Michael Waltrip Racing to lose NAPA sponsorship at year’s end

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In the wake of Michael Waltrip Racing’s attempted manipulation of the race finish at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7, NAPA Auto Parts has announced that it will leave the team after this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Last week, NAPA and fellow MWR sponsor 5-Hour Energy expressed their disappointment at MWR’s role in the Richmond scandal, with NAPA saying it would hold a review of its sponsorship with the team.

NAPA posted the following statement on its Facebook page this morning regarding their decision to leave:

NAPA-backed driver Martin Truex Jr. was knocked out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup after NASCAR heavily penalized the team with points deductions for all three drivers, probation for their crew chiefs, a $300,000 fine, and an indefinite suspension for general manager Ty Norris.

Clint Bowyer (who is backed by 5-Hour Energy) spun out with seven laps to go at Richmond to bring out the caution, while fellow MWR driver Brian Vickers was ordered to pit in the closing laps to give up his track position. Both of those moves, according to NASCAR, were made to help Truex get into the post-season.

But while NASCAR delivered a swift judgment with their penalties of MWR, the fact still remains that MWR has suffered its biggest post-Richmond blow today, as major sponsors such as NAPA are the life blood of the sport.

In a statement, team co-owner Michael Waltrip said that as the owner, he takes full responsibility for the actions of the team.

“I sincerely apologize for the role our team played and for the lines NASCAR has ruled were crossed by our actions at Richmond,” he said. “NASCAR met with the competitors in Chicago and we all know how we are expected to race forward.”

A statement for the entire team was also released, in which MWR writes that it “respects” NAPA’s decision to part ways with the team.

“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,” the team said. “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.”

NAPA has had a working relationship with Waltrip since 2001, and served as his primary sponsor for his two Daytona 500 victories in ’01 and 2003. They also joined him for his creation of Michael Waltrip Racing in 2007, and stayed on to sponsor Truex when he replaced Waltrip as a full-time driver in 2010.

But while the team still plans on staying a three-car franchise, NAPA’s departure would seem to make that plan, currently, a very iffy one.

If they can’t replace the lost money, the consequences could be disastrous. In that situation, the AP’s Jenna Fryer writes that a group of nearly 100 employees could be facing layoffs. Additionally, Truex could find himself out of a ride as well.

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTLM

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne continues the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. At nine entries, it is the smallest of the three classes entered in this weekend’s Rolex 24 and down from last year’s 11 entries, but past events indicate it may be the event’s most competitive class.

The 2017 Rolex 24 saw four different marques from four different teams battling for the GTLM win late in the race, with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing taking the win with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais. And in 2016, Corvette Racing saw its No. 3 and 4 entries duel to the checkered flag, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler victorious in the No. 4 machine.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GTLM class.

Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
No. 3 (Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller)
No. 4 (Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler)

Outlook: Corvette Racing has been a perennial powerhouse in GT racing over the entirety of the 21st century, and that isn’t something that’s likely to change. Coming off their 13th championship last year – Garcia and Magnussen took home last year’s GTLM driver’s crown – Corvette Racing now hunts for its fourth Rolex 24 triumph.

With an unchanged package that is proven to be both fast and reliable, Corvette Racing looks set to again feature prominently in the GTLM battle. Barring problems, both cars should be battling up front for the win.

BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M8 GTLM
No. 24 (Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus)
No. 25 (Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi, Bill Auberlen, Philipp Eng)

Outlook: Of all the GTLM entries, BMW Team RLL sees by far the most change to its program. Out is the M6 GTLM and in is the brand new M8 GTLM. Jesse Krohn, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng and Connor De Phillippi are all new drivers to the team, while veteran Bill Auberlen will only contest the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018.

At the Roar Before the 24, the program appeared to lack speed. Sunday qualifying, to decide pit stall and garage selection, saw the No. 25 qualify the better of the two BMWs, but one second slower than the next quickest car – the BMW set a 1:45.056 for seventh in GTLM, behind the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which set a 1:44.037.

It remains to be seen if there is more speed in the BMW machines, but they remain the most unproven of the GTLM entries. A victory seems out of reach at the moment, but that could change if the package improves.

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
No. 62 (Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Davide Rigon)

Outlook: Risi Competizione came excruciatingly close to winning last year’s Rolex, but a late-race battle between James Calado and Dirk Mueller, of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, saw Mueller come out on top, while Calado was shuffled back to third by the time the checkered flag fell.

They did not win an event last year, but this is a team that knows how to win big races – they have previously won the Motul Petit Le Mans – and should once again prove to be a major player in the GTLM battle.

The only major change comes in their driver lineup, with Alessandro Pier Guidi and David Rigon joining the lineup and Giancarlo Fisichella departing. But, with Calado and Toni Vilander returning to anchor the driving team, this change is not expected to slow the team down. Expect them to battle at the front all race long.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
No. 66 (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais)
No. 67 (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon)

Outlook: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing returns to the Rolex 24 as defending race winners – Hand, Mueller, and Bourdais delivered the victory in 2017. Further, they return with the same driver lineups and car they used. In short, every indication is that they enter this year’s event as favorites to repeat.

The Roar Before the 24 gave further evidence of this. Both of the cars were among the quickest in every session at the Roar, and Sunday qualifying saw its No. 66 end up at the top of the board, with the No. 67 in third.

The GTLM field is strong all the way around, but this team is likely the favorite entering the event.

Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR

No. 911 (Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Frederic Makowiecki)
No. 912 (Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni)

Outlook: Porsche GT Team brings with it a star-studded driver lineup that features former class winners of the Rolex 24, former overall winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a ton of all-around talent.

The team finished a close second at last year’s Rolex 24, with the No. 911 entry, behind the race-winning Ford from Chip Ganassi’s stable. Later that year, they visited victory lane – Porsche finished 1-2 at Lime Rock Park, with the No. 911 taking the victory – proving that the mid-engine 911 RSR is more than up to the task and gives the team everything they need to be contenders.

Porsche will have a fight on their hands, but this is a team that expects to compete for a victory, and they did win this event in 2014. They round out a titanic GTLM grid and should be a fixture throughout the day.

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