Cornelius, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - After recently losing its sponsorship from NAPA, Michael Waltrip Racing revealed on Monday it plans to run only two full- time teams in the Sprint Cup Series for the 2014 season.
MWR has informed Martin Truex Jr., who currently drives the No. 56 NAPA- sponsored Toyota, and his crew chief, Chad Johnston, that they are free to negotiate with other teams. The racing organization plans to cut its workforce by 15 percent. MWR will continue to field the No. 15 Toyota, driven by Clint Bowyer, and the No. 55 Toyota, with Brian Vickers behind the wheel. A third entry, likely the No. 56, will run in select races for research and development purposes. Team co-owner Michael Waltrip is scheduled to drive MWR's third car in next year's Daytona 500.
"Today was about doing what we had to do not what we wanted to do," MWR co- owner Rob Kauffman said. "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."
MWR's reorganizational plan comes five weeks after the team was severely penalized by NASCAR for manipulating the outcome of the Sept. 7 race at Richmond, in an attempt to get Truex into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. After thoroughly investigating the final laps of the regular- season-ending event there, NASCAR fined MWR $300,000, which is the largest in the sport's history, and suspended team vice president/general manager Ty Norris indefinitely. Bowyer, Truex and Vickers were each penalized with a loss of 50 driver points. The points loss for Truex bumped him out of the Chase, as Ryan Newman replaced him in the wild card spot.
NAPA had been a long-time partner of Waltrip and his team, but less than two weeks after the Richmond incident, the automotive replacement parts and accessories retailer announced the ending of its sponsorship agreement with MWR at the conclusion of this season.
"We have very strong support from Toyota, Toyota Racing Development, 5-hour Energy, PEAK, Aaron's, AAA Mid-Atlantic and other partners who enable us to compete at the highest level," Waltrip said. "We are confident that with two teams and a very active test team, our competiveness will take a step forward. We will also continue to do a great job for our partners off the track, which has always been a cultural staple for our organization."
There is wide speculation that Truex will join Furniture Row Racing for next season. Kurt Busch is leaving that team and becoming the fourth driver for Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch qualified for this year's Chase, making Furniture Row the first single-car team to compete in the Chase.
MWR noted that Scott Miller, the team's executive vice president of competition, will continue his role as crew chief for Vickers next year.
The organization will continue to search for additional sponsorship, in hopes of re-establishing a third full-time team in the future.
"Our goals for the reorganization were twofold, firstly to improve the competitiveness of our race teams and, secondly maintain a stable organizational structure," Kauffman said. "The team's focus has been to find that last one percent needed to move from Chase participant to Cup champion. This realignment will get us closer to that last one percent."
On Monday morning, Vickers announced he will miss the remainder of this Sprint Cup and Nationwide season after being placed on blood thinning medication to treat a blood clot in his right calf. He will not compete in the Cup races at Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. Waltrip will drive the No. 55 this weekend at Talladega. Vickers' latest health issue comes three years after he suffered blood clots in his legs and lungs and later had heart surgery as part of his treatment. He missed most of the 2010 season.
Vickers presently drives the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in Nationwide. JGR has yet to name a replacement driver for him. The series is off for the next two weeks before heading to Texas on the first weekend in November.