By Joe Dunn
It was leaked out over a week ago, Michael Waltrip Racing would hold a press conference on July 7th with a BIG announcement. Speed TV even cleared time, pre-empting scheduled programming for this BIG story announcing Martin Truex Jr as the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Toyota for 2010. The second part of the announcement was that Michael will drive part time next year, at least five races in the 55.
Now, I have seen a few midweek team announcement get this much attention, like in May of 2007 when Dale Earnhardt Jr formally announced his signing with Hendrick Motorsports. That indeed was an event worth the live TV time, after all there were a lot of rumors, but no confirmation at all. That 2007 event also hinged on the career of NASCAR’s most popular driver. Until it was announced it was speculated that Junior would go with HMS, but the details announced that day set the future path of not only Earnhardt Jr but also his JR Motorsports.
Later, in 2007 was the BIG Budweiser announcement, on their move to the Evernham Racing team of Kasey Kahne. Kahne had been a Chase contending driver, on the rise in NASCAR and his link to Budweiser, one of the oldest sponsors in NASCAR was an event worthy of the TV time. And, in 2008, it was the announcement of 2 time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Tony Stewart signing on as a partner and driver at Haas CNC Racing, which was renamed Stewart Haas Racing. Those were all major announcements pertaining to top drivers, and neither Michael Waltrip or Martin Truex Jr qualify for that rating.
So what made the MWR announcement something so worthy of live TV? Was in the fact that Truex has a single win in the Cup series after 6 years and 135 races? Not to dismiss Martin as a driver, I have enjoyed watching him race since the first time I saw him show up at Dover with the hauler that had the ‘ Got Crabs?’ logo on it. He has won two Nationwide series championships, but that was 4 and 5 years ago. He moved to Cup as the ‘sidekick’ to Dale Earnhardt Jr. He looked his best in 2007, thanks mostly to Juniors crash and burn year with DEI.
Maybe the coverage is because Michael is a big star, nope, here is a guy that after 25 years and 742 races has registered 4 wins, all at Super Speedways and all driving for DEI when DEI was the Restrictor Plate king. So why did this announcement really get the live TV time? My only guess is that Speed, which uses Michael as a commentator for the NASCAR Camping World truck Series felt obligated to throw Mikey and NAPA ‘the bone’. After all, the fact that Truex was signing with MWR has been well known for weeks. Hey, we even knew a few days ago that Martin would be sporting the 56, the number his dad sported in 7 NASCAR Nationwide Series races between 1993 and 1998.
Will Truex be the Top Dawg at MWR in 2010? Martin’s talent truly is much better than his record shows. The equipment at DEI for the past several years was not championship quality and the Earnhardt- Childress race engines have not been setting the world afire, but that does not in itself spell championship contender in a MWR car. Look for David Reutimann to again be the ‘franchise’ driver for MWR in 2010. David may not make the Chase this year, but he is a lot closer than Michael could hope for.
My thoughts on the 2010 season for MWR, Look for Reutimann to make the Chase, Truex will come close but after a year of adjusting, 2011 will be his year. Marcus Ambrose in the 47 car should finish in the top 15 or better in 2010. And the farewell driver, Mikey in the ole 55 NAPA Toyota, look for him to be an also ran. Michael is a great pitch man, and has far exceeded everyone’s expectations as an owner, but I fear that like his brother Darrell’s farewell tour in 2000 that resulted in two top twenty finishes, 2010 will be a further embarrassment to Michael and his team.