Michael Waltrip is getting divorced yet again.
This time, the divorce isn’t to a woman, it’s to a sponsor. But this was not just any sponsor, this was NAPA Auto Parts. NAPA has been with Waltrip since his time at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. They were with Waltrip for his two Daytona 500 victories, and they stuck with him when he was struggling too.
When Waltrip decided it was time to leave DEI and take his NASCAR Nationwide Series team up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NAPA was there for him when he needed it most. Starting Michael Waltrip Racing was largely due to NAPA, and they played an essential role in helping the team reel Martin Truex Jr. in to join their organization.
In the midst of the worst penalties in NASCAR history, Michael Waltrip Racing’s entire outlook may be changing for the worse. Now, NAPA has announced that they’ll be leaving Michael Waltrip Racing on December 31, 2013. Basically, all the hard work and fun that Waltrip and Truex put into advertising NAPA products with those commercials is going to be history come the end of the season.
“NAPA has been with me from winning two Daytona 500’s, to missing races with a new start-up team, and back to victory lane again. 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 said in a statement on Thursday. “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.”
What does this essentially mean for a team that was considered to be on the verge of becoming a leader in the industry?
Well, now Michael Waltrip Racing needs to find a sponsor for Truex, otherwise they may end up losing him. There are rumors that if Furniture Row Racing doesn’t hire a new driver within the next few weeks, they may look at Truex if he decides to weigh his options for the future. However, he and Waltrip are very creative. They should be able to find a few new sponsors to fill the majority of the schedule, just like they did with Aaron’s the past few seasons.
If Truex does leave the team due to sponsorship, expect them to hire a driver that already has sponsorship. They could go with a veteran such as Elliott Sadler (who’s also a possible candidate for FRR), or maybe someone along the lines of a David Ragan or a re-partnership with Michael McDowell.
It’s sad to say that things have gotten so bad for Michael Waltrip Racing that they’re first sponsor has to leave the team. Yet, even with all of the stress that this shall cause, the team has to move on and will do so in whatever way they feel is best for the future of the organization.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.