A day after NASCAR welcomed a new sponsor into the fold, they woke to the loss of a full-time team.
Michael Waltrip Racing announced Wednesday that it and driver Clint Bowyer have agreed to separate at the end of the 2015 season. The move comes weeks after MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman announced he was pursuing a partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing, and heightens the speculation that Bowyer will follow Kauffman to CGR when the paperwork is signed.
In addition, MWR announced that they will not be fielding a full-time Sprint Cup operation in 2016, a blow to the sport and manufacturer Toyota, whose other multi-car teams in the Cup circuit include Joe Gibbs Racing and BK Racing.
The decision to part ways with Bowyer was an amicable one, and with the closing of the race shop after 2015, other MWR drivers Brian Vickers, who is sidelined with blood clots, David Ragan (subbing for Vickers) and Brett Moffitt (a development driver farmed out to Front Row Motorsports in exchange for Ragan) will also be without full-time rides next season.
Kauffman said that despite the news, the team will compete hard for the remainder of the season.
“This decision was made after weighing several different options and scenarios,” he said in a release. “I felt it was important to make an announcement as soon as we had clarity, so that is what we are doing today.”
MWR joined the Sprint Cup circuit full-time in 2007, leading the charge for Toyota’s foray into Cup racing. After two years of growing pains, MWR was able to notch its first win in the rain-shortened 2009 Coca-Cola 600, and would add six other victories between then and 2013.
Bowyer’s No. 15 team led the biggest assault on the Sprint Cup championship for MWR, finishing runner-up in 2012 to Brad Keselowski.
Just one year later, in the final race of the regular season at Richmond, the same No. 15 team faced scrutiny after spinning out unassisted in the closing laps, a move that helped then-teammate Martin Truex, Jr. qualify for the Chase. NASCAR penalized MWR for manipulation following the race, which removed Truex from the playoffs.
With the amount of negative publicity surrounding the team, morale dropped, long-time Waltrip sponsor NAPA Auto Parts left the team and the team was forced to let Truex go in contraction.
Since then, the team has scored only nine top-5 and 34 top-10 finishes and did not qualify any teams for the Chase in 2014.
Bowyer is currently 16th in the 2015 Sprint Cup point standings and would qualify for the Chase if the playoffs were to start this weekend. Ragan currently sits 24th in points and will need a win to qualify for the Chase.
“I want to thank Michael, Rob and everyone at Michael Waltrip Racing that made these past four years special,” Bowyer said. “After extensive discussions with Rob and MWR, we came to the point that we mutually agreed our paths in the future just didn’t align… I am looking forward to what future opportunities may come but for now we have a championship to pursue in 2015 and we owe it to every one of our sponsors, partners, employees and fans to deliver on and off the track.”
For Waltrip, the announcement marked the end of full-time ownership in the Cup Series.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Waltrip currently serves as an analyst for NASCAR on FOX’s coverage of Sprint Cup and in the booth for the network’s Camping World Truck Series coverage.