Tag: Martin Truex Jr.

Waltrip Setting Stage To Exit NASCAR Ownership

News broke Wednesday that Rob Kauffman, majority owner of Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR), was closing in on purchasing Felix Sabates’ stake in Chip Ganassi Racing. This will be a duel commentary post taking a look at Waltrip in this piece and how ownership has gone for the goofy pitchman.

While all parties are mum on the situation, it is amazing that Waltrip had not been run out of ownership sooner given what his history has been in the position. Waltrip founded his team on the foundation of being a Toyota flag ship for their entry into NASCAR in 2007. It didn’t take long for the goofy pitchman’s luster to start wearing off. At the season opening Daytona 500, the team was found to have used jet fuel in their cars to get an advantage. NASCAR did not look kindly on this infraction handing out suspensions, monetary and points fines, and stripping the teams of their qualifying times. What a great first impression for Toyota into a sport that already had fans annoyed with a non-American company entering into it.

The season would not continue any less smooth as the teams of Waltrip (#55), Dale Jarrett (#44), and David Reutimann (#00) routinely missed races. Reutimann missing 10, Jarrett missing 12, and Waltrip’s team missing 17. This kind of performance ran Jarrett out of the sport after five races in 2008 (planned in advance of the season, but you have to wonder how forced his hand was after 2007), but more importantly left Waltrip on the brink of bankruptcy once sponsors began jettisoning the team.

Enter Kauffman, who brought a boat load of cash to the organization, enough to become majority owner of the team baring Waltrip’s name. The next season was slightly better with Waltrip and Reutimann starting all the races, but the team nearly destroy Michael McDowell’s career before it started by pushing him into the #00 car. By 2009, the #44 team folder with Reutimann returning to the 00 and Waltrip took his last run for a full season in the #55.

The team turned around and hit its stride during this time period with Reutimann collecting wins in 2009 and 2010. The team added Martin Truex Jr into the mix in 2011, then in true Waltrip fashion, unceremoniously tossed Reutimann (a loyal Waltrip guy) to the curb so late in 2011 he could not find a ride and never fully recovered. That opened the door for Clint Bowyer to join the team for 2012 and they were rewarded with three wins from his team and a 2nd place finish in the points.

Just when things looked their brightest in 2013, Waltrip done Waltrip’d himself again. Truex won at Sonoma, fill in Brian Vickers won at New Hampshire, and the team was poised to have Truex and Bowyer in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. During the Richmond race, final regular season race, Bowyer got directions to cause a caution to the benefit of Truex to make the Chase. NASCAR figured out the charade and kicked Truex out of the Chase. That resulted in sponsor NAPA, having been with Waltrip since 2001, leaving the organization (and almost NASCAR) and Truex was left without a ride.

Both last season and this season the team has been average at best, running mid to late 20’s each weekend. This past week saw Toyota be non-committal when asked about MWR’s future, along with longtime supporter Aaron’s on if they would return to the #55 next season.

For Waltrip, he’s a goofy pitchman whose antics helped keep sponsors happy while his performance was in the toilet, but that act I believe has finally worn off. While he’ll still have his gig as FOX Sports talking head, with Kauffman leaving (with Clint Bowyer), it’s hard to believe he has the finances to continue, much less the desire to keep his team afloat.

More Than A Season Finale

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When the checkered flag flies in Sunday’s Ford 400 from the Homestead-Miami Speedway, more than just the 2013 season will come to a close. For some drivers it will be the end of tenures with their current teams and for others the end of their careers.

The most prominent driver to be hanging it up at the close of the season is Mark Martin. While the retirement word hasn’t been used, his talk with reporters is one that indicates the driving aspect of his career is over. “It is hard to believe that I’ve lived this dream. I’m so fortunate. I got two chances at it. I got a chance at it and had success and failed, and had to go and start my career all over again and spend several years getting back up on my feet and getting a second opportunity in NASCAR. It is really hard to believe. I am still – deep down inside, I’m still the kid from Arkansas that got the huge thrill the first time I went to Daytona as a spectator to watch the Daytona 500. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I never dreamed I would be able to do the things that I’ve done and to have the success that I’ve had. It’s been a dream. Living a dream.”

Coming into the race under the radar of his final Sprint Cup Series start is Ken Schrader. The 29 year veteran has been running off and on the past few years, but has said that this will be it. Odds are he still might make a random Camping World Truck Series or appearance in another series, it won’t be the Sprint Cup Series. While not one of the more successful drivers on the track, off the track he’s earned the respect of fans and competitors alike.

