LOUDON, N.H. — The reverberations continue following the attempted race manipulations by the Michael Waltrip Racing team at Richmond International Speedway Sept. 7.
NAPA Auto Parts, primary sponsor of MWR driver Martin Truex Jr., announced Thursday it was going to withdraw its multimillion-dollar sponsorship of MWR at the end of the season, sending shock waves through the racing community. The embattled Michael Waltrip will lose not just the sponsorship, which was in the first of a three-year run and estimated to be worth $16 million, but also the Chase bonuses for drivers and the racing team. If Waltrip doesn’t find Truex a new primary sponsor, he could lose his driver as well.
“Obviously, it’s been a shocking couple of weeks and yes I was scared and uncertain of our future,’’ Waltrip said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “After speaking with the folks from [sponsor] Aaron’s and speaking to all of our partners, they’re sticking with us and supporting us. We are a quality, first-class organization and we will race forward with respect and appreciation for being able to be here, and start to gain back trust.’’
Aaron’s is the primary sponsor for MWR driver Brian Vickers. Clint Bowyer, also in the MWR stable, is sponsored by 5-Hour Energy. Only Bowyer remains in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship field after NASCAR removed Truex.
NASCAR also levied harsh penalties against MWR, including a $300,000 fine and an indefinite suspension for general manager Ty Norris.
NAPA ended its relationship with Waltrip after having been a sponsor since 2001.
“They just felt like the events of the last 10 days had spiraled out of control a bit,’’ said Waltrip, who apologized to fans for his team’s actions. “[NAPA] felt like what we were involved with and NASCAR penalized us for was more than they were comfortable with dealing with.’’
Waltrip said he hoped Truex would hang around while the team searches for another sponsor.
“We asked if we could have a little time to try to figure this out and he agreed to that,’’ said Waltrip. “If he came to me tomorrow and said, ‘I got a deal to go do something’, then obviously I would not hold him back.
“His support and loyalty to our organization has been amazing.’’
Juan Pablo Montoya, who is leaving Chip Ganassi Racing and NASCAR after this season, sported a wide grin Friday as he stood at the back of his hauler and discussed his return to the IndyCar Series with Roger Penske Racing.
“I was jumping, I felt like a 5-year-old kid,’’ he said of the deal’s finalization.
Montoya said when he first met with Penske, he wasn’t sure where the conversation would go.
“You never know,’’ he said. “Does he just want to have a chat?
“But I don’t think it took him about five minutes to realize how serious I was and I don’t think it took me a minute to realize how serious he was. And it’s easy; people that race there say that I’m going to the best place you could dream of driving for.
“The chance to be in the Indy 500, running a Penske car — it doesn’t get any better than that. One of the things that made the decision easy was that with everything I’ve raced on, the most fun I had was with Indy cars.’’
Young and relentless
NASCAR K&N Pro Series rookie Cole Custer, driving for Ken Schrader Racing, was the top qualifier for the North American Power 100 on Saturday. The 15-year-old from Ladera Ranch, Calif., making his first visit to NHMS, toured the 1.058-mile oval with a top speed of 128.420 miles per hour.
Custer is getting accustomed to the front row. The son of Joe Custer, general manager of Stewart-Haas Racing, he became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series race at Iowa Speedway Aug. 3.
Dylan Kwasniewski was second in 128.152, the fifth time in the last six races he has earned a front-row spot, and Daniel Suarez was third at 127.248.
Ryan Newman, the top qualifier for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, won the pole for the Whelen Modified Tour’s F.W. Webb 100 on Saturday at 129.221 m.p.h., followed by Donny Lia at 129.077. It was Newman’s fifth career Whelen Modified Tour pole; four have come at NHMS. Newman has four wins in 13 career Whelen Modified Tour starts, and he swept both New Hampshire races in 2011 . . . Kenny Wallace qualified the No. 55 car for the Sylvania 300 for Vickers, who won the Camping World RV Sales 301 here in July. Vickers is competing in the Kentucky 300 on Saturday in the Nationwide Series but will be here Sunday to start from the rear of the 43-car field.