Michael Waltrip Racing won’t be racing Sprint Cup in 2016; Clint Bowyer free to pursue other opportunities

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Michael Waltrip Racing will cease to field full-time entries in the Sprint Cup Series next season.

The team announced the news Wednesday morning and said driver Clint Bowyer would be free to pursue other opportunities after the season. MWR still will field the No. 15 Toyota of Bowyer and the No. 55 of David Ragan through the last 13 races this year.

“MWR will race hard and compete for the remainder of the 2015 season,” MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman said in a release from the team. “This decision was made after weighing several different options and scenarios.

“I felt it was important to make an announcement as soon as we had clarity, so that is what we are doing today. I want to thank all of our staff, partners, sponsors and fans for all their effort and support over the years.

“Clint Bowyer has done a lot for MWR since joining us in 2012, and we appreciate the energy and effort he has given the organization. After many discussions, Clint and I agreed we would go our separate ways at the end of the season, and I wish him well in whatever direction he pursues.”

Kauffman announced July 30 that he had agreed to purchase an interest in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Two days later at Pocono Raceway, he said he planned to “integrate” the organization with Ganassi.

The Sports Business Daily initially reported that Kauffman would bring Bowyer and sponsor 5-hour Energy to Ganassi’s team, expanding to a third car. But Ganassi employees were told Wednesday morning the organization wouldn’t add another car.source: Getty Images

Bowyer, who had joined MWR from Richard Childress Racing in 2012, also delivered a brief statement at Pocono, saying he intended to focus on making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With three races remaining in the regular season, he is in the final cutoff spot for qualifying for the 10-race playoff on points.

“I want to thank Michael, Rob and everyone at Michael Waltrip Racing that made these past four years special,” Bowyer said in the team’s release Wednesday. “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, but I think we all agreed on the next steps in a very professional manner.

“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.”

Michael Waltrip Racing entered the Sprint Cup Series full time in 2007 as one of the flagship teams for Toyota’s first foray into NASCAR’s premier circuit.

The team endured a rocky start when an illegal fuel additive found in Waltrip’s car in qualifying for the season-opening Daytona 500 resulted in a heavy points penalty, fines and a crew chief suspension. Waltrip failed to qualify for 19 races in 2007, and the team lost major sponsors in Domino’s and Burger King. Its finances were stabilized by the arrival of Kauffman, a billionaire hedge fund investor who bought into the organization in the fall of ’07.

MWR made incremental strides toward success, qualifying Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr for the Chase in ’12 and finishing runner-up in points. But things began unraveling again the next season when a team orders scandal in the regular season-finale at Richmond International Raceway resulted in Truex being booted from the Chase by NASCAR. His sponsor, NAPA, withdrew its sponsorship after the season, and MWR contracted from three to two cars.

The team hasn’t won since Bowyer’s victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October 2012.

“Rob joined MWR in 2007 and has helped give us the resources to build a competitive race team, and in 2012, Clint Bowyer took us to the doorstep of a championship,” Waltrip said in the release. “From where MWR started behind my house in Sherrill’s Ford (N.C.) to winning Sprint Cup races, poles and earning Chase berths, I am proud of what we accomplished.

“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. 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.”

Brandon Jones rallies late to earn first career Xfinity race at Kansas

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After starting from the No. 2 position, Brandon Jones roared back late to win his first career Xfinity Series race Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

With the win, the 22-year-old Jones, who was knocked out of the playoffs after the Dover elimination race, still had an impact on how the Round of 8 began.

Jones was in the right place at the right time, taking advantage of late-race misfortune to Chase Briscoe and pole sitter Christopher Bell, who were involved in a wreck with Garrett Smithley with 16 laps to go in the 200-lap event.

Equally as important was the great restart Jones got with four laps to go following another late caution that involved Joey Gase and Noah Gragson.

Tyler Reddick finished second, followed by Briscoe, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier.

It was not the opening race of the Round of 8 that Briscoe nor Bell were looking for. While Bell led 70 laps and Briscoe 33, their significant efforts were quickly derailed with 16 laps to go.

Briscoe was in the lead, with Bell right behind, when Briscoe tried to pass Garrett Smithley, who was five laps down at the time. But instead of yielding the high lines on the track to Briscoe and Bell, Smithley washed up the track and Briscoe could not avoid contact, nor could Bell avoid contract with Briscoe.

Briscoe finished third, while Bell finished 12th.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell (18th stage win of season)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer (eighth stage win of season)

We’ll have more information, including results and points, as well as driver quotes and more shortly. Please check back.

Kyle Larson injured ribs in ‘probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had’

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kyle Larson says he plans to drive the full distance Sunday at Kansas Speedway despite injuring his ribs in “probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had.”

Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet ran into the No. 88 Chevy of Alex Bowman near the end of the second stage of Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (video above).

Though the Chip Ganassi Racing driver hasn’t had an X-ray, Larson doesn’t think he broke his ribs, but they were hurting enough to require an icing after two Friday practices at Kansas. Larson posted a photo to his Instagram Story of his wrapped midsection with the caption, “Big fan of Super Speedways.”

Because everybody says there really is nothing you can do about ribs anyway,” Larson said when asked why he hadn’t gotten an X-ray. “It’s not broken. It definitely hurts to sneeze and cough, and when I’m in the seat, it’s tender. I’ve never broken a bone, but it’s definitely not broken.

Though he already has secured a spot in the third round of the Cup playoffs through his Oct. 6 victory at Dover International Speedway, Larson said he will run the 400 miles Sunday.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said after qualifying fifth Saturday, pausing to smile. “As long as I don’t hit the wall or anything. It should be fine.”

Larson also crashed in the April 28 race at Talladega, going airborne and rolling several times in a wreck that was reviewed by NASCAR.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup playoff elimination race at Kansas

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Daniel Hemric will own prime real estate when the green flag drops for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Hemric, who it was announced Sept. 17 that he would not return to drive the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing next season, captured his first career Cup pole Saturday.

Cup veteran driver David Ragan, who announced August 14 that he will be retiring from full-time competition after this season, will start alongside Hemric on the front row.

The rest of the first five rows for Sunday’s race will be Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski in Row 2, Kyle Larson and Michael McDowell in Row 3, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez in Row 4 and Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace in Row 5.

Kevin Harvick failed pre-qualifying inspection and did not make a qualifying attempt. He will start Sunday’s race last in the 40-car field.

This will be the second elimination race of the 10-race playoffs. The playoff field will be reduced from 12 to eight drivers.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Kevin Harvick to start at the rear after team passes inspection, then fails

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kevin Harvick will start at the rear of Sunday’s Cup race after his team found an issue with its car and went though inspection after having passed it previously.

Harvick enters the race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 36 points ahead of Alex Bowman, who is the first driver outside a transfer spot. Sunday’s race will cut the playoff field from 12 to eight drivers.

Harvick’s No. 4 Ford failed its first attempt in inspection before qualifying Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

The team passed the second time but then found an issue with the car and made an adjustment. By doing so, the team had to go back through inspection. That meant that the second attempt — which the team had passed — then counted as a failure. NASCAR ejected a crew member (the team’s car chief) and docked the team 15 minutes of practice next week at Martinsville.

The team then went through a third time and failed. Teams are not allowed to attempt to qualify after a third failure. Harvick’s team also lost an additional 15 minutes of practice next week at Martinsville.

Here’s how crew chief Rodney Childers explained to NBC Sports what happened:

“We went through tech the first time, the back of the decklid was like 10 (thousandths of an inch) too low, which that is on us. Everybody pushes that as much as they can at a place like this. We raised the decklid and went back through and passed and everything was fine.

“As we were pushing it back to the garage, you could feel something just barely, barely ticking … on the body as you were pushing it. We got back to the garage and looked up under the back and the weight on the driveshaft was just barely at the tunnel, the driveshaft tunnel. So we kind of stood around for 30 minutes trying to decide should we just kind of go for it and hope it doesn’t become a problem or should we just fix it. Looking back on it maybe we should have just went for it, but we voluntarily went back and through tech and fixed it and then failed right rear toe by .03.

“When you’re doing big changes like that … you’ve got to lengthen the track bar out a couple of rounds. When you lengthen the track bar out a couple of lengths, since the day I stated Cup racing, if you did the track bar two rounds, you did the slug an eighth of an inch. That’s what we did. Then we failed right rear toe.

“It’s disappointing. It was a decision we made to try to be safe and not  have a problem in the race or anything like that. The biggest disappointment is just having to start in the back over something we did voluntarily. That’s what is disappointing.

“I think everybody in this garage would vote for each other and have each other’s back so that if you found a problem on your car and you went back through voluntarily that’s on the team and not counted as a failure. I don’t think that’s right.”

Childers said starting at the rear will be a challenge.

“That’s what we didn’t want to do (start at the rear),” he said. “I hate that it turned out that way. Our car has been fast all weekend. We’ve just got to get back up there and get some stage points and do all the right things. I’m sure he can pass 20 of them in the first five laps and hopefully get up there and contend as best we can.”

Harvick didn’t express too much concern about his situation.

It’s like I’ve talked from the very beginning, you deal with the situations as they approach you,” Harvick said. “It doesn’t matter if it this is the first race or an elimination race. You go about the circumstances that you are dealt. This is why I always tell you guys you just never know what the circumstances are going to be and you have to adopt and adjust as they present themselves.”