Another driver stepping away from the Sprint Cup Series, but could possibly be back in a one off race scenario is Juan Pablo Montoya. After seven years in the Sprint Cup Series, which saw two career wins, Montoya is going back to his roots in the IndyCar Series. He will be driving there for Roger Penske, so coming back for a road course race will always be a rumor. “It’s hard to believe that seven years ago I raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time. This race is special to me in a lot of ways; its home, my family and friends will all be there and it’s the last time I will race with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Target. To be honest with you, it’s bittersweet and I’d like to have a good weekend for Target and the team. Nothing would mean more than a win this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”

While not retiring, just yet anyways, Jeff Burton will be stepping away from the full-time side of things in the Sprint Cup Series for a yet to be determined part-time ride in 2014. He will leave the Richard Childress Racing team after just over 9 years with them. During that time he was able to re-ignite his career with four wins from 2006 to 2008. He has struggled as of late, but that should not be a true reflection of his career. “I’ve been really blessed to do it for as long as I’ve done it to do something that you love and to be able to do it as long as I’ve done it really is a blessing.  When I was seven years old I wanted to be a race car driver.  I’m 46 and I’m a race car driver.  I’ve just been really blessed.  The cool thing is I’ve met so many people and experienced so many things that I never would have been able to do.  To have a chance to compete for a living is really is a cool thing.  You know what your job is and go out and try to do it.  Competing to me means something.  To be able to do it this long has been really cool.”

After helping Furniture Row Racing become the first single car team to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kurt Busch will be leaving at year’s end to join the Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Busch helped set marks for the teams with top-5s and top-10s, but was never able to get a victory. “This is our last chance to take the Furniture Row Chevrolet to Victory Lane. There’s nothing I want more for these Furniture Row guys who have worked so hard all year to give me a fast race car. Though we have a bunch of top-fives (11) and top-10’s (16) we don’t have that W.  A victory would cap off an already successful season for our single-car team. It’s been a great ride with a great bunch of guys and with an outstanding organization led by team owner Barney Visser. Each year when we close out the season at Homestead there is that nostalgic feeling of what happened in 2004 — winning the championship in the first year of the Chase. It was a magical time for me and I am looking from some more magic this weekend in my final ride with the No. 78 flat-black Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet.”

The man he’s replacing at Stewart-Haas Racing will be Ryan Newman. Newman is moving on to the Richard Childress Racing team after five years with SHR. In that time he’s won four races and qualified for the Chase three times. “I really look forward to Homestead. It’s a really fun racetrack for all of us. For us to go down there and end the season on a racetrack that is very raceable is something I’m happy about. They really did a great job the third time around on redesigning that racetrack. It’s a great place to have a championship weekend for all three series. I’ve not had the best record there, but we did finish third in this race last year. I’d like nothing more than to end the season on a high note and end the season on a good note for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Also joining Stewart-Haas Racing is Kevin Harvick, who leaves the Richard Childress Racing team after 13 interesting years. It started off as Harvick being pushed into replacing the late Dale Earnhardt. Through squabbles and tribulations along the way, Harvick and his team were able to win 23 times. They finished in the top-5 in the driver standings five times and find themselves as one of the final three for this year’s title. “Homestead (Miami Speedway) has been a great race track for us, whether it was flat or banked. It’s been a race track where we’ve run well. It would be nice to close out my career at Richard Childress Racing with a win there and go out on the right note. RCR is where I got my start and it’s been a great career so far.”

Unplanned at the start of the year, Martin Truex, Jr. will be moving on from Michael Waltrip Racing after this race. He will go to the Furniture Row Racing team after four years with MWR. “I believe this NAPA team has nothing to prove. All we want to do is end on a high note and this track can certainly be the place that we can win. My guys have worked so hard for me over the last four years and I know they really want to close out our time together with a victory. To be honest, it’s been sad to see it end this way. We had such high expectations for all of us. If you really think about it, this year is only our second full season as a team for this group of guys and that’s impressive. We are really just getting started and moving in the direction that we always wanted to go. This NAPA team is such a great group of guys. It’s just unfortunate that we are not going to realize the full potential of this amazing team. All we want to do is go down swinging at Homestead. We want to use this race as a way to show everyone just how good we are and to thank NAPA Auto Parts for supporting and believing in this team. They deserve another visit to victory lane and it’s our plan to get them there on Sunday.”

While it is the end there is excitement for what the future might hold for all of these drivers. They’ll reflect on the season or career that was, but then get focused for what lies ahead.

