Tonight’s episode of NASCAR America airs at a special time from 6 to 7 pm ET.
Show host Dave Briggs host is joined by Frank Stoddard from our Stamford (Conn.) studio, while Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan will join us from NBC Charlotte.
Much of today’s episode will focus on Wednesday’s news surrounding Michael Waltrip Racing:
- What will happen to MWR after this season?
- “It’s a sad day,” Michael Waltrip admits himself.
- Clint Bowyer and David Ragan are both free to pursue other opportunities after this season.
- Bowyer and Ragan and their teams will finish the current season with MWR. There are 13 races remaining.
- The writing was on the wall a few weeks ago when MWR majority owner Rob Kauffman announced he would buy a minority ownership interest in Chip Ganassi Racing.
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When he finished a nine-race stint substituting for the injured Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing earlier this season, David Ragan looked forward to what he hoped would be a long tenure at Michael Waltrip Racing.
Now, that tenure will go from hopefully long to quite brief, as Ragan will be left without a team at the end of this season when MWR effectively shuts down.
Ragan has made 13 starts with MWR since moving over from the Gibbs camp, with a best finish of 12th at Daytona in July.
Ragan has begun looking for a new opportunity for 2016 and issued a statement about the turn of events at MWR on Wednesday afternoon.
His statement read:
“I am grateful for the opportunity that Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota have provided me this year. I have worked hard to be a good teammate and spokesperson for all of our sponsors, and as a team we have collectively improved our performance from the beginning of the season.
“I look forward to staying focused and trying to win a race this season for Aaron’s and everyone at MWR.
“Going forward I will be working hard to secure a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series. At 29 years old, I feel my best years are in front of me.”
Michael Waltrip tried to keep a smile on his face despite Wednesday being one of the darkest days in his race team’s history.
The NASCAR owner spoke about Michael Waltrip Racing’s impending shutdown in 2016 at the beginning of the Fox Sports 1 telecast of Wednesday morning’s Camping World Truck Series practice session at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“It’s a sad day for MWR,” said Waltrip, who called Michael Waltrip Racing a “perfect workplace.”
Waltrip, who is part of Fox Sports 1’s Truck Series broadcast team, tried to maintain a positive outlook, hinting that his Cornelius, N.C.-based shop might stay open and keep some of its employees if it were sold.
“My hope is somebody wants to have a really nice shop full of really cool people that work together well and want to have a race team, and we can provide that for them,” Waltrip said. “But Rob’s (team majority owner Rob Kauffman) going to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing going forward.
“Rob and I are best of buddies. Rob has done an amazing job of stabilizing MWR at the beginning and then we raced for a championship, finished second in 2012.”
MWR has fielded cars full time in the Sprint Cup Series since 2007.
“My heart goes out to all the employees, all the people who worked at MWR,” Waltrip said. “Hopefully, somebody wants to have a team, and they can have it right there at our place.”
Waltrip concluded by adding, “I’m thankful. I’m happy. It’s a great run that we’ve had. We’ll just see what’s next.”
A major shakeup in the ownership ranks involving Michael Waltrip Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing may be close at hand.
A report by SportsBusinessDaily.com, citing “multiple industry sources,” states that majority owner Rob Kauffman is close to purchasing Felix Sabates’ minority ownership share in Chip Ganassi Racing. By doing so, Kauffman would end his affiliation with Michael Waltrip Racing.
Sabates told Motorsport.com on Wednesday “I am not going anywhere. I am having too much fun. Plus, I have unfinished business. I need to sit at the (champion’s) table in Las Vegas.”
SportsBusinessDaily.com reports that Kauffman would take the No. 15 team of Clint Bowyer’s with him to Chip Ganassi Racing, joining the teams of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson. Such a move would leave MWR with one team and without Kauffman’s financial backing.
What that means for MWR is unclear. The team could go forward alone, form an alliance with another team, on merge with another team.
Kauffman purchased majority control of MWR eight years ago.
There has been no comment from either Chip Ganassi Racing or Michael Waltrip Racing on the SportsBusinessDaily.com report.
If the deal goes through, Ganassi would remain majority owner, according to the SportsBusinessDaily.com report, but it’s unclear if Sabates would retain ownership in the team.
A lawsuit between Michael Waltrip Racing and a former tire changer provides insights into how much over-the-wall crew members in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series can make, according to an ESPN.com report.
Brandon Hopkins sued the team in January in North Carolina Superior Court. Michael Waltrip Racing responded last week and had the case moved to the state’s Business Court.
The ESPN.com report states that Hopkins made $160,000 per year for MWR. He joined the organization in 2012. Court documents, cited by ESPN.com, state that Hopkins’ salary as an MWR employee was $50,000. He also was paid a salary of $97,000 as an over-the-wall crew member and paid $13,000 to participate in the team’s training program. The two-year deal was for the 2014 and ’15 seasons.
Hopkins is suing the team because he claims he was fired in 2014 after demanding to have surgery for an injury suffered on pit road. The team claims that Hopkins stole a specially made air gun the same day he sought permission to talk to other teams.
Hopkins claims he was fired the day before shoulder surgery in August 2014 for an injury he said he suffered after being hit while pitting Clint Bowyer’s car at Kansas in October 2013. He alleges he was fired for stealing a pit-road air gun. He claims he was allowed to take his pit gun home and mistakenly took the wrong pit gun.
In its response, MWR alleges that Hopkins did not use the pit gun he was authorized to use at Pocono in August 2014. MWR states that it has footage of Hopkins taking that gun and putting it in his car the Monday after the Pocono race after asking for permission to waive the non-compete clause in his contract so he could seek employment elsewhere.
MWR also alleges that Hopkins’ backup gun went missing earlier in the season and was never located.