MWR co-owner says organization no longer ‘commercially viable’

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – The man seeking to change the business model for NASCAR owners admits it no longer was “commercially viable” to operate Michael Waltrip Racing after this season.

Rob Kauffman, who would not reveal how many millions of dollars he’s lost since partnering with Michael Waltrip in Oct. 2007, said the team’s equipment will be sold after this season and that the shop’s “best use is as a housing development … instead of a race shop.’’

Kauffman has agreed to purchase a stake in Chip Ganassi Racing.

The move allows Kauffman to keep from losing money with MWR. He also can spend more time in his role as chairman of the Race Team Alliance, which seeks a way to provide long-term equity for owners. Team owners have little more than equipment, a race shop and car owner points to sell if sponsorship goes away and they must close.

The sport’s history is littered with mergers or owners selling the remains of their teams at auction because they lost sponsorship and could not continue. Former drivers Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace all closed shop after sponsorship went away.

“Michael Waltrip Racing really wouldn’t have existed through today without substantial and continued financial support from me,’’ Kauffman said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I think just from a business standpoint that didn’t make sense any longer. You can’t have a top-10 budget and top-10 resources and not be in the top 10 for a sustained period of time.

“It’s a performance-related business. It’s a great sport, but a very difficult business model. From a business decision it just made sense to not go forward with that organization because it isn’t really commercially viable.’’

Kauffman, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, was estimated to have a net worth of $1.8 billion in 2007, according to Forbes. Kauffman retired from the private-equity and hedge-fund group in 2012, cashing out his shares for $180 million.

Kauffman has repeatedly said that the car owners face significant financial challenges.

He is hopeful a new program can be in place next season for car owners to have added value – similar to franchising as is used in other sports. In April, the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA were sold for $850 million. The team was purchased, along with the arena and an NHL team that has since moved for $250 million in 2004.

Kauffman is looking to have the RTA and NASCAR devise a program that will provide car owners with similar growth in value over time.

“I’m quite optimistic on the discussion with the folks of NASCAR regarding a variety of the things around the sport,’’ he said. “The competition side, the long-term equity program are all initiatives well under way. I’m pretty optimistic we’ll make some good progress in the next number of months.’’

With Michael Waltrip Racing’s departure, all three of the original teams with Toyota in 2007 will no longer be in the sport after this season. Bill Davis Racing closed in 2008 and Red Bull Racing left the sport after the 2011 season.

Kauffman admits the 2013 scandal at Richmond – where NASCAR penalized MWR for attempting to manipulate the results for Chase considerations – played a significant role in the organization’s downfall. As a result of the penalty, Martin Truex Jr. did not make the Chase after originally doing so.

Shortly after the penalty, NAPA announced it would break its contract with Michael Waltrip Racing and leave the organization after that season. That forced Michael Waltrip Racing to go from a three-car to a two-car team in 2014 and it never recovered.

“Certainly that was a pretty heavy body blow to the organization, caused a big restructuring; 2014 was at some level a large reset year, competitive and financially,’’ Kauffman said. “As we got into the late spring, April and May 2015, really from a performance standpoint, the company wasn’t where it needed to be. That kind of forced some decisions. That’s where we wound up today.’’

 

 

 

Ross Chastain to drive for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021

Ross Chastain
Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
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Ross Chastain will return to Chip Ganassi Racing next season and drive the No. 42 Cup car, multiple reports stated Monday morning.

The news was first reported by motorsport.com.

Chastain replaces Matt Kenseth, who was hired in April to take over the car after Kyle Larson was fired.

“I can’t thank Chip enough for this opportunity,” Chastain told The Associated Press. “The faith he and the organization showed me back in 2018 was a real turning point in my career and I am extremely happy for the chance to join the team again. Racing in the Cup Series with a serious contender has always been my goal, and I’m looking forward to joining what is a very strong team.

“I know I have my work cut out for me, but I’m ready to get to work and help bring more success to the organization.”

