Waltrip 'scared' about Richmond controversy
Michael Waltrip admitted Friday that the aftermath of his NASCAR Sprint Cup team's involvement in the controversial finish of the Sept. 7 race at Richmond International Speedway has been scary.
"It's been a rocky couple of weeks (and) yes, I was scared," Waltrip said. "I was uncertain of our future. After speaking with the folks from Aaron's and all of our partners, they're supporting us, they're going to stick with us and believe that we are a quality first-class organization. We will race forward with respect and appreciation for being able to be here. We'll start to regain trust."
Waltrip made the comments at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in response to questions about losing NAPA Auto Parts as a sponsor.
NAPA is severing ties with Martin Truex Jr. and Michael Waltrip Racing, ending the $18 million annual sponsorship at the end of the current season just 13 months into a three-year extension.
NAPA was outspoken against the team following the race, when teammate Clint Bowyer prevented Ryan Newman from winning the race by intentionally spinning out with just seven laps to go. NASCAR acted swiftly to remove Truex from the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and fined MWR $300,000.
NAPA is the primary sponsor for the No. 56 Toyota Camry.
Without sponsorship, Truex could lose his car, and the MWR team, which includes Bowyer and Brian Vickers, would be forced to cut its workforce significantly.
But Waltrip said the team plans to continue with three cars next season. Waltrip said billionaire co-owner Rob Kauffman might cover funding shortfalls through his RK Motors restoration business.
Kauffman has not commented since NASCAR disqualified Truex from the Chase for the Sprint Cup after NASCAR ruled Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated the result of the Richmond race.
"The reason Rob's been quiet is because he has been in Europe," Waltrip said. "He had some business to take care of over there. I told him I was really looking forward to chatting with (the media) and watching our team. I think this really has brought us closer together as an organization. It's easy to get bogged down in all the negativity that when you see people smile and pat you on the back and say, 'We're going to get through this,' it means a lot."
Waltrip said he did not know if NAPA would remain in NASCAR. Truex may consider leaving Waltrip for another team and NAPA could follow Truex.
"We asked if we could have a little time to figure this out," Waltrip said. "(Truex) agreed to that. If he came to me tomorrow and said, 'I got a deal to go something,' then obviously I would not hold him back.
"His support and loyalty to our organization has been amazing. He drove some kind of crappy cars when he first got to our shop. We were able to build those cars better and make them faster. He's been able to be a race-winning Chase guy. I owe him a lot for his loyalty and his passion for our team. I wouldn't hold him back from doing something he wanted to do, but I'd like him to hang around so we can attract a sponsor and keep him in our cars."
Waltrip denied that his team conspired to rig the Richmond race to get Truex in the Chase.
"I feel like as a whole, we're a very respectful, appreciative, humble organization, and we didn't have a master plan in order to manipulate the race," Waltrip said. "That wasn't even discussed in any way, form or shape. Hopefully, you earn your trust. We've disappointed some fans, and we're going to work our butts off to gain that trust back.