Just Asking: Is 2010 the Final Year for Michael Waltrip and NAPA?

David YeazellSenior Analyst IJanuary 25, 2010

Michael Waltrip said he’s made some mistakes over the years.

His biggest mistake, he says, was figuring the cost of owning a race team.

He admits he missed it, made a mistake and there was nothing he could do about it.

When Waltrip left DEI in 2005 to drive for Bill Davis, he took sponsor NAPA with him.

In 2007, with primary sponsor NAPA in tow, Waltrip formed his own race team, Michael Waltrip Racing.

NAPA’s requirements for Waltrip were simple: They said “Michael Waltrip needs to make races.”

Waltrip assured NAPA he would.

2007 turned out to be the worst possible year it could be for MWR.

Being fined at the Daytona 500 for an illegal fuel additive and missing the next 11 races in a row wasn’t the type of advertising NAPA had hoped for.

Waltrip has the distinction of being the only driver in history to leave the Daytona 500 with negative points.  

At the start of the 2008 season, NAPA told Waltrip he needed to do better, he needed to make the races.

Waltrip started off the year with a couple of new investors and some much needed cash.

This time he made good on his promise to NAPA, qualifying for all 36 races.

Once again, in 2009, NAPA came to Waltrip and said his team needed to do better. This time, if they didn’t do better, there were going to be problems.

Waltrip did much better, putting both cars in the top 35 in owner’s points, and securing his first win as an owner at the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600.

NAPA and Michael Waltrip have a long history together, as a driver and an owner. Waltrip said if he hadn’t had so much equity built up with NAPA by being with them for so many years, they would have been gone by now and he would be out of business.

Waltrip stopped short of saying what guidelines or directives NAPA has given for the 2010 season, but it’s doubtful the demands are less stringent than before.

The new Showtime series Inside NASCAR begins airing Feb 10 of this year. The show will consist of a moderator, Chris Myers, and three panelists, Waltrip being one of them.

With his primary sponsor breathing down his neck about performance on the track, why would Waltrip take on even more obligations that keep him from his race team?

Is this another mistake to reflect on later?

Could he be looking ahead to next season and taking the opportunity to firm up some job security?

Actually, he may already know there isn’t going to be a next season with NAPA unless his team wins a championship, or at least makes a Chase appearance.

A championship requires first and foremost making the Chase. When names like Hendrick, Stewart-Haas, and Roush are put into the mix, odds of an MWR driver making a Chase appearance would be likely pretty high.

Building on what they have accomplished so far, winning a race, or races, seems a more realistic goal for MWR in 2010, but this might not be enough for NAPA to stick around.   

Photo Credit: David L. Yeazell

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