Chastain drove three Xfinity races for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Xfinity team in 2018, winning at Las Vegas. He was to drive a full Xfinity season for the team in 2019 before sponsorship went away after DC Solar’s offices were raided by the FBI and the company later declared bankruptcy.

The 27-year-old Chastain has been among the sport’s busiest drivers the past three years in NASCAR.

He drove in 77 of 92 Cup, Xfinity and Truck races last year. He’s competed in 194 of 256 Cup, Xfinity and Truck races (75.8%) run since 2018.

Chastain’s Cup rides primarily have been with underfunded teams. He drove three races this season for Roush Fenway Racing. Chastain filled in for Ryan Newman as Newman recovered from the head injury he suffered in the Daytona 500.

Chastain is competing for the Xfinity championship this season for Kaulig Racing. He is winless this season but has five runner-up finishes, including this past weekend at Bristol.

Clint Bowyer: ‘Getting back to our consistency’ ahead of next round

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After entering Saturday’s Cup race at Bristol in the final transfer spot to the Round of 12, Clint Bowyer can rest easy for now.

Bowyer is one of the 12 drivers left to fight for the Cup title after his sixth-place finish Saturday. He goes into next weekend’s race at Las Vegas 11th in the standings.

Now, Bowyer says it’s time for his No. 14 team to “live up to our capabilities.”

“I just feel comfortable, we’re getting back to our consistency,” Bowyer said Saturday night. “I guess for a long time in my career I was kind of Steady Eddie, and that’s what it takes in these playoffs, to go the rounds, you can’t make mistakes. I said that going into these playoffs. For our team, we’ve got to live up to our capabilities, and if we can do that and race to our capabilities and not make the mistakes we were making through the summer months, we can contend and move forward rounds in this playoff system, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Bowyer, who was the last driver to finish on the lead lap at Bristol, goes to Las Vegas with three consecutive top 10s to start the playoffs.

Before the playoffs opened, he had gone 11 races with just two top 10s.

“Looking forward to getting out to Sin City and having some fun out there,” Bowyer said. “Hopefully we can double down, get some stage points and continue to march forward up through this playoff system and the points. We’re definitely starting behind again, there’s no question about that.”

Bowyer will start the second round with 3,004 points, tied with Kyle Busch. Kurt Busch is 12th with 3,001 points.

MORE: Points entering second round

“We’ve got to get out there and swing for the fence,” Bowyer said. “These are the playoffs; you don’t base hit it. Steady Eddie got us through this round, but from here on you’ve got to get up to the plate and swing for the fence every time, and every decision, and that’s in the car and out of the car, we’ve got to lay it on the line and go for it, and that’s why these playoffs are fun.

Bowyer has just one top-five finish in 17 Las Vegas starts (2009) and the most recent of his four top 10s there came in 2017.

Then comes the “crapshoot” know as Talladega and the “fun” Charlotte Roval.

“I like it. I’m ready,” Bowyer said. “Things can happen. At the end of the day I’ve had a different approach to the whole thing this year. This whole damned year has been chaotic and everything else, and you’ve just got to go out there and do the best you can do and not worry about or panic about anything else. That’s all you can do anyway.”

Bristol winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kevin Harvick Only two drivers in the last quarter century have won 10 Cup races in a season (Jimmie Johnson in 2007 and Jeff Gordon in 1996-98). Harvick’s win at Bristol marked his career-high ninth of the season. He appears headed to join that elite class.

Austin Dillon His 12th-place finish wasn’t memorable but it was good enough to advance to the second round of the playoffs. He had failed to transfer from the first round the last two times he was in the playoffs.

Kyle BuschFinished second, scoring top-10 finishes in all three first-round playoff races. It’s the first time this season he has had three consecutive top 10s. Still, a frustrated Busch was critical of competitors and his playoff hopes.

