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NASCAR: NAPA dropping Waltrip after Richmond scandal

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 11:54 p.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 11:54 p.m. CST
Caption
(AP)
Martin Truex Jr. drives his car during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. The car's owner, Michael Waltrip Racing, was dropped by longtime sponsor NAPA.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – NAPA Auto Parts said Thursday it will end its multimillion-dollar sponsorship of Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the year, the latest fallout from the team’s attempt to manipulate a race to get Martin Truex Jr. into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.

NAPA is Truex’s primary sponsor and in the first year of a 3-year extension announced last August. The deal ran through the 2015 season and is believed to be worth at least $15 million a year.

“NAPA believes in fair play and does not condone actions such as those that led to the penalties assessed by NASCAR,” NAPA said in a statement. “We remain supportive of the millions of NASCAR fans and will evaluate our future position in motorsports.”

The company issued a harsh rebuke of MWR last week after NASCAR sanctioned the organization for its shenanigans in the Sept. 7 race at Richmond. MWR was punished for deliberately manipulating the outcome of the race in an attempt to get Truex into the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.

NASCAR took the unprecedented step of kicking Truex out of the Chase in favor of Ryan Newman, who would have made it into the field instead of Truex without MWR’s meddling. MWR was also fined $300,000, general manager Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely, and all three crew chiefs for its drivers were placed on probation for the rest of the year.

The penalties levied against MWR led to a larger NASCAR investigation that uncovered at least one other case of race manipulation. NASCAR was then forced to expand the Chase field to 13 drivers to include Jeff Gordon and issue new rules banning digital radios and more than one team member per car on the spotter stand.

NASCAR chairman Brian France also ordered all competitors to give 100 percent at all times during a meeting in which it was made clear attempts to artificially alter the outcome of races would be prohibited.

Waltrip apologized for the first time for MWR’s actions at Richmond.

“To the fans and those who made their voice heard through social media, as the owner, I am responsible for all actions of MWR,” he said in a statement. “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.”

It was the second scandal NAPA has been through with Waltrip, who was found to have a fuel additive in his engine in his debut race, the 2007 Daytona 500.

The loss of a primary sponsor, particularly with only nine races left in the season, is a big blow to Waltrip. It will be a tremendous challenge to quickly replace the money, because NAPA is a rare sponsor that covers the entire 36-race Sprint Cup schedule.

Should MWR not secure sponsorship to replace NAPA, it could lead to layoffs of nearly 100 employees and the possible shuttering of Truex’s team. Truex could be out of a job, as well.

MWR also fields cars for Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers, the two drivers who actively participated in the manipulations at Richmond to get Truex into the Chase. Bowyer spun with seven laps remaining to bring out a caution that prevented Newman from winning the race, and Vickers pitted late to benefit Truex.

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