COMMENTARY | Just when we thought the cheating scandal surrounding Michael Waltrip Racing was in the past, in comes the shocking news that longtime MWR sponsor NAPA is leaving the team effective at the end of the year.
While loss of points, suspensions and even having one of its own booted from the Chase was bad, losing NAPA could be a painful if not fatal blow to the Michael Waltrip Racing organization. It is a verdict that is both painful to watch and at the same time a wakeup call to teams that things need to change.
The loss of NAPA ends a partnership that dates back to 2001. NAPA was sponsor for Waltrip during both of his Daytona 500 wins and stayed with him through the formation of his team in 2007. Recently, NAPA has adorned the side of MWR member Martin Truex Jr., the man who finds himself in the middle of the scandal despite having the least involvement.
MWR just signed NAPA to a three-year extension in August and looked forward to a continued partnership with one of the most visible sponsors in the sport. In a time when sponsors are hard to come by and any partnership is at a premium, NAPA was one of the best around. NAPA's support of both Michael Waltrip Racing and NASCAR was one of the most notable partnerships in all of racing, but now, after two separate scandals involving Waltrip and his team, NAPA admitted that they had had enough.
NAPA's announcement comes on the heels of a torrid scandal that saw two Michael Waltrip Racing teams essentially throw the race in favor of Truex who was on the Chase bubble at Richmond International Raceway two weeks ago. Audio evidence backed up the assumptions that MWR directly manipulated the outcome of the race to get Truex into the Chase and, as a result, the team was fined $300,000, general manager Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely and all three race teams were docked 50 points. The subsequent loss of points moved Truex out of the Chase and put Ryan Newman in.
While losing a Chase position was certainly a painful blow to the team, it was little punishment compared to the massive hit that losing NAPA will do to the organization.
NAPA's sponsorship of MWR was estimated to be around $15 million and was one of the few full-season sponsors in the sport. With the loss of sponsorship, MWR is now scrambling to find funding and, if none can be found, could lead to layoffs and possible loss of Truex and his team.
The disappointing part is that Truex was least at fault in his incident. Simply trying to race for a spot in the Chase, Truex was an innocent bystander when his team decided to manipulate the race in his favor.
As a result, Truex is now out of the Chase, out of a sponsor and, quite possibly, out of a job.
I applaud NAPA for standing up for fair racing and making a statement to Michael Waltrip, who has been involved in other scandals during his time with NAPA. In 2007, Waltrip was found to have a fuel additive in his engine at the season-opening Daytona 500 resulting in one of the biggest cheating scandals ever at NASCAR's biggest race.
In the grand scheme of things, MWR management was simply trying to do what was best for one of its own. But in the process, they severely damaged the credibility of the sport and left droves of NASCAR fans disgusted with the current state of the sport.
Ultimately, this scandal will prove beneficial for the sport as a whole as it addresses some critical issues and has already resulted in the recent fair play mandate issued by NASCAR Chairman Brian France calling for 100 percent effort at all times.
For now, MWR will serve as the face of the scandal and will take on the brunt of the punishment. With sponsors leaving the sport at an alarming rate, now is an important moment for NASCAR to take a stand against cheating and try to restore some credibility back to racing.
If not, NAPA won't be the last sponsor to say they have had enough.
L.A. Crum is a motorsports writer from Ohio. He is an avid fan of all things racing and college athletics and has worked with many of the top teams and drivers in the racing industry during his career. He is a proud graduate of Marshall University.
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