NAPA will depart from Michael Waltrip Racing after the 2013 season.(Photo: Jerome Miron, USA TODAY Sports)
Nate Ryan, USA TODAY Sports
The cost of a NASCAR scandal at Richmond International Raceway spiraled into the millions as NAPA announced its departure from Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the season.
The auto parts supplier elected to leave with multiple years left on a contract to sponsor Martin Truex's No. 56 Toyota, which was tossed from the Chase for the Sprint Cup after NASCAR ruled that MWR had manipulated the finish of the race by having Brian Vickers deliberately slow his pace. A late pit stop by Vickers, plus a spin by teammate Clint Bowyer, helped Truex earn the final wild card for the Chase.
MWR received the stiffest punishment in NASCAR history - a $300,000 fine and 50-point penalties to Bowyer, Truex and Vickers - but the loss of NAPA could be more crippling. Last August, the company renewed a multiyear extension that the Sports Business Journal estimated at $16 million annually. NAPA has been with MWR since the team entered Sprint Cup in 2007 and aligned with team owner Michael Waltrip since joining NASCAR's premier series in 2001 with Dale Earnhardt's team.
In a statement posted to its Facebook page Thursday morning, the company said: "After thorough consideration, NAPA has made the difficult decision to end its sponsorship arrangement with Michael Waltrip Racing effective December 31, 2013. NAPA believes in fair play and does not condone actions such as those that led to the penalties assessed by NASCAR. We remain supportive of the millions of NASCAR fans and will evaluate our future position in motorsports"
The team owner issued a statement, in which Waltrip said: "NAPA has been with me from winning two Daytona 500s, to missing races with a new start-up team, and back to victory lane again. The relationship grew far past that of just a sponsor, but more of a partner and a friend. We will not be racing a NAPA car in 2014, but I have friendships that will last a lifetime.
"To the fans and those who made their voice heard through social media, as the owner, I am responsible for all actions of MWR. I sincerely apologize for the role our team played and for the lines NASCAR has ruled were crossed by our actions at Richmond. NASCAR met with the competitors in Chicago and we all know how we are expected to race forward."
In a statement, Michael Waltrip Racing said it's preparing to remain a three-car organization in the 2014 season.
"Michael Waltrip Racing respects the decision NAPA announced today following the events at Richmond," the team said. "There is no doubt, the story of Michael Waltrip Racing begins with NAPA Auto Parts, but there are many more chapters yet to be written. MWR has the infrastructure and support of Toyota for three teams plus three Chase-caliber, race-winning drivers. With the support of our corporate partners, we are preparing to field three teams in 2014. MWR is a resilient organization capable of winning races and competing for the championship and that remains our sole focus."
It was the second consecutive day that a NASCAR sponsor announced a major shift in its role. Nationwide revealed Wednesday that it would end its title sponsorship of NASCAR's No. 2 series after the 2014 season so that the insurance company could shift its investment to Sprint Cup.
The NAPA news casts a pall on the future of the team. It made the Chase for the second consecutive season after missing the 10-race title run in its first five seasons and earned wins by multiple drivers (Truex at Sonoma and Vickers at New Hampshire) in a season for the first time. But MWR didn't have full funding for Bowyer's car (co-owner Rob Kauffman was subsidizing the team for about a third of the season with sponsorship from RK Motors, his collector car company) and will need to fill a massive void in a competitive marketplace from the loss of NAPA, which is among only eight corporations believed to be sponsoring cars for a full Sprint Cup season. Other teams such as Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing still haven't announced their full sponsorship slates for 2014.
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