Clint Bowyer entered his third season with the Michael Waltrip Racing organization looking to improve the results from the first two seasons. Bowyer posted similar results in 2013 as he did during his first season with the team in 2012. This provided Bowyer some momentum to improve on that in 2014, which didn’t quite happen.
Bowyer started the season opener at the Daytona International Speedway already in a hole. After starting the Daytona 500 from 20th, Bowyer stayed towards the middle of the field all day long. At just past the halfway point in the 200-lap race, the engine expired on the No. 15 Toyota. He then had to settle for a finish of 42nd that earned him only two points to start off the season.
Over the course of the first five races, Bowyer's best finish came at the Phoenix International Raceway of 13th. In race six and seven on the Sprint Cup schedule, Bowyer finally scored his first top-10 finishes of the year. Once the Richmond International Raceway rolled around, which is a track Bowyer has shown success at in the past, suspension issues caused the team to finish 43rd.
The next week at the Talladega Superspeedway, Bowyer backed-up a third-place finish after the disappointing run the following week. The next two weeks, which included stops at the Kansas Speedway, Bowyer’s hometrack, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway, didn’t go so well for him either as they brought home two more mid-pack finishes.
With Dover coming up, which marks the end of the first half of the season before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, Bowyer and the 5-hour Energy team needed a decent finish. They got just that after leading five laps and scoring a fourth-place finish. It wouldn’t be until the Coke-Zero 400 at the Daytona International Speedway, which were four races following Dover, that Bowyer would see another top-10 finish of ninth, With eight more races remaining until the Chase cut-off, the finishes for the Kansas native were all over the place, earning only four top-10’s. In those other four races, the 5-hour energy team brought home a 16th or worse.
Once the checkered-flag flown to end the race at Richmond to set the Chase for the Sprint Cup grid, Bowyer ended up missing the Chase by just one spot in points. By not being able to race for the title, at this point for Bowyer it was all about experimenting for the 2015 season. The last 10 races were still a struggle as Bowyer finished the season with only four top-10’s.
As for Brian Vickers, who came into his first full-time season with Michael Waltrip Racing, also got off to a slow start. Vickers came into 2014 with high-expectations after showing some solid runs, including a victory at Loudon while driving part-time with the team. Those expectations never came as the No. 55 team had an average season.
Once the season got rolling, Vickers also got off on a slow start after a 30th in the season opener at Daytona. The next stop on the calendar, which was the Phoenix International Raceway, Vickers improved his finish at Daytona by five spots. In the next two races at the Auto Club Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway, Vickers captured his first top-10 finishes of the season after overcoming bad qualifying runs.
Although, over the next three weeks, the No. 55 team continued to pull alright finishes with one of those being a fourth at the Texas Motor Speedway. In race 10, which was at the Talladega Superspeedway, Vickers pulled another fourth-place finish out of the hat to tie his best of 2014 at this point. In the 13th race of the season at Dover, marking the halfway point of the regular season, Vickers had an engine issue with just 73-laps completed. The issue took him out of the race, causing him to finish a disappointing 43rd.
With the second half of the season underway, Vickers struggled in the first four races, with his best finish of 14th at Sonoma. In race 18 at the Daytona International Speedway, he once again overcame a bad qualifying effort to bring home a second-place finish, marking his best of the season. The excitement would be brief as the next three weeks were bad for the team once again until Watkins Glen came up on the schedule. There, Vickers had a solid qualifying effort, which he improved on in the remaining 15 races, to bring home another finish of 10th. Leading into the Chase, Vickers didn’t show much speed as he took home mid-pack finishes from there.
Once the Chase for the Sprint Cup started with 10 races remaining, Vickers missed the cut by six positions in the standings. The last ten races of the year didn’t go very well for him as he earned only two top-10 finishes, with seven of these races being outside the top-15.
With 2014 being a bad year all around, It’ll be interesting to see which changes, if any, Michael Waltrip Racing will make with the No. 15 & No. 55 teams. It’s unacceptable that Bowyer, out of all the top drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, missed the Chase. I think if these teams do not make the necessary changes, then they’re going to have another 2014 season all over again.