Sources: Red Bull set to leave NASCAR

Sources say employees at Red Bull Racing have been told that the NASCAR Sprint Cup operation will close at the end of the year.

Red Bull issued a statement late Monday afternoon after the news broke.

"Red Bull Racing Team is currently seeking outside investors as we evaluate next steps in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. We are not at liberty to comment on details while negotiations are under way. Red Bull fully supports NASCAR for the remainder of the 2011 season as we fight for victories and a position in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup."

The statement did not address 2012.

A surprise visit by Thomas Ueberall, international motorsports chief for Red Bull, had crew members scrambling for job openings at Michigan this past weekend.

With the success of Red Bull’s Formula One operation, it’s not surprising that the Austrian company pulled the plug on its NASCAR effort considering that it’s struggled since its inception in 2007. In five years, there’s been a revolving door of drivers with Brian Vickers being the lone victor of one race and qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup only in 2009.

Two scenarios are making the rounds as to what happens next with Red Bull’s NASCAR assets.

Team general manager Jay Frye could bring in investors and start a new operation with Mark Martin as the driver and engines from Hendrick Motorsports, a plan that Frye had tried to expedite over the last two years with pushback from Austria. That scenario could create an operation with Martin and Red Bull development driver Cole Whitt as drivers, with the veteran mentoring the rookie much like the situation when Martin worked with, and shared a ride with, Regan Smith under Frye’s tutelage in 2007 at Ginn Racing.

The hot rumor of late has been the return of Ray Evernham in an ownership role similar to Tony Stewart’s at SHR, with Red Bull as the sponsor. On Monday Evernham told he “had zero desire to be an owner again.”

“I want to help Rick (Hendrick get) some of his dealership stuff going,” Evernham said. “I would like to be more involved with Hendrick Motorsports than I am … It’s hard to get involved when you don’t want to be there all the time.”

Evernham said he had no knowledge on a Red Bull deal. Only two positions would entice him enough to return to the track on a weekly basis: working with NASCAR or a request from Rick Hendrick.

“It would depend on the deal and it would depend on whether it was something Mr. Hendrick would want me to do,” Evernham added. “I just don’t have the desire to be on the road 40 weekends a year.”

Apparently, Red Bull was fairly far down the line in negotiations with Clint Bowyer for the No. 4 ride next season. It was one of the few companies that could afford Bowyer.

News of Red Bull’s possible NASCAR exit was first reported by The Associated Press on Monday afternoon.