Column: Keselowski, Debuts, Talladega, MWR, and Irvan Returns

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In this week’s column I take a look at the most recent Sprint Cup Series winner, Brad Keselowski, along with the three drivers who made their Cup debuts Saturday under the lights. My two cents on the Michael Waltrip Racing situation that came out Monday. And to round things out I will touch on what a wildcard Talladega is to the Chase and a former Talladega winner is back involved in NASCAR.

It was a very long time coming for Brad Keselowski, who had not won a Sprint Cup Series race in just over a year. His last win was Kansas of last year during his run for the Sprint Cup championship. It has been a big struggle for him and his team all year long. Luck just has not been on their side, some of their own doing (Texas with penalties) and others were just out of his hands. This team is going for broke during the Chase since they are not in it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up another win or two.

It was Kyle Larson who got most of the media attention heading into Charlotte about making his Sprint Cup Series debut. He did not do it alone as Brian Scott and Blake Koch each made their inaugural Sprint Cup races. Of the trio, Scott produced the best finish coming home in the 27th position. Larson was quick and up near the top-10, but his engine expired after completing 247 of the 334 laps, relegating him to a 37th place finish. Koch was a late add to the #95 Leavine Family Racing Ford and ran 216 laps before retiring with a vibration, he finished 38th. Larson is going to be running full-time in 2014, whereas Scott hopes to run a handful of races next season, and Koch’s plans are still unknown at this time. Each has a bright future, but Larson will be the one who garners all the attention.

It’s down to a five man battle for the Sprint Cup championship this year, although you could argue it’s down to two already with five races to go. That’s good because Talladega is up next and the unpredictability of it will definitely shake things up. In the spring Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth were the only Chase drivers to get a top-10 finish. Heck, David Ragan won the race with David Gilliland pushing him. When we say anything can happen, anything can and will happen in the race. The goal of every Chase driver is to survive and hopefully not lose too many points in the process.

The announcement that Michael Waltrip Racing would be reducing the number of full-time teams it fields from three to two is not surprising. There was no way they could secure funding for a full season in such short notice after NAPA informed them they were leaving. What I don’t like is the number of people who will be out of jobs because of the action of a few inside the organization. You can’t tell me from the top (i.e. Michael Waltrip himself) there was no discussions of manipulating the race if push came to shove out there. For a team that is starving for funds, a bonus for a car making the Chase was worth the risks at the time. Now that they have found out what the risks are, they would probably re-think their approach. I hope that driver Martin Truex, Jr., who did nothing but race his ass off into the Chase only to get kicked out, lands a good ride and can bring some of his former MWR colleagues with him.

Something that might have slipped through the cracks last weekend was Ernie Irvan getting back into racing as a car owner for his son Jared starting in 2014. The 15-year old Irvan will compete full-time in the Pro All Star Series South (PASS) that hits tracks like Hickory, South Boston, and Organ County. History lesson for you all is those were former Nationwide Series tracks back in the day. It’s good to see Ernie getting back into the sport after having such a great, albeit short, career that included 15 victories, the 1991 Daytona 500, and what should have been the 1994 title had he not gotten injured at Michigan.

Column: Marty Reid, Truck Schedule, Chase Elliott, & More

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Trying something new before the end of the season by debuting a couple things this week. First up is a weekly column I want to start so I can hit on some topics quickly and give my two cents. This week I touch on ESPN’s dismissal of Marty Reid, the rumored Camping World Truck Series schedule, Chase Elliott reaching out to Ty Dillon, and lots more.

Over the weekend it was leaked that ESPN had chosen to “go another direction” with announcer Marty Reid. Reid had been with the network for 31 years calling everything motorsports. It was becoming painfully obvious that Reid has lost his way as of late. A good indicator of that is that not one, not two, but three compilations of Reid’s errors have been created on YouTube. I saw a lot of objections on Twitter to get rid of him because of how well he did in the wake of the Dan Wheldon tragedy a few years back. He handled that with class and dignity that was needed, I’ll give him that. But to keep someone around because they did one thing once, well that just doesn’t make sense to me.

Ray Dunlap answered a question about the Camping World Truck Series schedule from a fan on Twitter about the makeup he’s seen. According to Dunlap, we’re stuck at 22 races for the third straight year, but they’ll add a second road course race and return to Gateway Motorsports Park. Nothing official has been released and it’s expected for another couple of weeks. If true, I’m glad they’ve added another road course to make it worth the teams to build road course trucks and kudos to them returning to a former track. I was hoping Myrtle Beach would make the cut like rumored and have at least 25 races, but I guess you can’t always get what you want. At least they didn’t add another dirt race to kill that like the NHL has done to its outdoors game.

