SB Nation's offseason look at NASCAR's top teams continues today with Michael Waltrip Racing, where the team is building off its best season to date and is out to prove that 2012 was just the start of things to come.
2012 In The Rearview
In just about every facet, 2012 was a successful season for Michael Waltrip Racing as the three-car team finally shed its underachiever label.
The breakout year was highlighted by Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr., both of whom made the Chase -- a first for MWR. And a further indicator of the kind of year it was for the organization, Bowyer's three victories were one more than MWR had in the previous five seasons combined.
Additionally, despite a timeshare among three different drivers, the team's third car finished in the top 10 on 15 occasions, and was close several times to scoring a win.
2013 Driver Lineup
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota); Mark Martin/Brian Vickers/Michael Waltrip (No. 55 Aaron's Toyota); Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 Napa Toyota)
One year ago MWR was in the midst of a massive overhaul as the team brought in two new drivers, a crew chief and a new competition director. Twelve months later coming off a successful season there is no need for any such turnover, as all key personnel will be returning to the same roles they had in 2012.
Biggest Offseason Question
While 2012 may have been a banner year for MWR, in no way does that mean there isn't room for improvement. Primarily, as much speed as the team had throughout the year only one of the team's three cars went to Victory Lane, and all three wins were of the fuel mileage variety and not because the team had the fastest car on a given day.
Every effort this offseason needs to be on ensuring that the team maintains that same level and doesn't find itself taking a step back. This applies most to Bowyer and the No. 15 team, who in their first season together, surprised everyone by finishing second to Brad Keselowski in the championship and, as such, will be dealing with the runner-up curse which has plagued many a driver and has resulted in a noticeable dip in performance the year after.
It took longer than expected, but it appears that MWR is here to stay and should be a player for years to come.
Not only does the team employ a trio of talented wheelmen in Bowyer, Truex and Martin, but it also employs two underrated crew chiefs in Brian Pattie and Rodney Childers. And the consolidation that Toyota did last offseason in its engine department produced not only powerful motors, but engines that got excellent fuel mileage.
Now, all MWR has to do is show that 2012 wasn't a fluke and prove that it was merely the building block to something even greater.