|Chip Ganassi (L) and Felix Sabates (R)|
Chip Ganassi Racing announced today that Rob Kaufmann has agreed to buy a minority stake in the teams NASCAR operation, in a move seen by many as a power shift between two of the biggest manufacturers in NASCAR.
Kauffman, the majority owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, will sell his interest in that team in order to join Ganassi’s operation, possibly bringing over the no. 15 team of Clint Bowyer with him from MWR.
MWR announced the deal in statement released this afternoon, but didn’t elaborate on rumors concerning Bowyer or the no. 15 team.
"The companies will continue to operate separately and compete against each other for the remainder of the 2015 season," the team said in a statement. "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."
Ganassi Racing also ducked any questions about Bowyer, only to say “We confirm that Rob Kauffman has agreed to acquire an interest in the team. Further discussions regarding the 2016 season and beyond are underway."
The team also did not make any mention of Felix Sabates future role with the team. Sabates, who has been a team owner in NASCAR since 1987 and partner of Ganassi since 2001, released his own statement saying “I'm not going anywhere."
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Kauffman, a billionaire who made his fortune as one of the founders of Fortress Investment Group, bought a 50% ownership share of MWR in 2007, just months after MWR became a full-time operation as the flagship team for Toyota’s fledgling entry into Sprint Cup.
Kauffman’s new ownership stake and Bowyer’s possible defection to Ganassi would mean a loss of a championship-caliber team for Toyota, but would add some stability to Ganassi’s Chevrolet-badged team, which has yet to put a team into the Chase for the Sprint Cup and hasn’t finished in the top 10 in points since 2001.
While Ganassi has been one of the most successful owners in motorsports with 10 championships in CART and IndyCar and a title in the Grand Am Series, he’s yet to find the same success in NASCAR – having never won a championship despite winning some of NASCAR’s biggest races. The team currently fields two Chevrolet’s for driver’s Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, as well as an XFINITY Series team.
It also wouldn’t be the first merger for Ganassi, who bought into Sabates operation in 2001, which then merged with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2009.
Ironically, Waltrip founded his race team shortly after parting ways with DEI in 2005.
Thursday announcement is just the latest blow to hit Waltrip’s organization, which has seen its fortunes decline steadily over the last three years.
After years of mediocre seasons, MWR finally put together a winning season in 2013, putting both Martin Truex, Jr. and Clint Bowyer into the Chase. But a late-race caution brought out by Bowyer in the final “regular season" race at Richmond led to allegations that MWR had manipulated the outcome of the race, and Truex. Jr. was dropped from the Chase field in favor of Jeff Gordon while MWR was hit with a whopping $300,000 fine.
In the fallout from the controversy, MWR lost their biggest sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, and ultimately lost Truex, who went on to sign with Furniture Row Racing.
At the start of this season, MWR lost driver Brian Vickers, who had a recurrence of a blood clots that has affected him over the last three years.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Through it all, MWR has been slow to recover, going winless through all over 2014 and missing the Chase.
Now, after losing one of the principle investors, it’s unclear what might happen with the team in 2016, including possibly leaving Toyota and fielding Chevrolets for next season.
Waltrip himself issued a statement on Thursday, but said nothing about the team’s plans beyond 2015.
"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," the statement said. “I will work closely with Rob Kauffman and our sponsors to formulate the best way forward."