NAPA Auto Parts is voiding out of its sponsorship deal with Michael Waltrip Racing in reaction to the organization’s apparent attempt to manipulate Sprint Cup race results leading up to the setting of the Chase field.
NAPA is the primary sponsor for the Toyota team driven by Martin Truex Jr. NASCAR sanctioned all three MWR teams for manipulating the Richmond, Va., race, to get Truex into the 12-entry Chase field: Effectively the playoffs for series.
Days after the Sept. 7 race, NASCAR severely sanctioned MWR, putting Truex out of the Chase and replacing him with Ryan Newman. Additionally, MWR was fined $300,000, general manager Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely and all three of the operation’s crew chiefs were placed on probation.
All of this started when Truex’s teammate, Clint Bowyer, spun with seven laps remaining at Richmond – the last race to determinethe Chase field. That forced a caution, which helped Truex finish well enough to make the Chase. Radio conversations prior to Bowyer’s spin suggested there was in-race plotting between the MWR teams. Also, Waltrip driver Brian Vickers was told by team officials during a radio conversation to make an unneeded pit stop to help Truex.
NAPA, which has had a long relationship with Waltrip, was under contract to sponsor Truex’s car through 2015. Now that relationship will end this year.
“NAPA believes in fair play and does not condone actions such as those that led to the penalties assessed by NASCAR,” the company said in a statement released Thursday. “We remain supportive of the millions of NASCAR fans and will evaluate our future position in motorsports.”
NAPA’s decision could cost MWR tens of millions in sponsorship dollars. MWR later released a statement from Waltrip, who has represented NAPA as both a driver and an owner.
“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. “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."
Waltrip also said via statement that NAPA pulling out will not keep the operation from continuing to field three Sprint Cup teams for 2014. Waltrip also acknowledged his culpability in what happened in 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.”
MWR wasn’t the only team accused of attempting to manipulate results in Richmond. Analysis of radio transmissions suggested Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing were brokering a deal in-race to allow Joey Logano to move up a spot in hopes of him making the Chase.
Those two operations were placed on probation in the days following Richmond. Logano was allowed to stay in the Chase, but NASCAR decided to add Jeff Gordon as a 13th Chase driver, since Gordon’s chances were impeded by the events at Richmond.
As a result of all this, NASCAR called a meeting before last Sunday’s Chicagoland race, warning drivers, crew chiefs and owners that any future manipulation – any sense each team isn’t giving its best effort regardless of alliances to other teams – would be punished severely.
Rick Bonnell: 704-621-6585. Twitter: @Rick_Bonnell
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