The Frontstretch: As NAPA Goes Away, Is Truex Left A Victim? by Amy Henderson -- Friday September 20, 2013

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As NAPA Goes Away, Is Truex Left A Victim?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday September 20, 2013


If you’ve ever read Edgar Allen Poe’s classic short story “The Pit and the Pendulum,” you remember that moment of fear when the narrator realizes that the sharpened scimitar is dropping closer to him with every swing. Back and forth, back and forth, and each time falling just a fraction of an inch closer until finally it’s able to deliver a fatal blow.

It’s kind of like that in NASCAR right now. Just as everyone thinks it’s safe to move on from The Spin, the pendulum swings again, making another cut. The latest swing was NAPA’s announcement that they’ll leave Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 56 car at the end of the season.

Will Martin Truex Jr. once again be the one to pay the biggest price for the underhanded actions of his teammates?

The auto parts retailer posted the following to fans on their Facebook page: “After thorough consideration, NAPA has made the difficult decision to end its sponsorship arrangement with Michael Waltrip Racing effective December 31, 2013. NAPA believes in fair play and does not condone actions such as those that led to the penalties assessed by NASCAR. We remain supportive of the millions of NASCAR fans and will evaluate our future position in motorsports.”

Now, to be fair, it’s hard to blame NAPA for their decision. None of the higher-ups at MWR seemed particularly remorseful or apologetic. As I wrote last week the way the incident is handled by all involved is crucial, and MWR failed to address the situation adequately . (Though Michael Waltrip did finally offer his first actual apology for the incident after NAPA’s announcement…too little, too late.) It’s understandable that a sponsor sinking millions into sponsorship doesn’t want to be associated with a team who unapologetically manipulated the outcome of a race in a manner that could have put another driver in danger.

But does it seem as though the person who’s ultimately gotten the brunt of the punishment doesn’t deserve any of it?

Martin Truex, Jr. lost his Chase berth after The Spin, though he says he had no knowledge of his teammates’ actions. I believe him; he had no reason to know, and the team had no reason to tell him. All Truex did was race as hard as he could to put himself in the best position possible—just like NASCAR reminded the drivers to do in a meeting last weekend in Chicago. He didn’t break any rules, though he was the beneficiary for about five minutes until NASCAR rearranged the points.

NASCAR wasn’t wrong to penalize, but they penalized the wrong person more heavily than the right one. Clint Bowyer, the driver who actually spun on track that night, was penalized, but the pre-reset point deduction did nothing to harm his Chase seeding, and probation…well, everyone knows that has no teeth. If anything, Bowyer should have been the one sitting out the title hunt. If NASCAR has the power to add a driver because of shady circumstances, surely they have the power to delete one if he’s done wrong. But Bowyer is in…and still in the position where he could win the whole thing, while Truex watches the Chase from his driver’s seat without being a part of it.

And now, it’s Truex whose future is in jeopardy. And NAPA didn’t even make the wrong decision.

NAPA has been affiliated with Waltrip for many years, so leaving his team wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. That it happened a week and a half after the scandal speaks to how carefully the sponsor considered their options. And in the end, separating themselves from a team who flaunted the rules as well as good sportsmanship so carelessly isn’t a bad move. Except once again, it’s Truex who’s left to worry about whether another sponsor will step into NAPA’s place with a now-tainted organization. And if one doesn’t (and there are teams without the stigma of underhandedness looking for sponsors), it’s Truex’s job on the line.

Somehow, that doesn’t make this wrong right.

Truex may have been intended as the beneficiary of a plan cooked up by Ty Norris to get him in the Chase, but, because the organization got caught red-handed in the process of executing the plan, and because the organization didn’t immediately take the appropriate steps to stop the bleeding, he’s become the victim instead. Condemn his teammates, certainly condemn Norris and MWR, but Truex was just doing his job, trying to race his way into the Chase honestly. And thanks to the “help” from his teammates, Truex could find himself in the unemployment line. Sure, he’s a Cup winner, but there are other winners still looking for rides and not many rides to be had.

And where does that leave Truex’s fans, who have no doubt spent money on NAPA merchandise, may even have switched to shopping at NAPA stores as a show of loyalty? Ultimately, they could end up cheering for their driver in a subpar ride or a lower series. They didn’t do anything wrong. Their driver didn’t do anything wrong. Why stick with NASCAR, then? The sport can’t afford to lose more fans.

