LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Stripped of his Chase spot, then his sponsorship, Martin Truex Jr. is now in a hasty scramble to find a ride.
He his little time to piece together a deal and few options.
“There’s not a whole lot out there,” Truex said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
But if he can find a funded ride out there, owner Michael Waltrip is willing to let Truex walk.
With NAPA out of the picture, Truex could decide to bolt Michael Waltrip Racing as part of the aftershock of the Richmond scandal that saw him booted out of the Chase. NAPA’s multimillion-dollar sponsorship defection from MWR at the end of the year is just the latest fallout from the team’s attempt to manipulate a race to get Truex into NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
NAPA is Truex’s primary sponsor and in the first year of a three-year extension announced last August. The deal ran through the 2015 season and is believed to be worth at least $15 million a year.
With only nine races left this season, Waltrip asked Truex for more time to strike a deal for 2014 funding.
“If he came to me tomorrow and said, ‘I got a deal to go do something,’ then obviously I would not hold him back,” Waltrip said. “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.”
Truex, who qualified fifth for Sunday’s race, would like to stay at MWR. He doesn’t know if NAPA would follow him to another team.
“I’d always hoped that I’d be at Michael Waltrip Racing for a long, long time,” Truex said. “That really hasn’t changed. But it’s a lot more confusing at the moment.”
MWR was also fined $300,000, general manager Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely and all three crew chiefs for its drivers were placed on probation for the rest of the year.
NASCAR penalties levied against teams for working outside the rule book are as much a part of the sport as checkered flags and 200 mph speeds. A major sponsor defection, however, is the type of stunning move that could scare teams into playing it straight and eliminate late-race shenanigans.
“You see a team go through some decisions that they went through and choices and you want a team to get penalized for those types of things, no matter what team it is,” Chase driver Jeff Gordon said. “But you never want to see it go to this level where they lose a sponsor.”
Waltrip said at New Hampshire he was scared about how the penalties could harm his organization and he apologized for his team’s shady actions.
“We will race forward with respect and appreciation for being able to be here,” he said. “We’ll start to regain trust.”
Aaron’s, sponsor of Brian Vickers for MWR, said it remains dedicated to the organization, but Clint Bowyer sponsor 5-Hour Energy said Thursday it was still evaluating its relationship with the team. Waltrip said Friday he expected 5-Hour Energy to remain with MWR and had a meeting set this weekend with the president of the energy shot company.
MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman pumped in much-needed cash and brought stability and accountability to the organization. Waltrip said Kauffman could help fund Truex in 2014. Kauffman wrote on Twitter that Waltrip did ask him if it was possible RK Motors could sponsor Truex.
NAPA’s decision will end a relationship with Waltrip that dates to 2001. This is the second scandal NAPA has been through with Waltrip, who was found to have a fuel additive in his engine in his debut race, the 2007 Daytona 500.
“They just felt like the events of the last 10 days had spiraled out of control a bit,” Waltrip said. “They felt like what we were involved with and NASCAR penalized us for was more than they were comfortable dealing with, more than they were comfortable with accepting. They worked hard to try to figure out a way to hang around.”
Track owner Bruton Smith, who helped bring NAPA into the sport, was disappointed the auto parts retailer bailed on MWR.
“They should have swallowed and moved on,” Smith said. “They’re going to lose more picking up and running than they would have had they stayed right there.”
The loss of a primary sponsor is a significant blow. Waltrip will be scrambling to quickly replace the money because NAPA is a rare sponsor that covers the entire 36-race Sprint Cup schedule. MWR employs around 100 people, and Waltrip now faces the possibility of running a two-team operation in 2014
“We’re going to race ahead,” Waltrip said. “We’re going to try to find funding for the 56 and have three cars in the competition for the Chase next year.”
Furniture Row Racing could be in the mix for Truex after losing Kurt Busch to Stewart-Haas Racing. General manager Joe Garone said the organization had not yet reached out to NAPA or Truex.
“He’d certainly be on the radar,” Garone said. “He’s more than qualified.”
Furniture Row will continue its arrangement with Chevrolet team Richard Childress Racing in 2014. Garone said there is no deal with FRR and Chevrolet.