Owners - Michael Waltrip, Robert Kauffman and Cal Wells III
Manufacture - Toyota
Cars and Drivers
No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts
Michael Waltrip had a rough first season as a driver-owner in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup, beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500. Although Waltrip qualified for the event, his team was docked 100 owner and driver points for violating rule 12-4-A for "actions detrimental to stock car racing." Additionally, Waltrip's crew chief, Larry Hyder, and vice president of competition, Bobby Kennedy, were suspended indefinitely, with Hyder fined $100,000, and the team's primary car was confiscated by NASCAR. Watrip then named Scott Eggleston the new crew chief. The season didn't get much better with Waltrip failing to qualify for the next 11 races, resulting in Eggleston being replaced by Buddy Sisco. In all Waltrip qualified for only 14 of the 36 events and finished a forgettable 44th in the final points.
Former NASCAR champion Terry Labonte, using a past champion's provisional, drove the No. 55 car in three events, with a high finish of 30th (twice). There were a few high points in the second half of the season for Waltrip: He earned one pole and two top 10s. Hopes are high for the No. 55 team in 2008, as Waltrip will work with new crew chief Paul Andrews. Toyota's improved engine package should also be a boost for the team.
No. 00 Domino's/Burger King
David Reutimann, in his rookie season on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, paired with crew chief Frank Kerr for the 2007 season. Reutimann failed to qualify for 10 of the 36 events, finishing 39th in points with a high finish of 15th at Michigan International Speedway. The biggest problems, aside from qualifying woes, were engine failures (six) and crashes (three). In the second half of the season, they showed some improvement, qualifying for 15 of the final 18 events; Reutimann became more familiar with the tracks as the circuit made its second visits of the season; he and Kerr also became more familiar with each other.
Reutimann will begin the 2008 season in the No. 00 car before replacing the retiring Dale Jarrett in the No. 44 car in the sixth event at Martinsville Speedway. Replacing Reutimann will be Michael Waltrip Racing development driver Michael McDowell. Hopes are high for the No. 00 team in 2008, as Toyota seems to have worked out its engine woes.
No. 44 UPS
The No. 44 team began 2007 on a high note with Jarrett qualifying for the first seven races, primarily because of Jarrett's past champion provisionals, but the team struggled from there. Crew chief Matt Borland was released in early May and was replaced by Jason Burdett. Jarrett qualified for only 24 of the 36 events, finishing 41st in the final points standings. The team recorded no wins and had a high finish of 17th (at Homestead Miami Speedway) in the final event of 2007. The team was plagued by engine failures (five) and accidents (three) in 2007 but grew steadily more competitive by season's end.
Jarrett will retire from his driving duties after the fifth event and will be replaced by David Reutimann in 2008. UPS will remain the team's primary sponsor through 2008.
Equipment and Resources
Michael Waltrip Racing has undergone major changes since season's end, moving their operation from a five-building complex to one facility in Cornelius, N.C. Waltrip sold half of the team to a couple of outside investors. MWR has also undergone personnel changes during the offseason. Heading the team's engineering staff will be Eric Warren, formally of Gillett Evernham Motorsports. His staff includes a design engineer from Formula One's Team McLaren Mercedes. Other notables are general manager Ty Norris, chief financial officer Larry Johns and vice president Cal Wells. The team will also return in 2008 with three new crew chiefs: 1992 NASCAR champion Paul Andrews (with Alan Kulwicki), Ryan Pemberton (from Dale Earnhardt Inc.) and Bill Pappas of open-wheel fame (the 2000 Indy 500-winning crew chief for Juan Pablo Montoya).
Cheating allegations, engine failures and qualifying troubles (the three teams combined for only 64 of a possible 108 starts) were the themes for 2007. The team's manufacturer, sponsors and staff remain committed to compete for wins and a championship in 2008, and with the recent improvements in Toyota's engines, improvement seams certain. NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow will be in use for the entire 2008 season, which could add to the team's struggles: The three cars combined qualified for only 26 of the possible 48 opportunities in the 16 COT events. The hope is that the research and development advantages resulting from Joe Gibbs Racing's jump to Toyota will alleviate some of those concerns.
About Fred Moore
Moore has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.
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