|NAPA will not continue as the primary sponsor |
of Martin Truex Jr.'s No. 56 team after this season.
But now the ripple effect has reached the team's sponsors. Earlier today, longtime sponsor NAPA announced it will pull the plug on its primary sponsorship of the No. 56 team at Michael Waltrip Racing after the 2013 season.
The auto parts supplier posted the following statement on its Facebook page Thursday:
"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."
NAPA's decision comes after the fallout of the Richmond scandal and NASCAR's issuance of historic penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing, including kicking Truex out of the Chase.
With seven laps to go at the Sept. 7 Richmond race, Truex's teammate Clint Bowyer spun and brought out a caution, a move that appeared intentional. Then another teammate, Brian Vickers, was ordered to pit late, helping Joey Logano gain enough positions on the track to make the Chase and secure Truex a Chase berth as a wild card.
After ruling the organization had manipulated the outcome of the race, NASCAR fined Michael Waltrip Racing $300,000 and docked 50 points from the teams of Vickers, Bowyer and Truex. General Manager Ty Norris, who as Vickers' spotter ordered him to pit, is suspended indefinitely.
With the points deduction taking effect before the Chase reset, Truex was booted from the Chase. Ryan Newman took over the wild card spot. Jeff Gordon was later added as a 13th driver in the 10-race playoffs.
After the incident, NAPA released a statement Sept. 11 criticizing Michael Waltrip Racing's actions. The company said it would evaluate its future with the organization.
"The actions taken by Michael Waltrip's Racing team this past weekend leading to the penalties assessed by NASCAR, are very concerning. We are disappointed that a partner associated with our organization would make such a significant error in judgment," the company said. “In addition, we have launched our own review to determine the future of our partnership with Michael Waltrip's Racing team."
With its decision, NAPA severs a multi-million dollar deal with Michael Waltrip Racing. The Sports Business Journal reported that last year, the company signed a three-year extension with MWR estimated at $16 million a year.
It's a loss that will hurt MWR and leaves the future of the No. 56 team in jeopardy. Truex himself has said he did not know about his organization's machinations. The driver of the No. 56 steered with a broken wrist at Richmond, powering his way to a seventh-place finish to try and make the Chase.
After NAPA's announcement, fellow Sprint Cup driver Kevin Harvick said on his Twitter account, "FYI @MartinTruexJr56 is one of the the best people you will ever meet... Feel bad for him & his team.. Keep your heads up!"
In response to NAPA's pullout, Michael Waltrip Racing released a statement Thursday. The organization said it intends to maintain its three teams in 2014.
“Michael Waltrip Racing respects the decision NAPA announced today following the events at Richmond. 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.”
NAPA's decision marks the end of a 12-year relationship with team owner Michael Waltrip. NAPA first started sponsoring Waltrip in 2001, when he drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and won the first of two Daytona 500s. The company followed Waltrip when he started his own organization in 2007.
The auto parts supplier stayed with Michael Waltrip Racing after a controversial start. NASCAR levied heavy penalties, including a 100-point deduction, on the new team after finding Waltrip's Toyota had jet fuel during qualifying for the 2007 Daytona 500.
“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," Waltrip said in a statement Thursday. "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."
In the statement, Waltrip apologized for his organization's actions at Richmond.
“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.”
As for the ripple effect, 5-hour ENERGY, another sponsor of Michael Waltrip Racing, announced it was reviewing their commitment to the organization in the wake of the Richmond scandal.
The energy drink company, which is the primary sponsor of Bowyer's No. 15 Toyota, said Sept. 10 on its Twitter account, "We respect NASCAR's penalties against MWR & are addressing our sponsorship relations internally. We appreciate your understanding & patience." The company has not announced a final decision.