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.”

Sam Bass, famed paint scheme and race program designer, dies

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Sam Bass, the artist known for designing many iconic NASCAR paint schemes and race programs, died Saturday.

His wife Denise confirmed Bass’ passing on Twitter. He was 57.

Bass, who designed Jeff Gordon’s striking “Rainbow Warriors” paint scheme, had spent the last few years looking for a new kidney. That was a result of a sepsis infection that originated in a blister on his left foot in 2005 and led to a below-the-knee amputation in 2008. Bass also had Type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 29.

Bass was inspired to become a NASCAR artist when he was 7 after attending his first race at Southside Speedway in suburban Richmond, Virginia.

“I was so amazed that night not only by the excitement and watching those cars run around and beat and bang on each other, but also the color – how all the cars were painted so many different colors,” Bass told NBC Sports in 2017. “I was like, ‘How cool is this?’ I couldn’t wait to get home to pull out my markers.”

The first car Bass designed was Bobby Allison’s Miller High Life car in 1988. That car went on to win the Daytona 500.

He went on to design the first Cup schemes for Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Bass first designed a race program for the 1985 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He designed programs for it and other Speedway Motorsports, Inc. tracks through 2018.

Marcus Smith, the CEO and President of SMI, issued the following statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are with Denise and her family today. Sam Bass has been a significant part of NASCAR’s history. He poured his heart, soul and talent into producing souvenir program covers at many speedways including Charlotte for more than 30 years. His work provided our fans a keepsake to treasure, and that was so appropriate, because Sam was always such a fan of our sport and he was such a treasure to the entire NASCAR family. His body of work will be a legacy that lives forever. We will miss Sam’s smile and positivity.”

NASCAR issued the following statement.

“Though he may have never turned a lap or a wrench, few captured the essence of our sport through his work more than Sam Bass. He was a consistent presence in the NASCAR garage, and his ever-present smile and endearing personality welcomed all. Though we have lost a member of the NASCAR family, his legend will continue in his art – all of which illustrated the greatness of our sport and the talent of a true friend.”

Michael McDowell leads final Daytona 500 practice

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Front Row Motorsport’s Michael McDowell was fastest in the final practice session for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

McDowell and his No. 34 Ford recorded nine laps and a top speed of 191.440 mph.

The top five was completed by Ty Dillon (191.432 mph), pole-sitter William Byron (191.339), Alex Bowman (191.278) and Daniel Hemric (190.921).

Only 20 cars made at least one lap in the session.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps in the session with 16 and was 11th on the speed chart at 189.741 mph.

Of four drivers to make a 10-lap run, Bowman had the best average at 190.334 mph.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

Jeffrey Earnhardt honors grandfather Dale Earnhardt with helmet design

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Xfinity Series driver Jeffrey Earnhardt is honoring the “GOAT” in his family with a helmet he’s debuting this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

The “GOAT” – or “Greatest of All-Time” – is his grandfather, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt.

The helmet, which you can see below, bears an image of the seven-time Cup champion riding a horse while shirtless and wearing a cowboy hat.

Next to the image is the text, “Just a goat on his horse!”

Earnhardt will have the helmet today as he starts on the front row of the Xfinity Series season opener (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1).

It is the first of nine Xfinity races he’ll start for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

MORE: Jeffrey Earnhardt ready for challenge of winning in Xfinity

Today’s Xfinity race at Daytona: Start time, lineup and more

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series kicks off the 2019 season today with the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

The 38-car field will feature defending series champion Tyler Reddick, who seeks to become the first driver to defend his Xfinity championship since Ricky Stenhouse Jr., won in 2011 and repeated in 2012.

Here’s how today’s pre-race schedule looks:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Drew Patey, VIP Partner of the NASCAR Racing Experience, at 2:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 2:49 p.m.

PRERACE CEREMONIES: Driver introductions begin at 2:10 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:30 p.m. by Sonny Gallman, Pastor of Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida. The National Anthem will be at 2:31 p.m. and sung by Gina Marie Incandela.

DISTANCE: The race is 120 laps (300 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2 p.m. and also can be heard at MRN.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for cloudy skies with a high of 74 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Tyler Reddick won last year’s season-opening race. He started 11th and led 11 laps en route to the victory.

TO THE REAR: Pole-sitter Tyler Reddick will start from the rear after changing a tire with an air leak. Max Tullman also will start from the rear for a tire change. Jeremy Clements, unapproved adjustments.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.