Sponsors review relationship with MWR
September 11, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
MORE: Full coverage of MWR penalties | Full Chase coverage
CHICAGO – Primary sponsors NAPA Auto Parts and 5-hour ENERGY are evaluating their respective relationships with Michael Waltrip Racing in the wake of penalties levied against the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series organization.
The companies serve as primary sponsors for two of the three Cup teams fielded by MWR. NAPA provides funding for the No. 56 Toyota of driver Martin Truex Jr. while 5-hour ENERGY is the primary sponsor for the No. 15 of Clint Bowyer.
NASCAR penalized Truex Jr. and Bowyer, along with teammate Brian Vickers, 50 points Monday after it was determined that MWR officials attempted to “manipulate the outcome” of Saturday night’s race.
As a result, Truex Jr., who had initially qualified for the 12-team Chase For The Sprint Cup, fell to 17th in points and was removed from the Chase field. Stewart-Haas Racing driver Ryan Newman will now join the Chase field instead.
MWR was also docked 50 owner points for the respective teams and the three crew chiefs – Brian Pattie, Chad Johnston and Scott Miller – have been placed on probation through Dec. 31. Ty Norris, executive vice president and general manager, has been suspended indefinitely.
In addition, MWR was fined $300,000.
On Wednesday, officials with NAPA posted a message on the company’s Facebook page expressing disappointment at the actions taken by MWR during Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. According to the message, NAPA officials are reviewing the current relationship.
“The actions taken by Michael Waltrip’s Racing team this past weekend leading to the penalties assessed by NASCAR, are very concerning,” the post stated. “We are disappointed that a partner associated with our organization would make such a significant error in judgment. In addition, we have launched our own review to determine the future of our partnership with Michael Waltrip’s Racing team. The NAPA AUTO PARTS organization is proud of its long-standing NASCAR relationship. We share a passion with our customers for high quality racing and seek to determine the best course of action for our customers, NASCAR fans, and the NAPA organization.”
NAPA has been affiliated with MWR since the organization began fielding Cup teams fulltime in 2007. The company was also team co-owner Michael Waltrip’s primary sponsor when he drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. It is in the first year of a multi-year extension with Truex Jr. and the No. 56 team.
5-hour ENERGY provided the following information via its Twitter account on Tuesday:
@5hourenergy: We respect NASCAR's penalties against MWR & are addressing our sponsorship relations internally. We appreciate your understanding & patience.
Officials with Aaron’s, sponsor of the No. 55 car of Vickers, also reached out to fans and customers via its Facebook site, saying the company “appreciates your concern about Richmond’s race and your loyalty to NASCAR.
“We respect the decision NASCAR made … and do not condone any practices that violate NASCAR rules.”
Toyota, which supplies manufacturer support to MWR, has yet to comment publicly on the situation.
NASCAR’s reaction came two days after Bowyer spun to bring out a caution flag late in the race. At that time, Newman was leading, and appeared en route to clinching the final Chase Wild Card position.
A green-flag pit stop by Vickers, for no apparent reason, and subsequent actions by Bowyer, were called into question following the event.
NASCAR President Mike Helton said there was no conclusive evident that the Bowyer spin “was intentional.”
The most clear evidence, Helton said, was the direction that the 55 driver was given and the confusion around it, and then the conversation following that occurrence.
“That's the most clear piece of what we found through looking at all of the detail that led us to make the conclusion,” he said.