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Michael Waltrip committed to fielding three teams next year after loss of NAPA

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Friday morning, Michael Waltrip addressed the news that NAPA, a longtime sponsor of his team, would be leaving at the end of the year after the race manipulation allegations that have followed the team since Richmond.

On Thursday, the company made the decision to pull its sponsorship, saying that it could not condone what Michael Waltrip Racing did at Richmond. After Clint Bowyer spun, both he and Brian Vickers slowed down to ensure that Joey Logano made the top 10 and teammate Martin Truex Jr. made the Chase.

After the team was penalized, Truex was out of the Chase.

Truex is the driver directly impacted by the loss of the NAPA sponsorship, and Waltrip said Friday that he has agreed to give the team some time to figure out a gameplan for next season. However, if Truex gets an offer, a contrite Waltrip said he wouldn’t prevent him from taking it, though he’d obviously like him to stay.

Waltrip reiterated the team’s stance that it’s preparing to field three cars next season, and spoke of both Bowyer’s and Vickers’ cars as being funded for next season. Thursday, 5 Hour Energy, Bowyer’s sponsor, said it would make a decision about the future following the season.

NAPA ending sponsorship with Michael Waltrip Racing because of Richmond actions

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Michael Waltrip Racing has received a bigger shot to the bow than any NASCAR could have given it following the events at Richmond. And it came from a current sponsor.

NAPA announced on its Facebook page Thursday that it would be leaving the team at the end of the season.

After thorough consideration, NAPA has made the difficult decision to end its sponsorship arrangement with Michael Waltrip Racing effective December 31, 2013. NAPA believes in fair play and does not condone actions such as those that led to the penalties assessed by NASCAR. We remain supportive of the millions of NASCAR fans and will evaluate our future position in motorsports.

NAPA stuck by Michael Waltrip Racing at the 2007 Daytona 500, when the team was penalized for having an illegal substance in the intake manifold. In that incident, when Michael Waltrip Racing was in its infancy, Waltrip was docked 100 points and his crew chief David Hyder was fined $100,000 and suspended from the garage.

That was more than six years ago, and MWR eventually recovered to become the three-team stable it is today. And that’s in large part to the continued support of the auto parts supplier, who is one of the few full-season sponsors remaining in the sport.

Now that support isn’t there. NAPA sponsors the No. 56 of Martin Truex Jr., who was removed from the Chase via a 50 point penalty after NASCAR investigated the finish at Richmond. In the closing laps, teammates Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers made sure to let Joey Logano finish ahead of them so that Truex would make the Chase. (It’s worth noting that the jet fuel incident directly involved the actions of the NAPA team while it was the actions of the two-non NAPA teams at Richmond that led to the penalties.)

The decision also means that one of the most prestigious sponsorships in NASCAR is a free agent, and that a Chase-caliber team and driver is suddenly without a sponsor. To say that the future of the No. 56 car is in limbo would not be an overstatement. And the future of another car and driver combination could soon be solidified.