Michael Waltrip Racing to eliminate one full time team; Truex free to sign elsewhere

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Unable to find a replacement sponsor for NAPA, Michael Waltrip Racing is downsizing and will only field full-time cars next year for Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers.

The fallout from the biggest cheating scandal in NASCAR history continues, as Michael Waltrip Racing will downsize from three full-time teams to two for the 2014 Sprint Cup season.

MWR will continue to field Toyotas for Clint Bowyer (No. 15) and Brian Vickers (No. 55) next year, but the No. 56 car currently driven by Martin Truex Jr. will run only a limited schedule. The organization has informed Truex and his crew chief Chad Johnston that they are free to negotiate with other teams.

The move comes as a direct result of MWR's actions in the regular season finale Sept. 7 at Richmond when the team conspired to manipulate the finishing order to ensure Truex qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

After an investigation NASCAR fined MWR $300,000 (the largest fine ever issued in the sport's history), took the unprecedented step of removing Truex from the Chase and suspended general manager Ty Norris indefinitely.

Although Truex played no part and had no knowledge of what transpired, because of the actions of MWR and the negative publicity it created, NAPA announced last month it was ending its sponsorship of the No. 56 team effective at the end of this season. NAPA had two years remaining on its contract with MWR and was believed to be paying approximately $16 million, according to the Sports Business Journal.

Since Richmond MWR co-owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman both stated their intentions to continue fielding three cars full time if sponsorship could be secured. But because of the timing of NAPA's decision and the black cloud its actions created, MWR was always going to be challenged to find a replacement sponsor, which made Monday's announcement not a surprise.

"Our goals for the reorganization were twofold, firstly to improve the competitiveness of our race teams and, secondly maintain a stable organizational structure," Kauffman said in a statement. "The team's focus has been to find that last one percent needed to move from Chase participant to Cup champion. This realignment will get us closer to that last one percent."

The recent events are a stunning reversal of fortune for MWR, which in the last two years has blossomed after continued struggles since its formation six years ago.

In 2012, both Bowyer and Truex qualified for the Chase with Bowyer winning three races and finishing second in the championship to Brad Keselowski. Additionally, MWR had three fully-funded cars at a time when many prominent teams were dealing with significant sponsorship gaps including Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing among others.

By all appearances MWR was a team on the rise.

However, because of the reconsolidation MWR trimmed its workforce by 15 percent. Those affected were informed Monday of the decision.

"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."

As for Truex, who won earlier this year at Sonoma and had two years left on his contract, he is now left scrambling to find a quality ride for 2014. One option would be to sign with Furniture Row Racing, which is losing driver Kurt Busch to Stewart-Haas at the end of the year.

When it made the Chase this season, Furniture Row became the first single-car team in the 10-year history of the playoffs to do so, and would provide Truex with the necessary equipment to remain competitive.

But for now in a cruel twist, the one MWR driver not implicated in the Richmond scandal is out of a job and staring at an unknown future.

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