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Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner to purchase stake of Chip Ganassi Racing

The move casts a shadow of uncertainty over Michael Waltrip Racing.

Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman is buying a share of Chip Ganassi Racing, both NASCAR organizations confirmed Thursday.

Kauffman, a billionaire investment banker, bought 50 percent of MWR in 2007, keeping the Sprint Cup Series team solvent. His possible disassociation would seriously hamper MWR's long-term viability.

"Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, has agreed to buy an interest in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates," MWR said in a statement. "The companies will continue to operate separately and compete against each other for the remainder of the 2015 season. They are also currently evaluating ways to field the most competitive race teams possible to provide an excellent platform for their partners and employees for the 2016 season and beyond. More details will follow in due course."

The announcement follows a Sports Business Journal report Wednesday stating Kauffman would purchase a stake in CGR and bring Clint Bowyer's No. 15 team with him. CGR would then expand to a three-car team, while MWR would likely downsize to a one-car operation.

CGR co-owner Felix Sabates said Kauffman is not buying out his minority interest, but confirmed the organization is adding a third car, in a statement to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

"I'm not going anywhere," Sabates said. "This is about making our team stronger; a three-car team is stronger than a two-car. But the rumors that Rob is buying me out are not true; my last race will be five years from (Sept. 9). I will be 75 years old then and will be done."

MWR fields cars for Bowyer and David Ragan, whose contract (and that of sponsor Aaron's) expires at the end of the season. The team, currently supported by Toyota, does not have a manufacturer deal in place beyond 2015. Bowyer and sponsor 5-Hour Energy recently signed multi-year contract extensions. How an ownership change affects those deals is not known.

"My focus is on 2015 and fulfilling the commitment we have made to our partners and Toyota which is placing our teams in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup," Waltrip said in a separate statement Thursday. "There are a lot of details yet to be sorted regarding 2016. I will work closely with Rob Kauffman and our sponsors to formulate the best way forward."

Just a few years ago MWR was considered a team on the rise. Bowyer won three races and finished runner-up in the championship in 2012, his first season with the team. That same season teammate Martin Truex Jr. also earned a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, while a third car shared by Mark Martin and Brian Vickers was consistently competitive.

The next season, Vickers and Truex each recorded a victory and Bowyer again was a Chase participant. Truex provisionally qualified for NASCAR's playoffs, but was ejected when officials determined MWR had conspired to manipulate the finishing order of a race to ensure Truex made the Chase.

In the resulting fallout, NASCAR fined MWR a record $300,000 and sponsor NAPA left the organization displeased with the negative publicity.

Consequently, MWR shrunk from three fully funded teams to two and saw some key personnel depart. Among those who left were Truex and crew chief Rodney Childers, who joined Stewart-Haas Racing where he and driver Kevin Harvick won the 2014 Cup championship.

MWR hasn't won a race since Vickers' July 2013 victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.