Popular Speed’s Matt Weaver caught up with Chase Elliott in victory lane after a late model race in Florida over the weekend. He was asked if he’s talked to Ty Dillon in regards to their dust up in the only road course race for the Truck Series this year. Not surprisingly Dillon was not receptive to Elliott’s phone call. They’ll both be in Martinsville in a few weeks, so it should be interesting to see if Dillon takes him out. And I don’t mean to lunch. As for his 2014 schedule and current sponsor Aaron’s, Elliott said they would be leaving, which is leaving his schedule up in the air as of right now.

Mike Mulhern caught up with Speedway Motorsports, Inc.’s Bruton Smith. Among the topics they talked about was NBC starting their NASCAR coverage a year earlier. Smith was emphatic that they would be. As of yet the only official word has been from NASCAR who said nothing is changing, but I’m sure if ESPN and TNT can dump NASCAR, they will in a heartbeat.

Over the weekend Rob Kauffman, the co-owner and brains behind Michael Waltrip Racing, was finally back in America to deal with Spingate. The good news was 5-Hour Energy announced they would return to the #15 of Clint Bowyer. The bad news is Kauffman said he would not personally fund Martin Truex, Jr.’s car next season, which means Truex is most likely moving on. Being vague on the three car effort, I believe they’ll scale back to two cars with knucklehead, er, Michael Waltrip running the restrictor plate races in a third car. Kauffman also vowed to rebuild the team’s credibility, which should be easy without those goofy NAPA commercials.

I try to stay positive on all drivers in my Chase Watch, but here’s a list of drivers who won’t win the title in 2013: Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, and Ryan Newman. Edwards pains me because he was my pick, Newman pains me because I’m a fan of his, and Earnhardt pains me because he might be hitting his second wind too late. Newman sits 48 points behind, which is a full race behind, with how the other drivers are running, he and the others, aren’t making up that ground in this season.

In the Nationwide Series it’s a two driver race in my opinion between Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish, Jr. Either one winning the title will be interesting story. Dillon captures it before moving to Cup to give him the confidence and quiet the critics. Hornish gets it when he’s looking for a job and quiets everyone who questioned his move to NASCAR. For once I’m not swayed in either direction on who to root for.

Truex To Joe Gibbs Racing?

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There has been much speculation where Martin Truex, Jr. might end up now that NAPA is pulling their sponsorship of his current ride with Michael Waltrip Racing. This weekend team owner Michael Waltrip said he is fully prepared to keep the #56 team going, but if Truex found another deal he wouldn’t stand in his way.

Early rumors connect Truex with Furniture Row Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Furniture Row needs a driver and not necessarily a sponsor, as the team owner also sponsors the car. They also have put forth the impression that they are looking at younger talents to bring up to the Cup Series, but wouldn’t say no to Truex.

Richard Childress Racing would need sponsorship for a fourth team. That reason is why Jeff Burton was cut loose, because they only had funding for half the season on a fourth entry. With NAPA leaving the Waltrip led team many speculate that they might go where Truex goes.

Not so fast, reports are coming out that NAPA might be leaving NASCAR all together after “Spingate,” although nothing official has been announced. Another kink to them staying with another team is NAPA was reportedly paying Waltrip $16 million for full season sponsorship. That number isn’t high enough for other teams to pay for a full-season of sponsorship. NAPA might have to pony up to get with a bigger team or keep paying the same on a partial-sponsorship.

On ESPN’s NASCAR Countdown commentator Rusty Wallace said that Joe Gibbs Racing would be Truex’s destination. That was rebuffed by team owner Joe Gibbs, that nothing has been talked about in regards to Truex or NAPA. They’re a team in the same situation as Childress, wanting a fourth team, but not having the funds to do so.

A lot more dominos will have to fall before this Silly Season will finish being sorted out. Just about everyone should be a player for Truex’s services at this point, it’s just a matter of if he’ll stick it out with Michael Waltrip Racing or go looking for something new.

What Now For NAPA And Truex?

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Here’s what we do know: Once the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2013, NAPA Auto Parts will no long be the primary sponsor of the #56 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. Michael Waltrip Racing vows to run the #56 Toyota car with or without new sponsorship coming into replace NAPA and their reported $15-20 million dollar a year sponsorship.

What we don’t know is if Martin Truex, Jr., currently driving that #56 Toyota, will still be the driver when the clock strikes midnight.

There’s a whirlwind of activity going on right now for the MWR team and for Truex. News of NAPA leaving came as a shock to most, especially since Truex was at a NAPA store Thursday night promoting the brand.

