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Martin may be old in racing circles, but he’s the new kid at Waltrip

jutter@charlotteobserver.com

In many ways, Mark Martin – even at age 53 – is still the new kid on the block at Michael Waltrip Racing.

Just as MWR is still in its infancy compared to organizations like Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, Martin is just in his first season driving for team owner Michael Waltrip.

It appears, though, he couldn’t have picked a better time to arrive.

MWR is fielding consistently fast cars week to week for Martin, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.

Although it hasn’t registered any wins yet this season, MWR has two drivers in the Top 11 in the series standings. Truex is second, just 15 points behind leader Greg Biffle, and Bowyer is 11th.

Martin isn’t running a full schedule but has also run well with three top-10 finishes in six starts.

“It’s a really exciting time for Clint (Bowyer) and myself to be there. I try to acknowledge Martin Truex Jr. who has been there and suffered through the growing pains of that organization and help get it where it is when we got to come on board,” Martin said.

“They’ve been working on and strengthening the organization and they were starting to see some fruit -- actually have made progress along the way but have started to see fruit toward the end of last year.

“Everything seems like it’s clicking right now. It’s really, really a lot of fun whenever you can perform up to your expectations or exceed them – that’s good times.”

Being part of the turnaround in performance has made Martin’s move to MWR that much more enjoyable.

He is no stranger to new organizations:Team owner Jack Roush was just getting his own operation off the ground when Martin joined him in 1988.

“Well, my first year with Jack Roush, we were building a team together from the ground up, and that was quite some time ago when it wasn’t as easy or there wasn’t nearly the kind of assistance that you get from other teams and all,” Martin said.

“That was a whole different time and a whole different thing. Jack and I worked through an awful lot of things together through the years.”

Martin has also had stints with Ginn Racing – when he last ran a partial schedule in Cup – and then Dale Earnhardt Inc. He returned to a full-time schedule with Hendrick in 2009 until joining MWR and returning to a partial schedule this season.

Throughout his career, Martin has served as a mentor to up-and-coming drivers and also provided a wealth of information based on his vast experience to the teams he’s worked with, including MWR.

Many changes were made to help improve performance at MWR since last season, including the addition of Bowyer and Martin and new competition director Scott Miller.

All have contributed to the organization’s recent surge in success. Martin said he’s even gotten a better appreciation of Waltrip’s efforts.

“Michael (Waltrip) sees how to make it work for the sponsor better than a lot of people that I’ve been around. He really sees how to make it work for sponsors and it shows,” Martin said.

“Their organization is well sponsored and that hasn’t been done based on performance on the race track, it’s been based on how to make it work for the sponsors and their very determined to get that performance on the race track.

“They want to win and they’re very close now. It’s neat to be a part of the organization right now because they are so close.”

Is MWR on pace to become one of the elite teams in NASCAR?

“That’s a big statement, I can’t make that statement and that’s a huge statement,” Martin said. “All I can say, as of right now, they are performing on the level of the best out there, I think.”

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