Waltrip speaks on 'rocky couple of weeks'
September 20, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Team owner says he's eager to regain trust, Truex free to leave
Related: NAPA parts ways with MWR
LOUDON, N.H. -- The blue and yellow NAPA logos were impossible to miss as Michael Waltrip stood on the rear steps of the No. 56 transporter Friday morning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
These are turbulent times for Michael Waltrip Racing, co-owned by Waltrip and Rob Kauffman. Fallout from Richmond, the final race before the start of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, continues to materialize weeks after the fact. The debris field is large and threatens to grow larger.
It was the first time Waltrip publicly addressed the week's most recent news that the auto parts supplier is leaving MWR at season's end. A contract extension is now nullified by questionable late-race decisions and the penalties that followed.
Yet to be determined is whether Martin Truex Jr., driver of organization's No. 56 Toyota, will depart as well.
Yet to be determined is whether additional funding can be obtained, a necessity if MWR hopes to continue to field three teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
And yet to be determined is what action, if any, the group's other primary sponsors -- 5-Hour Energy and Aaron's -- might possibly take. According to Waltrip, Scott Henderson, president of 5-Hour, will be in attendance for Sunday's Sylvania 300 here at NHMS. The arrival was pre-planned; the topic of discussion likely wasn't.
Waltrip said Friday that he wouldn't hold Truex Jr., back, and if the 33-year-old sought work and opportunity elsewhere, such a split would be amicable.
"We asked if we could have a little time to try to figure this out and he agreed to that," Waltrip said of his conversation with Truex Jr. "If he came to me tomorrow and said I've got a deal to go do something, then obviously I would not hold him back. His support and loyalty for our organization has been amazing. He drove some kind of crappy cars when he first got to our shop. We were able to build those cars better, make them faster and he's been able to be a race-winning Chase guy. I owe him a lot for his loyalty and his passion for our team.
"I wouldn't hold him back from doing something that he wanted to do but what I would like him to do is hang around so we can attract a sponsor and keep him in our cars."
Kauffman has provided partial funding for one of the team's cars this year, with his RK Motors group sponsoring Clint Bowyer's No. 15 in races not covered by 5-Hour Energy.
Although he has been out of the country, Kauffman responded via Twitter on Friday, noting that the organization is still trying to assess the situation.
"It's early," the co-owner said. "We will see what options develop."
Waltrip said the focus going forward is to find sponsorship and work to regain the trust of the fans whohave supported him throughout his career.
"Fortunately … the infrastructure is to have three cars and the support from Toyota (is) for three cars," he said.
"The other two cars are fully funded. … We'll just look at trying to get additional sponsorship and race that car. That's our focus … that's our plan as of now."
NAPA officials "felt like the events of the last 10 days have spiraled out of control a bit," he said, when asked about conversations with the longtime sponsor. NAPA is one of only a few companies that fully sponsor a Cup team for an entire season.
"They felt like what we were involved with and NASCAR penalized for was more than they were comfortable with dealing with," Waltrip said. "They worked hard to try to find a way to hang around. …
"They weren't overly thrilled with the way the whole situation was handled, that played into a part of it, but we put them in that position. We put them in a bad spot. They've certainly been there for me when I didn't make races, had problems and wasn't competitive. …
"I have nothing but praise and thanks for them. Aaron's and Toyota, our key partners, they are the reason we have a team.
"We didn't have a master plan in order to manipulate the (Richmond) race. That wasn't even discussed in any way, shape or form. You earn your trust; we disappointed some fans and we're going to work our butts off to gain that trust back."