In their statement on why they’re leaving MWR, NAPA said they would be reevaluating their NASCAR sponsorship. Many took that as a bad sign that the company, who’s been in NASCAR for a very long time in various divisions, would leave NASCAR all together. I take it as they want to figure out if they want to continue to sponsor just one car full-time, or maybe sponsor a whole team, or move to another series, or wilder yet sponsor an entire series.

We’ll start there, with Nationwide leaving after the 2014 season form sponsoring the second tier NASCAR Nationwide Series, so maybe NAPA would move into that direction. They’ve gotten their name out there in the Sprint Cup Series crowd, maybe dipping down and getting the recognition of a series sponsor could be what they want to do next.

Sponsoring a team versus just one driver could have its perks depending on the team you sponsor. They could spend (if money is an issue) just about the same they were spending on one team over three to four drivers. Picture this, if they went to Hendrick they could put their logo on Jimmie Johnson’s car, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s car, Kasey Kahne’s car, and Jeff Gordon’s car. Then maybe do a few races as full primary sponsor then do all sorts of promotional work with all four drivers.

If you take the same template to Stewart-Haas Racing where you have Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Danica Patrick. Especially Stewart-Haas you could market to four different demographics right there.

My gut says that NAPA stays in as a sponsor for one team, I’m just not sure where that team will be and with what driver. Truex stated after qualifying that he’s committed to MWR and being there for a while. Well, money talks and when it dries up there, he might be tempted to go elsewhere.

Furniture Row Racing needs a driver and wouldn’t mind a sponsor to join him, they could go there. They’ve talked about getting a younger driver to develop, but comments from the team this weekend indicate they’d be open to someone like Turex.

Richard Childress Racing has said they could make a fourth team, provided they could have sponsorship. The interesting part about this scenario is what happens in a few years when Ty Dillon gets promoted to Cup? Who’s the odd driver out with the team?

Other teams with open spots include Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Gibbs and Earnhardt Ganassi haven’t indicated that they were looking to expand this year. Roush Fenway seems to have a spot left open for Trevor Bayne, if they can find sponsorship.

Immediacy up for Truex and his team is the Sylvania 300 being run Sunday at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Coverage of the race beginning around 1 PM EST on ESPN.

Commentary: Good Intensions Fall Short

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Michael Waltrip Racing was founded in dreams and good intentions when they decided to be the flagship for Toyota and enter the 2007 season full-time. When pressures came to them they panicked and made some poor choices, like the ones they made in Richmond two weeks ago.

Right from their first race there were bad decisions made. Michael Waltrip, driving for himself, was the driver busted for one of the biggest cheating scandal in Daytona 500 history. NASCAR found a fuel additive in his car which prompted them to suspend his crew chief David Hyder, fine Hyder $100,000 and suspended team direct Bobby Kennedy. Waltrip placed blame on unidentified individual or individuals whom he did not fire after it was all said and done. He went on to apologize and life continued in NASCAR.

Flash forward to six years to the situation in Richmond. With their backs against the wall again to get driver Martin Truex, Jr. in the Chase, a few bad eggs spoiled it all for everyone. Driver Clint Bowyer, who was locked into the Chase, mysteriously spun near the end of the race to bring out the caution. That caution helped close up the field so that race leader Ryan Newman, whom Truex was battling for the last wildcard spot, might not win the race. That worked as Newman lost spots on pit road and Carl Edwards won the race.

They also wanted to make sure Joey Logano would not drop out of the top-10 in points, thus being the last wildcard over Truex. So drivers Bowyer and Brian Vickers were ordered to slow on the track and pit multiple times so Logano could gain positions on the track.

General Manager Ty Norris was caught on the radio pleading with Vickers to pit, even though nothing was needed to be done to car. There was no way that this was Norris’ decision alone and there’s no way that Bowyer spun accidently. Once again the pressure was on to perform and MWR went the path of quick success with hopes of not being caught.

Now these actions have finally hit them where it really hurts, sponsorship. Truex’s sponsor NAPA, who was on Waltrip’s car in 2007, decided enough was enough and announced they would not be back with the team. This cuts short their contract with the team by two years and puts the team in an unenviable position of needing to do damage control, find a sponsor, and concentrate on the rest of the season.

Most of the people have cycled through the MWR shop, but one person has remained constant throughout all of these scandals. Team owner Michael Waltrip.

You have to wonder how much of this pushing the envelope comes from him. Even if he has been clueless through both scandals, he is fostering an environment where these actions are happening. If MWR wants to prove to sponsors, NASCAR, and fans that it will be changing, there needs to be a total shift in the MWR environment.