Three weeks ago, if someone had said the relationship between NAPA Auto Parts and Michael Waltrip would be over by mid-September, both me and most everyone else who follows NASCAR would’ve called the prediction outrageous. However, due to some other outrageous events on the racetrack, including the “artificial altering” of a race, as NASCAR called it, by Michael Waltrip Racing, NASCAR’s shocker breakup of the year has happened.
NAPA has been with Waltrip since 2001, a span that includes 2 Daytona 500 wins, and 5 total Sprint Cup wins, while sponsoring Waltrip as a driver during his days at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. When Waltrip started his own team in 2007, they moved with him to MWR, even staying with him through a fuel scandal at Daytona Speedweeks in 2007, and the team’s near bankruptcy. Eventually, Waltrip reduced his driving schedule to just 4 races a year, but NAPA stayed with the team to sponsor Martin Truex Jr.
NAPA will stay with MWR and Truex until the end of the year, but will opt out of the extension they had signed last August that was scheduled to run through the 2015 season.
One notable result of the Waltrip-NAPA relationship over the last 13 seasons that was visible off the track was Waltrip’s marketability and all those NAPA commercials starring Waltrip that FOX, NBC, TNT, and ESPN have shown over the years. Truex also starred in several NAPA commercials, and Waltrip and Truex even did a few together. Unlike many commercials, the NAPA commercials were often funny and interesting, and actually caught the viewer’s attention. All that will be gone now.
After yesterday’s announcement of NAPA’s dropping of Waltrip and Truex, today Waltrip said that now, due to losing Truex’s sponsorship, he would let Truex go drive for another team, if the opportunity presents itself. Waltrip, in the meantime, is now forced to scramble to try and replace a $15 million sponsorship, and one that covered all 36 races on the NASCAR schedule (often times a primary sponsor will cover anywhere from 24-32 races, and leave alternate sponsors to take care of the rest).
Although this was not part of NASCAR’s official sanctions against MWR, it is, technically, an addition to the penalties NASCAR handed out. In addition, now the floodgates are open, potentially, for other sponsors of MWR cars to get the same idea as NAPA. These sponsors are Aaron’s and 5-Hour Energy. Considering NAPA sponsored the car who actually wasn’t in on the Richmond manipulation but instead innocently benefitted from it, don’t be surprised at all if these 2 sponsors of the perpetrators of the Richmond incidents also go away soon. The first domino, after all, has just fallen.
On that note, Aaron’s has publicly stated it remains dedicated to the MWR organization. 5-Hour Energy, which sponsors Clint Bowyer, MWR’s most successful driver, is still evaluating its relationship with Waltrip and his team, as of Thursday. Waltrip says he’s not worried about 5-Hour Energy, and also said that, if no full-time sponsor steps up for the Truex entry, co-owner Rob Kauffman could step up financially to keep the car on the track, at least for next year.
Just when we think the fallout from the Richmond situation is over, some other news breaks. The Richmond race was two weeks ago tomorrow, and we’re still talking about it. Of course, if either Clint Bowyer or Jeff Gordon, or both, contend for the championship in the coming weeks, expect the story to keep brewing.