shot to win. I know a lot of full time guys that cannot say that for even one race, much less nine. I feel confident with this crew and this team and this organization and this manufacturer that when I get to the race track that I have a shot to win."

What is the silver lining for you over the last several years?

"I would say starting with the fact that I’m here -- the silver lining is I’m alive. That’s always a plus. That all those events led me to where I’m at right now. Quite honestly, I’m very happy where I’m at right now. Very happy where I’m at with my life personally, professionally -- being at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing), I feel like I’ve really found a home here. I feel like I’m splitting my time between two families now -- I found a great home at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) as well. A lot of it leads back to be honest with you, to Toyota. The decisions I made this year to stay with Toyota led me to these two teams, which these two teams also led me to Toyota. It’s kind of a loop or a never-ending loop. A lot of that came from decisions that I made that I may not have made otherwise or decisions that I didn’t make that were completely out of my control, but because of all the bad things that happened in my life led me to this point. That’s one thing that I’m very thankful for -- I’ve grown and changed a lot as a person and I think everyone does as they age, but especially when you go through traumatic events in your life. Your perspective on life changes. I think when I’m at the race track, I’m probably as engaged or more engaged than I’ve ever been in my whole, entire life. At the same time, when I’m not at the race track I’m probably more disengaged than I’ve ever been and I think it allows me to balance my life in a way that I’ve never had. I think it keeps me from being burned out. It keeps me from falling into a lot of pitfalls that I think it’s easy to fall into in our sport. Our season is so long and so in depth that you kind of get sucked into it. You do that for so many years and you see a lot of guys just get burned out. I think the experiences that I’ve gone through created balance in my life that is a very healthy balance and when I show up at the race track I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I enjoy the team I’m with. I enjoy the people I’m around. I just enjoy racing and I think I appreciate it more than I ever have."

What will it be like running full time in Nationwide and part time in Sprint Cup?

"It’s going to be a different year. It’s going to be just like it used to be. It’s actually going to be like going back 10 years. The only other time in my career that I ran full time in Nationwide was in 2003 and then raced part time in Cup and ran five or six races. It’s going way back. Compared to last year it’s going to be very different. Last year was an amazing year and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I got to race a great car for eight races with Mark (Martin) and Michael (Waltrip) and everyone here at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) and Toyota. Then I got to travel all through Europe and around the world racing sports cars and I loved it. This year, it’s back to NASCAR and back to full time again and I’m looking forward to it."

Do you expect to run full time in Cup next season?

"I don’t know what’s next and even if I did, that doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to happen. I’ve figured that out the hard way. My focus is on 2013. I will definitely tell you that unequivocally, I’m proud and happy to be a part of the Toyota family and stay a part of the Toyota family. I feel like they (Toyota) feel the same way. They played an integral role in keeping me here and making all of this work and making all of this happen for 2013. I see no reason to change it from my perspective for 2014. How it looks exactly -- we don’t know yet."

Were you pleased with your results last year?

"Pleased, but not satisfied. I would have loved to have won one of those races and we came very close. Obviously, very pleased with the results and how it all worked out considering it was part time. Personally, it was a phenomenal year. I got to race all over the world. I got to run some races that some of my peers would dream about running. They may never get that chance because they’ll spend their whole career here. I came back so it’s clearly a good place to be -- I love NASCAR, but to have the opportunity to run those races all around the world was great and I would love to do it again one day. Not any time soon -- I still want to win a Sprint Cup championship, but I would love to go back."

MICHAEL WALTRIP, owner, Michael Waltrip Racing Do you expect the No. 55 Camry to have a full time driver in 2014?

"Me and Mark (Martin) are partners -- we’re the two old guys. If we could figure out somehow for Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and those boys to race a full time car and Mark and I could run a few races in some way or another then we’d certainly entertain that idea. I love the way he became engaged at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) in 2012 and just encourage him to continue to be a part of the 55 team even if he and I aren’t driving in 2014. Maybe we can be supportive of their future driver and he can help mentor whoever that might be. He can mentor them on the track because he’s proven to be a Hall of Famer at that and I’ll help mentor them with the sponsorship services that we like to see at MWR."

Were you surprised by the success of the No. 15 team?

"I was just amazed at Brian Pattie’s (No. 15 crew chief) ability to run a race. To help Clint Bowyer go win races -- he really was a master strategist. He understood when to get gas and when to get two tires and so you put a guy behind the wheel like Clint Bowyer, who showed up in NASCAR and you could tell that he could drive a car better than most and then you give him a guy that’s a bit of a risk taker and a call maker and put him on the pit box like Brian Pattie and you couple all that with the support that Scott Miller (competition director) and the boys that build the cars and do the engineering at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) -- they were a really fun combination to watch. I’m just looking forward to watching them go again in 2013. I don’t want to call it reckless style, but just risk-taking attitude that Brian and Clint have as they approach racing. When someone says, ‘If the leader pits, pit,’ then you come out behind the leader, but they were the kind of people that if the leader pits then they didn’t pit and I thought that was fun."

Will the momentum from 2012 help for the 2013 season?

"I think there’s a lot to be said about momentum and it’s a different year for sure because we have a new car we’re dealing with. During 2012, we were able to not only have success on the track, but we accomplished a lot of things off the track that helped build our foundation and our structure for 2013. We’ve pushed in even closer with Joe Gibbs Racing and sharing information with those guys and working on projects together with those guys. We pushed in harder with Toyota Racing Development pushing for more projects to understand how the cars work and engineering projects with Andy Graves (Toyota NSCS program manager), and those guys have been so much support for us. In 2012, we gained a better relationship with Toyota. We gained a better relationship with Gibbs and it doesn’t matter what kind of car you race in 2013, those types of relationships and partnerships and commitments to each other will make those cars faster."

What are your predictions for 2013?

"We’d like to do one spot better than we did last year -- that would be awesome. It would be cool to have two bullets up there in the fight to have a couple of them racing for the championship. Our goals or our internal goals are to win more races than we did in 2012 and put two cars in the Chase. Those aren’t really predictions -- those are just goals that we have set. I think they are realistic goals and we look forward to the chance -- it would be cool to see the 55 be one of those cars too because of the different driver line-up."

Does the new car level the playing field?

"It un-levels the playing field so the smarter you are, the more assets and the more resources you have when something comes down the road new, the better chances you have of being more successful. We think we have the smartest people in the garage working on our cars and we think that we will be able to take advantage of the new car as well as anyone."

Does the team feel more pressure to perform this year?

"I just think that we’re more determined, we have more desire because we tasted success and we tasted what it was like -- we headed to Phoenix with a feeling of, ‘We have a chance to win this championship.’ That was a great feeling and then we also got to leave Phoenix saying, ‘We don’t have a chance to win this championship anymore.’ Just to be able to taste that and feel that and be legitimately in it -- I think it just gave us more desire and gave us more determination to go out and do it again this year."


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