When Michael Waltrip Racing first came into the Cup series with Toyota back in 2007, it was under controversy — an illegal fuel additive was found that disallowed the team from their starting spots in the Daytona 500.
Controversy again followed the TRD-backed team in the last regular season race of 2013. No. 15 driver Clint Bowyer spun out with seven laps to go, forcing a caution. It was later revealed that Bowyer was subtly told to bring out a caution, while teammate Brian Vickers was told to make an unscheduled pit stop — both to assist their other MWR teammate assist Martin Truex, Jr. in getting into the Chase.
Earlier this season, it was announced that 2015 would be MWR’s last Sprint Cup Series season, with the shop shutting its doors after the Miami race. Many speculate that the 2013 incident was the straw the camel’s back in keeping MWR afloat and its been a downward spiral ever since.
But the controversy hasn’t ceased at MWR. Two days ago, it was announced that penalties occurred at Chicago the for the sole MWR team in the Chase — the No. 15 piloted by Bowyer.
The No. 15 crew chief Billy W. Scott has been fined $75,000 and will be suspended for the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship events. NASCAR has placed Scott on probation for six months as well. The real blow though is that Bowyer has been penalized 25 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Driver points, dropping him to last place (16th) in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup. MWR is appealing the decision, but a team notorious for not playing by the rules, it seems like a fitting end for the team.
Clint Bowyer and his primary sponsor had just signed a three-year deal with MWR at the beginning of the season. In some ways, with sponsorship likely in hand, and the MWR team shutting its doors, this could end up being a good thing for Bowyer’s career long term.
Consider this. This most recent set of penalties will likely end MWR’s last chance of a Cup title unless Bowyer can win in the next two races. Like other high-profile drivers who have switched teams in recent years, the team switch has been a shot in the arm — guys like Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick have all celebrated increased performance and success after transitioning to new teams. If the rumors are true that Bowyer is to take over the No. 14 Stewart-Haas ride in 2017, Bowyer could very easily be in the same category as Kenseth, Edwards and Harvick, it may just be one more season of transition and struggle to get to that point.
Bowyer switching teams could work wonders for his future success — both getting away from the shadiness that has seemed to follow MWR throughout its operations, but also in terms of moving up in terms of equipment. As a huge fan of Bowyer, my hopes are that Michael Waltrip Racing’s unfortunate, but partially self-inflicted demise will in the end be a boost for Bowyer going forward.