Thursday, July 30, 2015

COMMENTARY: Kauffman's Decision Bodes Badly For MWR

Kauffman (R) is changing teams
Michael Waltrip Racing majority owner Rob Kauffman will leave that team in the near future, assuming a new, minority ownership role at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

No matter how you slice it, that is bad news for MWR, its fans and employees.

No-one on earth – including the team’s namesake – knows more about the inner workings and financial viability of MWR than Kauffman. Michael’s name may be over the door, but since coming aboard as majority owner in October of 2007, Kauffman has effectively run the show. Sources close to the team say the former investment banker has made virtually every critical decision in the past eight years, providing the financing necessary to build new cars, invest in technology and keep the team on-track.

“Without Rob Kauffman,” said one team member on the condition of anonymity, “Michael Waltrip Racing would have been out of business long ago.”

Even with Kauffman’s assistance, it has sometimes been a rocky road.

MWR lost Truex and NAPA
In October of 2013, the team seemed poised to make a multi-car championship run. Heading into the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway, Clint Bowyer ranked second in the championship standings, with teammate Martin Truex, Jr. in solid contention for a Chase berth in 13th place. Late in the race, however, Bowyer spun his car under questionable circumstances to bring out a caution flag that benefitted Truex greatly. General Manager Ty Norris then ordered teammate Brian Vickers to pit road just moments before the race’s final restart, allowing Truex to secure the final on-track position necessary to secure a spot in the Chase.

NASCAR immediately investigated, pulling back the curtains on what quickly became a major, on-track controversy. The sanctioning body ultimately fined MWR $300,000 – the largest fine in the history of the sport -- removed Truex from the championship format, placed all three MWR crew chiefs on probation for the remainder of the season and suspended Norris indefinitely.

Even after those crippling blows, the hits just kept on coming.

NAPA Auto Parts left the team, reducing MWR’s roster from three full-time entries to two. Truex was forced to leave due to lack of sponsorship, followed in short order by No. 55 team crew chief Rodney Childers, who went on to superstardom (and a Sprint Cup Series championship) with Kevin Harvick at Stewart Haas Racing.

Vickers then fell by the wayside, as repeated bouts with blood clots forced him to the sidelines on three different occasions.

By virtually any meaningful yardstick, MWR today just a shadow of what it was in October of 2013. Bowyer is currently 15th in points and clinging to the final spot in the 2015 Chase and David Ragan (driving in place of Vickers) ranked 24th.

Longtime sponsor Aaron’s is in the final year of its contract with the team, and should they elect to go elsewhere in 2016 – not hard to imagine based on the instability of its No. 55 entry in recent years -- MWR would almost certainly find itself reduced to a single-car operation.

Rob Kauffman knows all this and more, and his decision to jump ship comprises a stunning `no confidence’ vote for the team he has run for the better part of a decade.

The team issued a somewhat vague written statement earlier today, saying that MWR and Ganassi “will continue to operate separately and compete against each other for the remainder of the 2015 season. They are also currently evaluating ways to field the most competitive race teams possible to provide an excellent platform for their partners and employees for the 2016 season and beyond. More details will follow in due course.”

For those not fluent in corporate fluff, that translates to “we’re racing now, and hope to continue.”

CGR co-owner Felix Sabates offered a slightly clearer view, telling Sirius XM NASCAR Radio's Jim Noble, "I'm not going anywhere.  This is about making our team stronger. A three-car team is stronger than a two-car. But the rumors that Rob is buying me out are not true. My last race will be five years from September 9th. I will be 75 years old then, and will be done."

The third car in the CGR stable next season will almost certainly be Bowyer’s No. 15, transported from Waltrip’s shop in Cornelius, NC to Ganassi’s Concord, NC digs.

Aside from fuzzily worded statements designed to keep the media wolves from the door (at least temporarily), none of the other involved parties are saying much right now, on or off the record. That’s understandable, since multi-million dollar deals of this sort require plenty of I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed. When the legal maneuvering is eventually completed, all parties will be free to step in front of the cameras and microphones and explain what’s happening, and why.

We can only hope that when it’s Michael Waltrip’s turn to speak, he is able to deliver some good news.

Photo: Jared Tilton/NASCAR


  1. What if maybe this is an opportunity for others, mwr has been rumored to want to switch from toyota to an other manufacturer. So maybe (just maybe) furniture row and mwr partner up to field 2 cars together?

  2. Michael Waltrip has no one to blame but himself - at no time of his racing career has he ever showcased professionalism. That Rob Kaufmann kept this team competitive is a testiment to how good he is and it bodes well for Ganassi-SABCO that Kaufmann is coming there - I'll be surprised if that outfit doesn't switch to Toyota soon.

  3. TheNASCARJeff5:17 AM

    I wonder what kind of a check Michael Waltrip had to cut to buy out Rob Kauffman?

    So when listening to your show Dave you said "This happens when one owner doesn't think the other is pulling there weight."

    Meaning: Michael Waltrip wanted to be on FOX more then he wanted to be a car owner. I where David Ragen and the rest of the MWR employees I would spruce up my resume and I am sure Vickers will get a good TV gig... Maybe Michael's on FOX?

  4. Anonymous7:37 AM

    as unfortunate as it will be, the demise of MWR has been a long time in the making, essentially since Day 1. I feel bad for the folks whose career will be interrupted, but Mr. Waltrip bears the responsibility of what befalls the company who bears his name

  5. Anonymous9:07 AM

    One word Dave, KARMA

    Mikey has done NOTHING to help the organization the depend it for their livelyhoods.

    Rocket fuel at Daytona, the cheating at Richmond etc... (which Boyer was a MAJOR player) and Martin suffered the wrath

    Good move for Ron Kauffman, and maybe Mikey ( he is certain to get more TV time with this story, which is right up his alley, he has been nothing but an embarrasment to a team that once had great potential. Maybe if he spent as much time working on the business of the team, instead of tring to get/keep his mug on TV, things would have been different.

    One has to feel real bad for the employees that will be out of work WHEN the team folds.

  6. Excellent summary of the MWR-Kaufmann-Ganassi situation. Behind the scenes, I wonder if Toyota didn't already tell MWR that they were being deleted from the factory support program starting in 2016. Also, with the hiring of Jeff Gordon at Fox Sports, I wonder if Mikey's future as a talking head at Fox might be threatened once his current contract is up? Mikey probably needs to step aside from being a partial owner of a Cup team to shore up his media game, or he will eventually be reduced to signing memorabilia at car shows.

  7. Anonymous12:08 PM

    Sad to see it happen as far as the MWR employees are concerned but for Mikey it actually looks good on him . He has always acted that all the cheating they were caught doing had no real after effect on him , well looks like its finally time to see the results.

  8. Anonymous2:11 PM

    I found it interesting that there were separate statements from Michael Waltrip and Michael Waltrip Racing. I think you are absolutely right that MWR is basically Kauffman, and it appears the MWR statement was his. The use of "they" in the statement was also odd. If they are both owners, the MWR statement would have been all that was required. Moody, I love your solo show when I travel. Always tuned to XM90!

  9. Tough news for all the workers involved. Hope everyone lands on their feet...

  10. Anonymous9:05 AM

    Supposedly the Big Fancy Grand MWR SHOP is up for sale , that was another MIKEY W is better than all other's in NASCAR mistake's when he started up wanting to outshine the DEI facilities that Dale SR had built.