Sunday, August 02, 2015

COMMENTARY: More Questions Than Answers On The Rob Kauffman Front

Despite a flurry of statements from all involved parties, facts are difficult to come by surrounding Rob Kauffman’s announced plan to purchase a minority ownership stake in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

Confirmed late last week, the deal is expected to result in the transfer of driver Clint Bowyer and the No. 15 5-Hour Energy machine from Kauffman’s current team, Michael Waltrip Racing, to the Ganassi camp.

Ganassi Racing confirmed last week that Kauffman has agreed to acquire an interest in the team, adding only that “further discussions regarding the 2016 season and beyond are underway.”

A terse written statement from Michael Waltrip Racing said only that “the companies 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.”

Waltrip also issued a personal statement, saying, “My focus is on 2015 and fulfilling the commitment we have made to our partners and Toyota; which is placing our teams in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. There are a lot of details yet to be sorted regarding 2016. I will work closely with Rob Kauffman and our sponsors to formulate the best way forward."

MWR majority owner Rob Kauffman
Kauffman addressed the move in a two-minute, 41-second press conference at Pocono Raceway Saturday that included no questions from reporters and raised at least as many questions as it answered.

“The thing that’s important to realize is that Michael Waltrip and I co-own Michael Waltrip Racing together,” he said. “We’re business partners and great personal friends, so any idea that I’m leaving or taking anything is actually misplaced. What we’re actually doing is integrating the businesses, trying to get the most competitive product on track (and) do the best for all of our partners. That’s really our focus.”
Kauffman declined to field questions from reporters, adding that there are many details to be worked out before the deal is finalized.
Kauffman and Waltrip: futures unknown
“Whether we have three cars, four cars, two roofs, one roof; that’s all yet to be determined,” he said. “How we do in the 2015 season will help determine (what) happens. If we do a great job, that’ll be one outcome. If we do a less great job, probably another.”

In a written statement Friday, Toyota officials revealed that they have not been informed of Kauffman’s plans for the future.

"Rob has not disclosed the plans for Michael Waltrip Racing past the 2015 racing season,” said the automaker. “Toyota and TRD remain focused on winning races and championships with our team partners this year."

Multiple sources say that neither Toyota nor Chevrolet – CGR’s manufacturer – will allow Kauffman to hold ownership stakes in both teams, under separate manufacturer umbrellas. In short, despite his apparent insistence to the contrary, Kauffman has a choice to make in the very near future; either remain with MWR, or divest himself and join Chip Ganassi.

Last week’s announcement unleashed a flurry of activity among MWR employees and crewmembers, many of whom have already begun distributing resumes in an effort to find new jobs for 2016 and beyond.

“No matter what happens in the next few weeks, I won’t say a single bad word about Rob Kauffman,” said a current MWR employee, on the condition on anonymity. “Without him, this team would have been gone years ago. He bailed us out in 2007, and a time or two since then. He is the reason why the doors are still open.

“If it ends here, it has been a good run.”


  1. I think this is flat out a tale of two owners and it's a sponsor driven choice over who wants to remain with the two. I think Aarons has had enough of the Waltrip brand and watching NAPA thrive with Elliot and Jr/HMS has finally shown them the grass is greener. 5 Hour has to be at it's end too and Bowyer is the only patient reason they are staying but they know without a team mate in Aarons they are up the creek too. So do you bolt or do you salvage a good relationship with the 50% owner who has been totally professional since his entrance to the sport or hedge with the overextended and oversaturated loud mouth who has on more than one occasion raised ethical doubts inside and outside of the garage? I don't think Kauffman had a choice.

  2. Anonymous7:53 AM

    Prediction: MWR goes to Chevrolet partnering with Chip Ganassi Racing. They keep David Ragan & Clint Bowyer with sponsors Aarons & 5 Hour. If they are not able to make everything come together MWR will not be around much longer. Maybe this year even being their last. It would be an abrupt end to a race team that has been struggling since the "chase scandal." Unfortunately that is where the team went from the peak; to their low. I can't say I 100% blame them for what they tried to do though honestly. They definitely didn't have it planned out very well though with their code words. Think of how happy their sponsors would have been though to have 2 cars in the chase. It was a gamble and an unfortunate one at that for one of the smaller teams in that series.

  3. The new Ganassi/Kaufmann team is switching to Toyota; keeping the #55 team if Aarons or another sponsor is found. Furniture Row almost went to Toyota but priced themselves out as they asked for a ton of money. Ganassi has low paying sponsors by Sprint Cup standards but he keeps his teams on the track. Kaufmann thought this was a good way of trying to keep his investment in MWR from being a failure. The team will be renamed.

  4. I hope its clarified soon. There are a number of potential sponsors in the wings that I know of but they are being spooked by this sudden uncertainty. I also think that the days are numbered where you can run full and completely separate teams supporting every car. I think That RK sees that. Some would say that you need to keep it all separate. The dollars say you can run two cars with one slightly bigger technical team, and that has to happen. Sure, pit crew and crew chiefs can be separate but not back in the shop.
    In F1 Ferrari have two GP cars. They have one pit crew and one technical crew with a couple of senior techs to create a competitive environment. And consider this: Its actually more expensive per car to run a season of Nascar than F1. I also see the full 40+ race program being pared back to maybe 30 in the future, but that's Nascar's call.

    Steve Asprey
    Race Partners Inc