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.