Michael Waltrip Racing confirms drop to two full-time cars in ’14 (UPDATED)

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UPDATE (2:30 p.m. ET): Michael Waltrip Racing has officially confirmed a drop to two full-time cars, the No. 15 5-Hour Energy and No. 55 Aaron’s Toyotas, for next year’s Sprint Cup season. The team’s workforce will be cut by 15 percent as a result.

A third MWR car will be rolled out for a partial 2014 schedule that includes the Daytona 500, which team co-owner Waltrip himself will compete in.

Additionally, driver Martin Truex Jr. and his crew chief, Chad Johnston, have been informed that they are free to negotiate with other teams. MWR executive vice president of competition Scott Miller will continue on as crew chief for the team’s No. 55 car.

“Today was about doing what we had to do, not what we wanted to do,” co-owner Rob Kauffman said in his statement. “It was important to let those whose jobs were affected know as early as possible, and a majority of those will remain with MWR through the end of the season.”

The Associated Press first reported this morning that MWR would downsize to two cars in 2014 due to the departure of major team sponsor NAPA Auto Parts.

Shortly after MWR’s attempt to manipulate the finish of the Sept. 7 race at Richmond International Raceway and secure a Chase for the Sprint Cup spot for Truex, NAPA announced it would leave the squad at the conclusion of the 2013 season. 5-Hour Energy and Aaron’s, the team’s other major sponsors, have since decided to continue their support.

NAPA has been by Waltrip’s side through his two Daytona 500 victories (2001, 2003) and the inception of MWR in 2007, but also has had to face two severe controversies with him: The 2007 “jet fuel” episode that involved MWR leading up to that year’s Daytona 500 and last month’s scandal at Richmond.

The company’s call to leave MWR was perhaps the most devastating hit to the team post-Richmond, even more so than the series of penalties levied by NASCAR that resulted in Truex getting booted from the Chase, the team getting fined $300,000, and its general manager, Ty Norris, being suspended indefinitely.

F1 2017 driver review: Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Renault
Car No.: 27
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 43
Championship Position: 10th

Expectations were hard to peg for Renault heading into its second full season back in F1 with a factory team, but Nico Hulkenberg was surely expected to be the man spearheading its charge.

With teammate Jolyon Palmer severely underperforming, Hulkenberg did exactly that, bringing home all but 14 of the team’s points in the final standings. However, consistency was never something he truly found.

Many of Renault’s issues were down to reliability issues, sidelining Hulkenberg for six races – four coming in a five-race stint from Singapore to Mexico – yet he only scored points in consecutive races on three occasions.

When Hulkenberg and Renault were on form, they proved to be a potent combination, often topping the midfield fight and even looking faster than Force India come the end of the season. His run to sixth at the final race in Abu Dhabi was crucial for the constructors’ championship as Renault jumped Toro Rosso, securing an extra slice of prize money in the process.

But for a driver who was so often tipped as being a future star in F1, Hulkenberg still has a lot to prove. Renault is set to offer a good platform for the German moving forward with factory support, yet if he cannot beat new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. through 2018, concerns will surely be raised.

Season High: Charging to sixth in Abu Dhabi despite a penalty.

Season Low: A tough run to 16th in Malaysia.