Latest Crisis Is Different For Michael Waltrip’s Team
LOUDON, N.H. – Michael Waltrip has faced difficult days before in his racing career. This time is different, though.
This time, longtime sponsor NAPA decided to break off its relationship with Michael Waltrip Racing, leaving the team facing 2014 with no primary sponsor for the No. 56 Toyota of Martin Truex Jr.
NAPA has been with Waltrip since 2001 and was on his car for both of his Daytona 500 wins as a driver. When Waltrip began his team in 2007, NAPA stepped up. And, when Waltrip retired from racing tull-time in 2010, the company began sponsoring his replacement, Truex.
They stuck with MWR through a scandal in 2007 when the team was found to have used an unapproved fuel additive in practice prior to the season-opening Daytona 500.
But the latest scandal, with NASCAR determinating that the Waltrip team had manipulated the ending of the Richmond race, where the final field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship was determined, was too much for the auto parts company, which aborted the multimillion-dollar contract that was to run through the 2015 season.
“They just felt like the events of the last 10 days had spiraled out of control a bit,” Waltrip said during a press conference Friday morning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “They felt like what we were involved with and NASCAR penalized us for was more than they were comfortable dealing with, more than they were comfortable with accepting. They worked hard to try to figure out a way to stay around.”
Waltrip said he is trying to find a new sponsor for Truex but added that the driver is free to look for another ride.
“I owe him a lot for his loyalty and his passion for our team,’’Waltrip said. “I wouldn’t hold him back from doing something he wanted to do, but I’d like him to hang around so we can attract a sponsor and keep him in our cars.”
In the aftermath of the Richmond mess, NASCAR dropped Truex from the Chase, replacing him with Ryan Newman, the driver who would have been in the field if MWR had not manipulated the finish. The team was fined $300,000, general manager Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely and MWR’s three crew chiefs were placed on probation for the rest of 2013.
In further investigating the circumstances at the end of the Richmond race, NASCAR found another instance of race manipulation and added Jeff Gordon as a 13th driver to what was supposed to be a 12-person Chase field. The sanctioning body also issued a rule banning digital radios and limiting teams to one person on the spotter stand.
Waltrip said his team will “race forward with respect and appreciation for being able to be here. We’ll start to regain trust.”
It appears the sponsors for MWR’s other two Cup drivers will remain with the team.
Aaron’s, which sponsors Brian Vickers, said it will continue it’s relationship with MWR, while Waltip said he expects 5-Hour Energy, which sponsors Clint Bowyer, to stay with the team, although the company said Thursday is is still evaluating its relationship with MWR.
Waltrip also said Friday that team co-owner Rob Kauffman, a hedge fund entrepreneur, could help fund Truex’s entry next season, if necessary.
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.com Comments