There is no doubt that with the year Brad Keselowski put together on his way to his first-ever Sprint Cup championship, he would be the hands down winner for the team of the year. His Penske Racing Miller Lite team showed the rest of the series that once in the Chase, regardless of the points, it was going to compete in each of the 10 races that would eventually crown the champion.
Give Keselowski every team of the year award that is given, but when it comes to naming the organization of the year, Penske Racing fell short when compared to at least one other multi-car operation. Penske’s two-car operation had all the highs of a championship season but experienced some very rough times midway through the season when driver A.J. Allmendinger was suspended for using a banned substance. The team never did really recover. Even though Sam Hornish Jr. came in and posted some decent finishes, but he could never come close to posting the consistent finishes that Keselowski was putting up each week.
While Penske and his organization were celebrating their remarkable year, there was another organization that also had every reason to celebrate. Michael Waltrip Racing has only been competing in the series since 2007 and it has been a long, hard road for the Owensboro native. Few could forget MWR’s first race in the sport at the Daytona 500 when Waltrip’s Toyota was found to have an unapproved substance in its fuel during practice for the race.
The sanctioning body came down hard on MWR, but that was just the beginning to a horrible start for the organization as everyone that was campaigning the new Toyota that season was having a hard time just qualifying to get into the race. Eventually MWR and Toyota righted the ship and began making races, but the gap between them and the top teams in the sport wasn’t even close. It has been a struggle since that rocky start, but this season MWR’s performance was good enough that it may just have had the best year that any organization put together. MWR’s three-team operation was led by its first year driver Clint Bower who had moved over from Richard Childress Racing at the end of the 2011 season.
MWR had only won two races entering the 2012 season, but Bowyer added three more trips to victory lane to that total on his way to a second-place finish in the final Chase standings. He also posted 10 top-5 and 23 top-10 finishes to show the kind of consistency that not only put him in the Chase, but also made him a legitimate contender for the title.
Bowyer was joined in the Chase by teammate Martin Truex Jr., who finished 11th, but it was the performance by the organization’s third team that really showed the strength of MWR’s year. This team’s driving duty was divided among Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Waltrip. Martin made 24 starts and sat on the pole four times on his way to posting four top-5 and 10 top-10 finishes. Vickers had eight starts and posted a remarkable three top-5 and five top-10 finishes. Waltrip competed in four races including the two Talladega races and the three drivers combined to bring home the car in 15th place for the season.
Three cars in the top 15 is a heck of a year for any organization, but especially for one that had three new drivers in Bowyer, Martin and Vickers. All three will be back again for next season and there is no reason why the success that MWR experienced this season shouldn’t continue.