Michael Waltrip Racing’s run in NASCAR is all but over, with the team announcing Wednesday morning that it will not field a full-time car in 2016.
In addition, MWR driver Clint Bowyer has been granted a release from the team and is free to sign wherever he wants for next year. Bowyer and David Ragan, who is unsigned for 2016, will finish out the season at MWR.
“MWR will race hard and compete for the remainder of the 2015 season. This decision was made after weighing several different options and scenarios,” said MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman, who last month said he was buying a stake in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates for next year.
“I felt it was important to make an announcement as soon as we had clarity, so that is what we are doing today,” said Kauffman in a statement issued by the team Wednesday morning. “I want to thank all of our staff, partners, sponsors and fans for all their effort and support over the years.”
Kauffman, an investment banker, joined MWR in the fall of 2007, the team’s first season. At the time, MWR was on the verge of going out of business and Kauffman’s infusion of cash and managerial expertise saved the team from an early collapse.
“Rob joined MWR in 2007 and has helped give us the resources to build a competitive race team, and in 2012, Clint Bowyer took us to the doorstep of a championship,” said Waltrip in a team statement. “From where MWR started behind my house in Sherrill’s Ford to winning Sprint Cup races, poles and earning Chase berths, I am proud of what we accomplished.
“My family has been a part of NASCAR for almost five decades and I plan on being a part of it for years to come. I would not have had the opportunity to start this journey without so many great partners, sponsors and employees and I want to thank each of them for making Michael Waltrip Racing a reality.”
Bowyer will surely be in demand as a driver and could follow Kauffman to the Ganassi organization. He finished second to Brad Keselowski in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, the team’s best season.
But a cheating scandal in the final regular-season race of 2013 was the start of a long downhill slide for MWR. Longtime MWR sponsor NAPA Auto Parts left soon after and the team downsized to two full-time cars for 2014.
Brian Vickers, who drove the team’s No. 55 was sidelined last year and again this year by ongoing health issues related to blood clots. Vickers gave the team its last victory at New Hampshire in 2013.
The team’s lack of on-track success in the last two years proved to be the final blow. MWR missed the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last year and Bowyer is in 15th place this year.
In July 2013, FOXSports.com asked Waltrip just how important it is to have his cars qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
From where MWR started behind my house in Sherrill’s Ford to winning Sprint Cup races, poles and earning Chase berths, I am proud of what we accomplished.
Waltrip, the founder and co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, was uncharacteristically blunt.
“Our business model doesn’t work without us making the Chase,” Waltrip said. “We invest in our cars and our team and we tell our sponsors that with the way we built our team, we’re going to make the Chase, we’re going to win races.”
Asked if the difference between making the Chase and missing it is in the millions of dollars per car, Waltrip told FOXSports.com, “I would say it’s safe to say that because of the purse and sponsor incentives, but more than that, it’s about survival. You have to be a Chase team if you want to be here for the long haul.”