The ripple effects of the cheating scandal surrounding NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup title playoff widened Thursday.
The NAPA auto parts chain said it would drop its multimillion-dollar sponsorship of Michael Waltrip Racing — specifically its backing of MWR’s Martin Truex Jr. in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series — after this year.
“After thorough consideration, NAPA has made the difficult decision to end its sponsorship,” the company said on its Facebook page.
“NAPA believes in fair play and does not condone actions such as those that led to the penalties assessed by NASCAR” against Waltrip’s team, the company stated.
NASCAR levied a record $300,000 fine against MWR and penalized its three drivrers — Truex, Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers — for their actions in the Sept. 7 race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, the final race that determined which drivers would qualify for the Chase.
The penalties knocked Truex out of the Chase and enabled Ryan Newman to join the playoff.
NASCAR ruled that MWR used various actions, including a deliberate late pit stop by Vickers, to manipulate the race’s outcome in order to get Truex into the Chase.
A late spin-out by Bowyer while Newman was leading also was widely viewed as intentional, although Bowyer remained in the title playoff.
NAPA and MWR had announced in August that NAPA was extending its sponsorship of Truex’s No. 56 Toyota, a deal worth an estimated $16 million a year, according to Sports Business Journal.
The deal was notable in part because, in the post-recession era, many motor-racing teams have struggled to retain or find new corporate backers, especially for a full season. It costs roughly $20 million a year to operate a top-flight Cup team.
But MWR said Thursday that, despite NAPA’s decision, it planned to field three Cup teams again next year.
“Michael Waltrip Racing respects the decision NAPA announced today,” the team said. “MWR has the infrastructure and support of Toyota for three teams pluas three Chase-caliber, race-winning drivers.”