By admin | June 10, 2009
By Richard Allen
Michael Waltrip is apparently in the process of transitioning from owner/driver to simply owner. Just days ago it was announced that Patrick Carpentier will drive the #55 NAPA Toyota in the upcoming Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California.
Carpentier is also set to drive the Michael Waltrip Racing Nationwide Series #99 on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal later this summer.
Word has been circulating for some time that Waltrip will step out of his Sprint Cup car permanently at the end of the 2009 season. A possible replacement in the Toyota ride has been rumored as Martin Truex, Jr., whose contract with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing expires at the end of this season.
However, as is always the case in NASCAR, everything will ultimately boil down to money.
The rumor mill also has it that NAPA may be looking to move to a more scenic location. There has been talk of a fourth team at Joe Gibbs Racing with the auto parts supplier moving there to sponsor Truex or some other driver. No doubt, until the final signatures are put on paper, there will be many other rumors to abound.
Even though NAPA has been long associated with Waltrip, first at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and now at MWR, the company may be looking for a situation that can place them in victory lane occasionally.
With David Reutimann’s win in the Coca-Cola 600, MWR proved in can win. Now, Waltrip may be trying to show NAPA that his organization can put the #55 car in victory lane as well.
“There are so many great road course racers competing in Sonoma this year, and as the owner and driver of the #55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, I am in a unique position,” said Waltrip who has two top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in his NASCAR Sprint Cup road racing career. “If I see where I can improve my car’s performance then that’s exactly what I am going to do. I am a good road racer, but Patrick is a great road racer. I love being an owner and I want to get another win for NAPA. It will feel just as good if I get the victory for NAPA or watching from the pit box with Patrick driving the car. I appreciate NAPA allowing me to make these kind of personnel moves when I feel it is best for the team.”
Putting Carpentier in the car for the road course races gives Waltrip the best chance to show NAPA they can go to victory lane with MWR. Although the Canadian has never had great success in the Sprint Cup Series on road courses, he has scored three Top 5 finishes and one pole in Nationwide road course events, proving he can drive stock cars on the twisting tracks.
A win by this driver would give Waltrip a negotiating point so that he could let the sponsor know what they could expect with a driver the caliber of Truex behind the wheel on all tracks in 2010.
A win by the #55 car would also confirm to Truex that the MWR team is capable of winning races with the right drivers in place.
Michael Waltrip has won two Daytona 500s as a driver, which is something the likes of Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace have not accomplished. Even with those wins, he has never been regarded as one of NASCAR’s top drivers. However, by making the right decisions, he could establish himself as one of the top owners in the sport over the next several years.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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