NAPA leaving Michael Waltrip Racing after record NASCAR penalties

Jared C. Tilton

In the wake of Michael Waltrip Racing being hit with record NASCAR penalties, longtime sponsor NAPA is leaving the team at the end of the year.

Michael Waltrip and NAPA have had a relationship dating back to 2001, and in that time each has become synonymous with the other.

However, in the wake Michael Waltrip Racing being hit with record fines by NASCAR for manipulating the outcome of the Sept. 7 race at Richmond, NAPA is ending its long association with Waltrip, MWR and driver Martin Truex Jr. effective at the end of 2013.

NAPA released a statement on its Facebook page Thursday:

"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."

NASCAR fined MWR $300,000 last week and took the unprecedented step of removing Truex from the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

NAPA was in its first year of a three-year contract extension that ran through the 2015 season. The company began sponsoring Waltrip in 2001 when he was driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. In their first race together, Waltrip won the Daytona 500. He would win NASCAR's biggest event again two years later. And when Waltrip formed his own team in 2007, NAPA stayed with him and sponsored Truex in 2010 when he joined MWR as Waltrip's replacement.

This isn't the first time MWR and NAPA have been involved in scandal. Prior to the 2007 Daytona 500, the MWR NAPA-backed team was found adding an illegal fuel additive to its engine. NASCAR fined MWR $100,000 and suspended several employees.

But after a rocky start as an organization - a start that included Waltrip almost filing bankruptcy and missing several races - MWR has been revitalized in recent seasons. A year ago both Clint Bowyer and Truex qualified for the Chase with Bowyer finishing runner-up to champion Brad Keselowski.

Although the NASCAR sanctions issued last week were significant, losing a full-time sponsor this late in the season may be more impactful long-term to MWR. Most companies have already allocated their marketing budgets for 2014 and with the taint of NASCAR's biggest cheating scandal so far still hovering, MWR will be hard-pressed to find comparable sponsorship.

Last August, NAPA re-signed with MWR in a deal estimated by the Sports Business Journal to be worth approximately $16 million annually.

In a statement, MWR said it "respects NAPA's decision to leave" and plans to continue as a three-car team.

"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."

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