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Michael Waltrip Racing downsizing, Brian Vickers out the rest of the season

Michael Waltrip Racing made official Monday what had become very likely once the organization got caught in a scandal last month.

The Sprint Cup Series organization, having lost multimillion dollar sponsor NAPA, will downsize from three to two full-time teams in 2014, leaving driver Martin Truex Jr. searching for a ride.

But if having to notify approximately 40 employees they would be losing their jobs wasn’t bad enough for team co-owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman, they got an added jolt Monday morning.

Brian Vickers, who they just recently hired to drive their No.56 Toyota, told the team he will be forced to sit out the rest of this year after being diagnosed with a blood clot in his right calf.

Vickers, who had heart surgery just more than three years ago related to a clotting problem, was placed on blood thinning medications by Dr. William Downey.

The medications will prevent Vickers from driving either for MWR or Joe Gibbs Racing, for whom he has been competing in the Nationwide Series.

“It was a surprise this morning for sure,” Kauffman said. “The doctors feel very strongly he will be good to go in 2014, and I’ll defer to the experts and see how it plays out.

“No.1 priority is getting Brian healthy, and the second is the plan for the rest of 2013.”

In a statement, Vickers called the issue a “a temporary setback.”

The restructuring plan MWR announced was something Kauffman and Waltrip had hoped to avoid.

NASCAR issued some of its harshest penalties in the sport’s history after the MWR organization was caught trying to manipulate the outcome of the Sept.7 race at Richmond, Va., in an effort to get Truex into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Even with the penalties and NAPA, Truex’s sponsor, electing to leave at season’s end, MWR tried to find the funding to keep Truex’s team.

“There really wasn’t a lot of time to play out a lot of scenarios,” Kauffman said. “There were some potential things, but we decided for the stability of our organization we needed to make the call and give me direction on next year.

“Today was about doing what we had to do, not what we wanted to do. 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’s No.56 team will become part time, assisting with the organization’s research and development efforts. It’s only scheduled race for next season is the Daytona 500 with Waltrip behind the wheel.

Waltrip already was scheduled to drive the No. 56 this weekend at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, so the organization has some time to find a substitute for Vickers for the remainder of this season.

“The good thing is the phone has been ringing off the hook with guys wanting to drive our car,” Waltrip said.

As part of the changes announced Monday, executive vice president of competition Scott Miller will remain as Vickers’ crew chief next season. He had held the title on an interim basis.

And Ty Norris’ job title will change from general manager of MWR to executive director for business development. Norris has been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR since the Richmond incident.

Charlotte test off to slow start

Aerodynamics were the focus of a six-car NASCAR test Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that was delayed by almost two hours by early-morning rain.

Three packages were run during the test, as NASCAR and the teams focused on rear spoilers, splitters and ride heights in an effort to further evolve the competition package on this season’s redesigned Cup series car.

“We will be doing this on an ongoing basis, with an eye to continue to improve our product on the track. It is really an exercise in continuous improvement,” said Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR vice president of innovation and racing development.

“We took everybody’s ideas, put them together and came up with these configurations for the test. They are our ideas as an industry on how we can improve the product on the track.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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