NASCAR Charlotte Media Tour Tuesday Notebook


(NASCAR Wire Service)

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

Clint Bowyer during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo: Bob Leverone/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clint Bowyer during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo: Bob Leverone/Getty Images for NASCAR)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Clint Bowyer didn’t mince words.

“There’s no reason to sugar-coat it — we sucked,” Bowyer said Tuesday with the no-nonsense frankness that has endeared him to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series fans.

True enough, Michael Waltrip Racing’s performance as an organization was substandard in 2014. MWR failed to win a race last year and didn’t put a driver into the expanded field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Bowyer hasn’t won a Cup event since the Chase race at Charlotte in 2012, and the absence from Victory Lane has exacted an emotional toll on the ebullient driver.

“It was hard,” Bowyer told the NASCAR Wire Service at the Charlotte Convention Center during MWR’s appearance at the Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR Media Tour. “The worst thing I could ever be scared of is just to become irrelevant, and I was rapidly approaching that.

“I haven’t won in two years, and this is a big year for me. I need to prove myself, and I need to prove our race team. We’ve got to get back to those winning ways and running up front.”

The subpar performance of the No. 15 Toyota wasn’t for lack of trying. Bowyer felt he and crew chief Brian Pattie got everything they could have out of the equipment they had.

“This organization can do it,” Bowyer said. “We’ve proved that. We’ve had some setbacks… My team, my direct team, I really believe all year long last year, they got the most out of what they had. All year long last year, out of that car that unloaded out of the box, they did a great job of getting the most speed out of that race car they possibly could.

“At the end of the day, it just wasn’t a good enough product coming out of the box.”

Late last season, MWR began to address the issues, and the process continued after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Team owner Michael Waltrip says there is now a palpable difference in the atmosphere at the race shop.

“Scott Miller, our competition director, just looked internally at a couple of his departments and had to figure out a way to make them more interactive with the other parts of the building, the other pieces of the process,” Waltrip said. “So we made some changes internally with a couple of people, and we immediately felt the results of those moves.

“It just feels different. It truly does. People are more energetic. There’s more meetings between the fabricators and the engineers, the crew chiefs. Everybody’s working really hard and close together. We just are starting to set up our first 2015 cars, and we’ve got a really good feeling of where they’re at, aerodynamically and structurally.”


With Brian Vickers sidelined from the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota for the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the season while recovering from heart surgery, owner Michael Waltrip will once again exhibit his restrictor-plate racing prowess in the Daytona 500 (Sunday, Feb. 22 at 1 p.m. ET on FOX).

A two-time winner of the Great American Race, Waltrip won the event for the first time in 2001, taking the checkered flag seconds after his car owner at the time, Dale Earnhardt Sr., suffered a fatal last-lap crash.

If there is ambivalence in Waltrip’s memories of Daytona International Speedway, his anticipation for this year’s season opener is undiminished.

“It really hit home three or four days ago,” Waltrip said. “They said, ‘We’ve got your seat in the car. Come down and check it out.’ Just to get to the car and see the crew guys come over and say, ‘How is it? We’re so happy you’re driving our car…’ That’s amazing.

“I’m obviously down to my last couple of Daytona 500s, if not THE last one, and to be able to have that energy and to have those boys be happy that I was climbing in their car, it reminded me of back in 2001 when I went to drive for Dale, how good that felt. And I had that same feeling.

“Obviously, I think Daytona probably means more to me than most, the ups and downs. Just as a kid in Kentucky, going there for the first time and seeing that track and how much it meant to me, I felt like that kid again the other day when I was sitting in that car, and all the crew guys were there to help me get fitted in and ready to go.”


Brian Vickers was on the way to a photo shoot for sponsor Aaron’s in mid-December when a pain in his chest told him that a hospital was a more appropriate destination.

Vickers underwent open-heart surgery to remove an artificial patch between the two upper chambers of his heart and to replace it with tissue from the sac that surrounds the heart.

In six weeks, Vickers has gone from intensive care to medical clearance to drive the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in the third race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Sidelined twice by blood clots before the most recent episode, Vickers now believes the heart issue is behind him.

“I feel like it is, and the doctors feel like it is, or I wouldn’t be going back racing,” Vickers said Tuesday. “But I learned long ago that I have no idea what tomorrow holds. And that’s not just for me, right? That’s for anybody. Carpe diem, right? Seize the day. Live today. Live for the moment…

“Am I concerned about tomorrow? No. But I also have a very good understanding that I have no idea what tomorrow brings. One day at a time.”

After the Daytona 500, where team owner Michael Waltrip will drive the No. 55, Brett Moffitt will get behind the wheel for his Sprint Cup debut at Atlanta. The following week, Vickers will return to the car in Las Vegas, a timetable that still has teammate Clint Bowyer shaking his head.

After seeing Vickers at the MWR Christmas party two weeks after the surgery, Bowyer would have given odds that Vickers wouldn’t be back in the car any time soon.

“I was really, really worried that we were going to be focused on trying to find the best replacement for Brian, instead of getting our team resurrected and back where it needs to be,” Bowyer said. “The difference that I saw in Brian, from the time he came to that Christmas party, where I was really concerned for his life…

“I mean, it was no more concern selfishly for a teammate. This guy looked like he was not going to make it. I mean, I’m not kidding. And to see him now, it’s at least a 300-percent improvement from the guy I saw a month ago. It’s unbelievable.”


In its return as a NASCAR broadcast partner for the first time since 2006, NBC Sports has assembled a formidable team as the organization ramps up for the 2015 season.

NBC’s 20-race live coverage of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing won’t start until the July 5 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, but the network’s enthusiasm for the property already has reached critical mass.

Kyle Petty, who appears on the network’s studio show with Marty Snider and newly hired Dale Jarrett, has spent considerable time at the NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.

“The whole building is abuzz, and there was a buzz building all last year,” Petty said. “It didn’t make any difference whether you’re in the cafeteria, whether you’re in the make-up room, whether you’re out in the studio.

“Everyone was following NASCAR, trying to learn as much as they could, trying to get up to date on it. That’s the exciting part for me.”

The new additions to the NBC Sports broadcast booth are doing exactly the opposite. Former driver Jeff Burton and former crew chief Steve Letarte are NASCAR experts trying to digest as much about television production as they can before going live on the air for the first time.

The two “newbies,” however, can lean on veteran play-by-play man Rick Allen as they learn the ropes.

Though NBC Sports will broadcast the second half of the Cup season, including the Chase, NBCSN will provide four hours of coverage of the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductions on Friday night.


Driver Michael Annett, formerly of Tommy Baldwin Racing, will drive a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car for HScott Motorsports in 2015, as the team expands to two full-time teams.

Annett joins Justin Allgaier on the driver roster. Steve Addington will oversee both cars as competition director while doubling as Allgaier’s crew chief on the No. 51 Chevrolet. Annett’s car number and crew chief are still to be named.

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