Erik Jones His third-place finish matches his best of the season. Result came after he had to start at the rear for inspection issues (just as Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin also had to do so).

Michael McDowell His 10th-place finish is his fourth top 10 of the season. That equals how many top 10s he scored from 2017-19.

Chase Briscoe He won the Xfinity race Saturday at Bristol for his seventh victory of the season.

Sam MayerThe 17-year-old won his first career Truck race and followed it a few hours later by winning the ARCA race at Bristol.

LOSERS

Ryan Blaney Failed to advance to the second round, a round where he could be among the favorites to win a race. He was in position to win at Las Vegas in the spring before being called to pit before the overtime restart and losing the lead. He’s won the past two Talladega races, including last year’s playoff race there. He won the inaugural Charlotte Roval in 2018. What might have been. But a 10-point penalty for an inspection issue at Darlington and struggles there and at Richmond doomed him.

William Byron His playoffs ended with contact before the halfway mark. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Contact with Jimmie Johnson sent him into the wall. Stenhouse finished last. It is the third time he’s finished 40th this season.

Kevin Harvick wins Bristol night race

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Kevin Harvick held off Kyle Busch to win Saturday’s Cup night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Harvick came out on top after a spirited battle with Busch over the last 40 laps of the race. Harvick claimed his ninth win of the season, a career-best mark. He previous high was eight wins in 2018.

“To beat Kyle Busch at Bristol, I kind of got myself in a little bit of a ringer there,” Harvick told NBCSN. “I hit a lapped car and got a hole in the right-front nose, but just kept fighting. We don’t have anything else to lose. We were here to try to win a race.”

The top five was completed by Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick and Aric Almirola. Clint Bowyer finished sixth and was the last car on the lead lap.

MORE: Race results, points standings

MORE: What drivers said after the race

Busch, who is now winless through the first 29 races of the season, finished second after he started from the rear due to two pre-race inspection failures. He took the lead for the first time when he left pit road first during the Stage 1 break. He wound up leading 159 laps to Harvick’s 226.

Harvick’s nine victories has him on pace to become the first driver to win at least 10 Cup races in a season in more than a decade and only the third driver to reach that mark in the past quarter century. Harvick has won three of the last five races.

“It’s just been a weird year, but it’s been an unbelievable year on the racetrack,” Harvick said. “I can’t thank everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing enough.”

Jimmie Johnson is the last driver to accomplish the feat. He won 10 races in 2007. The only other driver to reach that mark in the last 25 years is Jeff Gordon. He won 13 races in 1998 and 10 races each in 1996 and ’97.

The last driver not from Hendrick Motorsports to reach at least 10 wins in a season was Rusty Wallace. He won 10 times in 1993 for car owner Roger Penske.

Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Cole Custer entered the race below the cutline to advance to the Round of 12 and were all eliminated from contention.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Elliott

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Erik Jones earned his second top five in the last three races … Tyler Reddick earned his third top five of the season and his first since the July 19 race at Texas … Ryan Preece placed ninth for his first top 10 of the year … Michael McDowell finished 10th for his fourth top 10 this season, a career-best

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished last after he was eliminated in a crash on Lap 29 after he made contact with Jimmie Johnson … Matt DiBenedetto’s chances of advancing in the playoffs were dashed when he had to pit for loose right rear tire on Lap 187 and then was caught speeding on pit road after returning to the lead lap. He finished 19th …. Martin Truex Jr. finished 24th after he had to pit for a tire issue on Lap 214 … Denny Hamlin finished 21st after he rammed into the back of Truex moments after he exited pit road following his stop … William Byron was eliminated from the race and playoff contention late in Stage 2 after he ran into the back of Christopher Bell … Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski placed 34th after he lost power steering early in the final stage and was black flagged for not meeting minimum speeding. After a lengthy stay in the garage, Keselowski returned to the race with about 105 laps left in the race.

WHAT’S NEXT: Round of 12 opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.