Truex Victim Of Scandal Fallout
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Martin Truex Jr. is not part of the “reorganization” announced by Michael Waltrip Racing for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, as the team continues to deal with the fallout from a cheating scandal preceding the current Chase for the Championship.
MWR announced Monday it will downsize from three to two fulltime Cup teams in 2014, with its third entry to run a limited schedule.
Truex, driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry, and crew chief Chad Johnston, were notified they are “free to negotiate with other teams,” according to a news release. Scott Miller, the team’s executive vice president of competition, will continue as crew chief of the No. 55 team.
MWR will field the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota for Brian Vickers and the No. 15 5-hour ENERGY/PEAK Toyota for Clint Bowyer next season. Additionally, MWR will add to its research and development efforts by running a third car in selected races, including team co-owner Waltrip in the 2014 Daytona 500.
“Our goals for the reorganization were two-fold – to improve the competitiveness of our race teams and maintain a stable organizational structure,” MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman said. “The team’s focus has been to find that last one percent needed to move from Chase participant to Cup champion. This realignment will get us closer to that last one percent.”
Bowyer and Truex earned MWR its first Chase berths in 2012, when Bowyer finished second to Brad Keselowski of Penske Racing and Truex placed 11th.
The reorganization will enable MWR to retain more than 85 percent of its current workforce based in Cornelius, N.C. Those whose positions were affected by the moves were notified Monday morning. “(Reorganization) was about doing what we had to do, not what we wanted to do,” Kauffman said. “It was important to let those whose jobs were affected know as early as possible, and a majority of those will remain with MWR through the end of the season.”
MWR has been in-flux since being penalized by NASCAR for attempting to manipulate the finish of the 26-race “regular-season” finale at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7 in order to get Truex a spot in the 10-race Chase.
The scrutiny began when a late-race spin by Bowyer brought out a caution flag. Bowyer has maintained the spin was not deliberate, and NASCAR could not prove that it was. But a subsequent investigation prompted the sanctioning body to bump Truex from the Chase, fine MWR $300,000 and suspend team general manager Ty Norris indefinitely. In an unprecedented move, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports was added to the Chase field as its 13th driver.
High-profile sponsor NAPA Auto Parts, a marketing partner of Waltrip’s dating to his first Daytona 500 victory with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2001,later announced it was pulling its sponsorship from Truex’s team at the end of this season.
Vickers, meanwhile, will not available to race for the remainder of this season due to health issues. Dr. William Downey placed Vickers on blood-thinning medication after a Monday morning examination on his right leg discovered a small blood clot in his calf region. Vickers said his physicians are confident he will be able to resume activity before the 2014 Cup season begins.
Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, will drive the No. 55 Camry at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend. A replacement driver for the remaining events will be named later.
“Rob and I deeply appreciate everyone who has helped build MWR into a race-winning team and we are dedicated to continuing our pursuit of excellence on-and-off the track,” Waltrip said in the release. “We have very strong support from Toyota, Toyota Racing Development, 5-hour ENERGY, PEAK, Aaron’s, AAA Mid-Atlantic and other partners who enable us to compete at the highest level. We are confident that with two teams and a very active test team, our competiveness will take a step forward. We will also continue to do a great job for our partners off the track, which has always been a cultural staple for our organization.”
Halfway through the Chase, Bowyer is eighth in the standings, 63 points behind leader and 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Meanwhile, Cup superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports said he believed the Bowyer incident was purely a “Richmond thing.”
“I think it’s just a product of the Chase and how we’re all forced to make unique decisions at Richmond to get in,” Earnhardt said during a recent promotional tour on behalf of Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, site of the AAA Texas 500 on Nov. 3. “I’m not sure we’ll all be watching closely next year and if the opportunity arises, human nature takes control and they might make the wrong decision again. Hopefully we don’t have to see that again.”
Earnhardt added he understood NASCAR’s investigation given the amount of media scrutiny directed toward Bowyer and Truex, the Nationwide Series champion in 2004-05.
“I felt really bad for Truex not being in the Chase, because he was really innocent to everything that was going on,” Junior said. “At the same time I feel bad for Clint Bowyer because he was put in that position…someone asked him to do what he did. I know the guy he is and I know that didn’t sit well with him to have to go through that. I can’t imagine someone saying, ‘Hey man, we need you to bring out a yellow.’ I can’t imagine having to do that. That would be the hardest thing to do.
“There was so many things that happened during that whole thing that some things made sense, some things didn’t make sense. They make the rules and they had a lot of meetings with (NASCAR chairman/CEO) Brian France and the drivers and crew chiefs and (NASCAR president) Mike Helton and all those guys talking about restart rules, talking about all the things that happened at Richmond. And they made it real clear to us that we needed to focus on driving our cars and anything derogatory or anything we didn’t agree with – airing it publicly wasn’t hurting Brian France, wasn’t hurting Mike Helton. It was hurting ourselves.
“I know you want to help your teammates all you can and you want your teammates to all make the Chase. In the heat of the moment guys make decisions they thought they needed to make and it really kind of blew up in their faces.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment