Need a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, equipment or perhaps some crew? Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and (health pending) Brian Vickers all seem to be up for grabs as Michael Waltrip Racing announces that they won’t field a full-time Sprint Cup effort next year.
Many felt as if the writing was on the wall for MWR as soon as co-owner Rob Kauffman announced that he was buying an ownership interest in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Fox Sports learned that MWR had also cancelled their fall sponsor summit, where team officials meet with the companies that fund the team. The day of the announcement, the team’s Cornelius, N.C., headquarters also went up for sale.
The team’s announcement that they were releasing Bowyer for 2016 and not fielding a full-time Sprint Cup effort finally confirmed everyone’s suspicions.
“MWR will race hard and compete for the remainder of the 2015 season. This decision was made after weighing several different options and scenarios,” said Kauffman in a team statement. “I felt it was important to make an announcement as soon as we had clarity, so that is what we are doing today. I want to thank all of our staff, partners, sponsors and fans for all their effort and support over the years.”
Michael Waltrip Racing hasn’t always had the smoothest ride. According to Fox Sports, investment banker Rob Kauffman joined in as a co-owner in fall 2007 when the team was struggling to merely survive its first Sprint Cup season. A 2013 cheating scandal drug the MWR name through the mud, and sponsor NAPA Auto Parts withdrew its support the following year.
The past couple years have not been kind to Michael Waltrip Racing. They missed the Chase last year, and it’s not certain that they’ll make it in this year.
“Our business model doesn’t work without us making the Chase,” explained MWR co-owner Michael Waltrip to Fox Sports in 2013. “We invest in our cars and our team and we tell our sponsors that with the way we built our team, we’re going to make the Chase, we’re going to win races.”
Purse and sponsor incentives, Waltrip explained, make it crucial to get into the Chase just to survive as a team.
Bowyer was the only driver of the three currently associated with MWR who had been under contract for another year, but a team statement confirmed that they were releasing him from his contract a year early. Ragan hasn’t nailed down a ride for 2016 yet, as he’s been driving as a stand-in for Brian Vickers this year. Vickers’ health issues have sidelined him yet again this season. Those two have always been a question mark for 2016. Now there’s one fewer effort for them to look to: their own current team.
“I want to thank Michael, Rob and everyone at Michael Waltrip Racing that made these past four years special,” said Bowyer in a statement released by the team. “After extensive discussions with Rob and MWR, we came to the point that we mutually agreed our paths in the future just didn’t align but I think we all agreed on the next steps in a very professional manner.”
Currently sitting in 16th place in the Sprint Cup points standings, Bowyer should land on his feet with relative ease next year. 16th is the cut-off for entry into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, so all Bowyer has to do is stay there and he’s in for the playoff-style Chase at the end of the regular season. Bowyer’s best season finish was in 2012, where he was second in the Sprint Cup championship to Brad Keselowski. With 5-Hour Energy as a sponsor, Bowyer comes with significant financial backing as well.
Could Bowyer end up at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, then? Possibly. While Fox Sports reports that the deal between Kaufmann and CGR hasn’t been finalized yet, co-owner Felix Sabates told them that the team is looking to add a third car for 2016.
Fox Sports also mentions that Furniture Row Racing is also rumored to be adding a second car, which is another possibility for Bowyer.
ABC speculates that Bowyer is looking for a one-year deal to bide his time until he can secure a top-tier seat in 2017, with one 2017 possibility being Tony Stewart’s current seat at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Another entity up in the air is Toyota. Losing MWR means that Toyota loses three bizarro-world coupe-bodied NAS-Camries from the grid. Toyota Racing Development President and General Manager David Wilson told Fox Sports that he’s looking to add another front line team. Furniture Row Racing is one possibility, but clearly, the rush to add more Camries to the grid is accelerated further now with one team leaving NASCAR’s top tier series.
As for the shop and the crew, Waltrip also hopes they land on their feet.
“My hope is somebody wants to have a really nice shop, full of really cool people that work together well and want to have a race team,” Waltrip said on-air during yesterday’s Camping World Truck Series broadcast, as quoted by ABC. “Hopefully somebody wants to have a team and they could have it right there at our place.”
It’s never easy to see a team withdraw from motorsports, especially given that a withdrawal means that the staff behind the team is forced to scramble for a new job. Here’s hoping they all land on their feet somewhere.
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