Michael Waltrip talks with other drivers during practice at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., on May 3. (AP Photo)
CONCORD, N.C. — Michael Waltrip Racing will run only two full-time cars next season because of the loss of sponsor NAPA, part of the fallout from its attempts to manipulate a race to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase.
Truex, crew chief Chad Johnston and 15 percent of the workforce were notified Monday they are free to negotiate with other teams. Team co-owner Rob Kauffman said the cuts were across the organization and not limited to Truex’s team.
The car Truex drives will be repurposed into a research and development team next season. It will run a partial schedule beginning with the Daytona 500 with team co-owner Michael Waltrip behind the wheel depending on sponsorship, Waltrip said.
“Today was about doing what we had to do, not what we wanted to do,” Kauffman said. “It was important to let those whose jobs were affected know as early as possible, and a majority of those will remain with MWR through the end of the season.”
Truex has been talking to Furniture Row Racing about the seat being vacated by Kurt Busch. MWR is undecided if it will use Truex’s No. 56 on the third car next season, and how many races the car enters will be based on sponsorship.
Also, Ty Norris’ title position will change from general manager of MWR to executive director for business development. Norris has been on indefinite suspension from NASCAR for his role in the Richmond scandal.
“He will no longer be involved in competition and no longer be a spotter, and will focus strictly on the commercial side of the business,” Kauffman said. “He’s good at that and that’s the skill set that’s most helpful for the company. We have other folks on the competition side.”
The meetings between Kauffman and Waltrip and their employees Monday were interrupted when driver Brian Vickers informed the owners that a blood clot had been found in his right calf. He was placed on blood-thinning medication that will prevent him from finishing the season in the No. 55 Toyota.
The team had previously planned to use co-owner Waltrip in this week’s race at Talladega, and said it will decide later on its driver for the remaining four races.
Vickers was scheduled to participate in a Monday test at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but MWR had Brett Moffitt ready to drive.
It made for a dizzying and difficult day for MWR, which has been fighting for its survival since the Sept. 7 race at Richmond.
“We are taking the challenges we are faced with and trying to use them as a way to get better, and when you have to let some folks go and change direction, that upsets the apple cart and you feel for those folks,” Waltrip said. “And then when Brian walks in this morning and tells you he has a health issue and the doctors won’t let him race a car, I’m a race car driver and I just can’t imagine a man at the prime of his career having to be faced with those challenges.
“So I think it’s important to never, ever get into ‘Why me?’ That’s not a very professional or positive way to look at things. I just like to use at is motivation to get better.”
MWR went into Richmond with driver Clint Bowyer ranked second in the Sprint Cup standings and Truex on the bubble of making the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. But in the closing laps, as it became apparent Ryan Newman was going to snag the final spot in the Chase field, MWR schemed to get Truex the final berth.
It began when Bowyer deliberately spun to bring out a caution, setting in motion a chain of events that led to a widespread NASCAR investigation.
NASCAR fined MWR $300,000, suspended Norris indefinitely and replaced Truex in the Chase field with Newman, who was headed to the race win that would have given him the Chase berth before Bowyer’s spin.
In punishing MWR, NASCAR ruled that the only thing it could prove was that Norris intentionally called Vickers down pit road in the closing laps to adjust the finish.
NAPA, a longtime partner of Waltrip’s, then said it was pulling its multimillion-dollar sponsorship of Truex’s team with two years remaining on its contract because it “believes in fair play and does not condone actions such as those that led to the penalties assessed by NASCAR.”
As part of the changes announced Monday, MWR said executive vice president of competition Scott Miller will continue as crew chief of the No. 55 team into the 2014 season. He’d been interim crew chief since Rodney Childers was taken off the pit stand in August when he said he was moving to Stewart-Haas Racing next season.
Kauffman, who had been in Europe during the Richmond race and remained there for the two races that followed, returned after Bowyer sponsor 5-Hour Energy said it would return to the team in 2014. Kauffman temporarily relocated to North Carolina and began a review of MWR, which set in motion the organizational changes announced Monday.
“If you lose a third of a third of your revenue, you are going to have to reorganize your business and that’s what we’ve done,” Kauffman said. “What we are trying to focus on is using this opportunity to not only survive, but use this reorganization to make us better. We made a mistake, we paid a heavy price and we are adjusting to a new reality.”
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