Ever since Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman announced that he was buying an ownership interest in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, it was clear that MWR’s future was murky at best.
The day of the announcement, FOXSports.com learned that MWR’s race shop in Cornelius, North Carolina, was up for sale, which was a strong indicator the team wasn’t going to be back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2016, at least not at the anticipated level.
Another sign was that MWR had cancelled its annual fall sponsor summit, where the team officials meet with the representatives of the companies that pay for the squad to race. The cancellation of that event was another huge indicator that next year was in doubt.
But until Wednesday, everything we were hearing fell in the category of rumors.
Rob Kauffman — The MWR co-owner apparently will focus his energy on his new partnership with Ganassi for 2016 and beyond. Felix Sabates has already said Ganassi is likely to expand from two cars to three next year, with Kauffman coming on board.
Michael Waltrip — So far, Waltrip has not announced his plans for 2016.
Clint Bowyer — One of the sport’s top-tier drivers, Bowyer is in an enviable position. He controls the 5-Hour Energy sponsorship, and it would be no surprise if Bowyer wound up at Ganassi in the team’s third car, with 5-Hour Energy on board. Another option might be the long-rumored second car at Furniture Row Racing.
David Ragan — No change in status for Ragan, who has said publicly on several occasions that he doesn’t have a signed deal for 2016 and is a free agent at the moment.
Brian Vickers — Sidelined by complications from blood clots on multiple occasions, it’s unclear what the future holds for Vickers, although given his history of health issues, he would be a tough sell for a sponsor.
Toyota — David Wilson, the president and general manager of TRD, U.S.A., Toyota’s racing arm here, has said he’s looking for another front-line team and that he thought Furniture Row Racing would be a good fit for Toyota. Obviously, with MWR not running a full-time team next year, the need to find another good team takes on an added sense of urgency for Toyota management.
MWR employees — Certainly, this isn’t good news for the men and women at MWR. Although the team has not said anything about the fate of its employees, it’s clear that if the team goes from two full-time cars to zero full-time cars, they won’t need to be staffed at anywhere near the level they’re at now. The good news is if Ganassi does indeed add a third car, presumably some of the MWR employees will find their way over there.
Sponsors — Over the years, MWR has been fortunate to have a number of strong sponsorship partners. With the need for funding always critical for NASCAR teams, MWR’s current sponsors like Aaron’s will have no problem finding places so spend their money in NASCAR.