Is there hope for Truex? Well, yes. NAPA is leaving the organization, but they could stick with Truex and back him with another team. There are a few established teams, a few of them upper-tier organizations, who have room to expand if a full-time sponsor of NAPA’s caliber came along, and if NAPA came along with Truex, a two-time Cup winner who has made the Chase, they might well take the bait and buy into a package deal. Not only would the move bring such an organization a dedicated and top-flight sponsor, but it gets them a NASCAR champion driver with wins and a Chase berth at the Cup level-something that not everyone can claim on their resume. They get a likeable driver with at least modest skills and an influx of fans following a proven commodity. Truex is, by accounts, a team player, a decent driver and a heck of a nice guy. Teams could do worse and they know it.

So here’s hoping that NAPA makes one statement by leaving the MWR organization…and a second one by taking their driver with them to another team. That’s the only way the people who should come out on top do so. If NAPA walks away from the driver, it’s just another underscore to Truex being the victim of the scheme engineered to help him. No driver wants to get in the Chase because his teammates tried to stack the deck in his favor. No sponsor wants to be put in the position of defending that kind of “teamwork.” Leaving MWR was a right move, but it was only part of the right move.

And a feel-good story, like the sponsor sticking with their driver, might help stop that fearful scimitar from cutting off something vital and irreplaceable to the sport as a whole.

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Bill B
09/20/2013 09:37 AM

Very true on all counts.
Still, hard to envision how all this is going to work out. The first question is,,, will NAPA even want to stay in NASCAR?

09/20/2013 10:32 AM

Disgusting. Again, some get the shaft and some get the gold mine.

All you have to do is look at who got taken out of the Chase and who got put in. And how the penalties were, or were not, handed out.

Truex got crapped on from all sides. I wouldn’t blame him if he left altogether.

09/20/2013 11:02 AM

Its free to dream, My dream would be to see Truex leave MWR and wind up in the #78 with NAPA as a sponsor. Do dreams ever come true?

09/20/2013 11:26 AM

this whole thing is feeling more and more ridiculous. we all have our pants on fire about finishing in 11th or 12th place in points? really? “the chase” is that precious? i think not.

is truex the main victim here. yep, i think so. did he have a legitimate shot to win the championship? nope, not even a little one. did he loose the chance to make a ton more money to fuel his jet or million dollar motor home? yep, look at the tears i cry for him.

the real issue here is integrity. without it this is not a sport. it’s an entertainment venue no better than american idol and all of it’s related sideshows and support venues.

09/20/2013 12:36 PM

Oh what I wouldn’t give to be a billionaire and start a three car team in the Nascar Cup Series.

I wouldn’t even worry about sponsors. It would be a blast while it lasted…which wouldn’t be long because Nascar would kick me out. LOL.

We could call ourselves “INTEGRITY” and all the drivers would wear those pull-over masks like in WWE. And when they got out of the car for interviews I’d have half-naked women surrounding them.

I’m telling you…it would be fun.

09/20/2013 12:36 PM

I hope Truex and NAPA team up and head to another team. RCR, JGR, Roush, Furniture row have the room.

Carl D.
09/20/2013 01:38 PM

JGR would be perfect. They have room for one more team, and Truex and NAPA stay with Toyota.

Another positive side effect would be that NAPA would gain even more respect from fans for sticking with Truex since he’s just a victim in all of this.

phil h
09/20/2013 02:20 PM

Nascar should drop the Chase and let 43 drivers race by race battle for the championship as they did in the days of Earnhardt and Petty! Ten races to decide a championship between 12 drivers at the end of a season is tarnished anyway. Would Johnson really have 5 consecutive titles had this artificial playoff system not been in place since 2004? Don’t think so.

Robert Eastman
09/20/2013 03:04 PM

I agree with the article, but… I really believe that NASCAR looked very unprofessional in the way they handled the whole situation. Dragging the “nightmare” out for an entire week until it became a feature on NBC News had to be painful for NAPA and a blow to their credibility!
Because the “Chase format” is the major contributor to “points racing” which breeds manipulation, don’t be surprised if NAPA along with other sponsors choose to exit the “sport” completely. With so much money and prestige on the line, is it any wonder that teams push the absolute limits to achieve an advantage?

09/20/2013 04:57 PM

Article right on the nose.
Possibly the ONLY member of MWR that didn’t know what was going on (Truex) is ultimately the one who suffers most!! NAPA ought to do something to make that right.

09/20/2013 07:53 PM

While apparently true that Truex had no knowledge, (and given the record of all the MWR players in this episode are we even sure of that) his team had to be penalized. Truex is a employee of MWR just as the mechanics, truck drivers, etc. are. They will all suffer for the actions of their employer, and it happens to thousands of other less well known people every day, every week, etc. While not fair, sometimes you reap the rewards, sometimes it doesn’t go your way.


Contact Amy Henderson

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