March 31st, 2015
Michael Waltrip Racing team owner Michael Waltrip spoke to the media for the first time since NAPA Auto Parts announced they would be pulling their sponsorship of the #56 Toyota team driven by Martin Truex, Jr. This is after only one year into a three year extension they signed with the organization last year, citing the fallout and backlash from the Richmond race, where MWR is accused of manipulating the race finish, became too much.
This leaves the team scrambling to try and get a new sponsor in to keep Truex in the car. Whether they find a replacement or not, MWR released a statement earlier in the week that they would field the car. This could be done through co-owner Ob Kauffman, who’s’ RK Motors of Charlotte has been on Clint Bowyer’s #15 entry off and on this season. A similar situation that Stewart-Haas Racing is doing with the new team for driver Kurt Busch, it will be sponsored by co-owner Gene Haas’ business, Haas Automation.
Even after expressing disappointment in the team’s actions and vowing to review their status, both 5-Hour Energy and Aaron’s Rent Centers figure to be back sponsoring Bowyer and Brian Vickers respectfully, according to Waltrip. In fact officials from 5-Hour Energy are scheduled to be at the track for this weekend’s Sylvania 300 from the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Waltrip also told reporters that he would like to keep Truex in the car, but if another opportunity presented itself to him, he wouldn’t stand in his way. He just asked him to give him some time to sort things out before jumping ship.
The decision by NAPA was disappointing, but nothing that came as a total shock to Waltrip, as he wasn’t “overly surprised” by it. He cited that NAPA was not happy with how the situation was handled by himself and the team.
For the actions on the track that fateful Saturday night in Richmond, Waltrip again denied any master plan by his organization to change the outcome of the race. He also defended driver Bowyer, saying he did not spin on purpose to bring out the yellow flag that cost Ryan Newman the win. Without the win, the final Chase position went to Truex, prior to NASCAR’s penalties that cost Truex a spot in the Chase.
Whether or not Waltrip was 100% truthful Friday morning talking to reports remains to be seen. He did, however, appear to be a person who was remorseful over the position he’s finding himself in and the trouble that has come from it. It will be interesting to see if any sponsors step up to replace NAPA or if NAPA helps in prying Truex away from the team. Stay tuned…