One day after NAPA Auto Parts announced its departure at year’s end from the team he co-owns, Michael Waltrip will now look to weather what has already been a vicious storm by trying to keep Martin Truex Jr. in the fold.
Truex (pictured, left) was the most prominent victim in Michael Waltrip Racing’s attempt to manipulate the Sept. 7 race at Richmond International Raceway, which was supposed to set the field for the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Penalties levied by NASCAR against the team knocked the NAPA-backed Truex out of the post-season, and now that NAPA’s heading for the exits, a major shift in his career could be forthcoming.
On Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Waltrip (pictured, right) said that while he would love for Truex to stay, he would let him go if he were to find another drive for 2014 and possibly beyond.
“I owe him a lot for his loyalty and his passion for our team. I wouldn’t hold him back from doing something he wanted to do, but I’d like him to hang around so we can attract a sponsor and keep him in our cars.”
Truex has been with MWR since the 2010 season, when he came on to replace Waltrip after the two-time Daytona 500 winner opted to go to a part-time driving schedule. He broke a 218-race winless streak earlier this summer with a win at Sonoma.
According to Waltrip, his ownership partner at MWR, Rob Kauffman, could help fund Truex’s No. 56 machine in 2014 (Kauffman’s Charlotte-based classic car group, RK Motors, has partially backed MWR driver Clint Bowyer this season).
Kauffman indicated on Twitter that he had been asked by Waltrip about such a possibility:
As for MWR’s remaining major sponsors, Waltrip is expected to have a meeting this weekend with the president of 5-Hour Energy, which primarily backs Bowyer and his No. 15 Toyota.
Meanwhile, lease-to-own giant Aaron’s, which is on the No. 55 Toyota of Brian Vickers, has Tweeted its support of the team, saying that “we remain dedicated to MWR, to NASCAR, and to the fans.”
But so many things remain up in the air for Waltrip and his franchise, which has been rocked by tremendous scandal for the second time in its short history.
The aftermath from Richmond continues to hammer at MWR’s future, and has now delivered two major blows on both the competition and financial side. And that’s not even mentioning the damage to its reputation in the eyes of the fans.
For his part, Waltrip said he’ll be aiming to regain the trust of the sport’s supporters.
“We will race forward with respect and appreciation for being able to be here,” he said.