NAPA, Michael Waltrip Racing to part ways
September 19, 2013, Staff report, NASCAR.com
NAPA Auto Parts announced Thursday that it will end its long-running sponsorship of Michael Waltrip Racing at season's end in the wake of the team's heavy penalties for manipulating the results of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular-season finale Sept. 7.
Two days after the event, NASCAR officials hit MWR with a $300,000 fine, the deduction of 50 driver and owner points, probation and removed driver Martin Truex Jr. -- currently sponsored full-time by NAPA in the series -- from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup post-season field. It did so after a review determined that the actions of the teams for fellow MWR drivers Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers took liberties with the spirit of competition at Richmond International Raceway, site of the last race before the Chase began.
Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway, site of the Chase opener, NASCAR President Mike Helton announced a competition bulletin, adding a section to the NASCAR rulebook that read, in part, that, "NASCAR requires its competitors to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in an event."
On the company's Facebook page, NAPA posted this statement: "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 had been with Waltrip since adorning his Dale Earnhardt Inc.-owned car in the 2001 Daytona 500, his first victory in NASCAR's top series. NAPA also stuck with Waltrip through his transition to team ownership in 2007, when he helped Toyota make its big-league stock car racing debut, and used him extensively in television advertising.
"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, 50, said in a statement. "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."
MWR issued a statement of its own regarding NAPA's announcement: "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 had announced a three-year contract extension with MWR and Truex last season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Thursday's decision leaves the No. 56 without a primary sponsor and comes with two years left on the contract.
Two days after the penalties were announced, the Atlanta-based retailer of replacement auto parts and accessories told its followers on Facebook that it was reviewing its relationship with Michael Waltrip Racing. Aaron's, primary sponsor for Vickers, and 5-Hour Energy, primary sponsor for Bowyer, said they respected NASCAR's decision.
Aaron's said through its Twitter account Thursday that "Aaron's thanks NASCAR fans for their loyalty. After a 14-year sponsorship of MWR, we remain dedicated to MWR, to NASCAR and to the fans." 5-Hour Energy previously said it would be "addressing our sponsorship relations internally."