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NASCAR At Bristol: Michael Waltrip Racing Has Memorable Day

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Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway may not have ended with a Michael Waltrip Racing car in Victory Lane, but with all three MWR Toyotas finishing in the top five, it was easily the high point of the organization's season – and perhaps of its young life.

The three top-five finishes were particularly impressive for a team that only had four top-fives all of last season.

"It was a good day for obviously the whole company," Martin Truex Jr. said after finishing third. "Really a good weekend for all of us. We've had good speed in our cars all weekend."

Leading the MWR charge Sunday was Brian Vickers, who wasn't even with the team when the year started and didn't have a Cup ride as recently as three weeks ago. Vickers finished fifth in what was his first start of the season.

Driving the No. 55 car which Mark Martin had occupied for the first three races of the year, Vickers worked his way up from his 25th starting position and by Lap 95 was pacing the field, leading all but 42 of the next 167 laps. All told, Vickers would lead a total of 125 laps on the day.

"This was pretty good and it felt really good when we were out there leading," Vickers said after his first top-five since last October at Talladega. "It would have been awesome to hold on to that, but it's the first time back, so I can't complain about that."

In the end, although Vickers wasn't able to keep pace with eventual winner Brad Keselowski and runnerup Matt Kenseth, it was a day where a fifth-place finish felt like a victory.

"So proud to be a part of getting all three cars in the top five," Vickers said. "Can't thank Michael Waltrip and (co-owner) Rob Kaufmann and everyone at MWR enough. I don't know those two guys that well, but I can tell a lot about them by the group of people they've built and the team they've built. What an incredible organization."

For a driver like Vickers who is seeking redemption and trying to put a difficult past couple of years behind him, there isn't a much better way to quiet one's critics than by leading laps and finishing in the top five – especially given that he's essentially auditioning for a fulltime ride, be it with MWR or another team.

"Well, when it's your only (race) you better make it count, right?" Vickers said. "But I can't take any of the credit. Wow. Just proud to be a part of MWR, with three cars in the top five."

Vickers' surprising run overshadowed the day his teammates – Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer – each turned in as two drivers finished third and fourth, respectively.

For Truex this was a continuation of what he did at Daytona and Phoenix when he finished 12th and seventh before stumbling a bit last week in Las Vegas when crossed the line in 17th. Truex is now fourth in the point standings in a tremendously important contract year.

Bowyer, in his first season with MWR since moving over from Richard Childress Racing in the offseason, has quickly adapted to his new home. In three of the four races this season, Bowyer has finished 11th or better, including a sixth-place run last weekend in Las Vegas.

"These MWR cars have been good ever since Truex was running good at the end of last year," Bowyer said. "Just real proud of everybody. Heck of a day for MWR."

The consistency exhibited by MWR through the early part of the season is a welcome change for a team which has often been defined by its lack of reliability, and more so by its lack of success. In five years, an MWR car has never made the Chase, and the team has won just two races.

"Really throughout the middle of last year, we were kind of struggling speed-wise," Truex said. "Michael and Rob really took a step back as an organization; really kind of restructured how we did things.

"In the off-season we continued to build on that. We brought in key people – Mark, Clint and (Bowyer crew chief) Brian Pattie. We just got a good organization right now, a good bunch of people. We got three cars that seem to go to the racetrack and run really well each week. We're able to feed off each other."

With Truex fourth in points and Bowyer now sitting eighth, having a MWR-owned car in the Chase is becoming a distinct possibility.

"Across the board, it's been a lot of hard work and dedication by the team," Truex said. "In the end, all the people are doing the jobs the best they can do, and things have been working out for us."