****EDITOR’S NOTE: Chip Ganassi Racing confirmed Friday that CGR will continue to just be a two-car team in 2016 with Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray as drivers. On the same day, Clint Bowyer confirmed that he will not be at CGR next year.
At least some of the Michael Waltrip Racing/Chip Ganassi Racing/Rob Kauffman/Clint Bowyer picture became clear Wednesday morning with a press release from Michael Waltrip Racing. Or did it?
In case you missed it — like that could’ve happened — here’s the lowdown. MWR majority owner Kauffman is leaving Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the season to become a minority owner at Chip Ganassi Racing. Speculation that sprang up from that previously-made announcement had Bowyer leaving MWR for CGR as CGR grows to a three-car Sprint Cup organization. Additional speculation had MWR possibly merging into CGR or operating as a satellite organization of CGR after a manufacturer switch to Chevrolet.
Well, apparently the merger or satellite option isn’t happening. The press release from Wednesday said that Michael Waltrip Racing wouldn’t field a full-time entry in 2016 or beyond. So, is MWR going away completely or is it going to be a part-time operation, i.e. Wood Brothers Racing. Word has it, Toyota had already decided to cut ties with MWR at season’s end. I would think a manufacturer switch would be too costly for a part-time team. Besides, other words have it that Kauffman, not Waltrip, actually oversaw the day-to-day operations of the team and had it not been for Kauffman, MWR would’ve tanked a long time ago. Again, that’s just hearsay, but in this situation, it’s probably worth mentioning.
As far as Bowyer to CGR, that kind of looks unlikely, or does it. Here’s a partial quote from Kauffman, courtesy of that aforementioned MWR press release:
“Clint and I agreed we would go our separate ways at the end of the season, and I wish him well in whatever direction he pursues.”
The release also said Bowyer was told he was free to pursue other opportunities, so if Bowyer winds up with Ganassi, it’s not a done deal, yet. I don’t think Kauffman’s statement necessarily eliminates the possibility of Bowyer becoming a CGR driver. If CGR is expanding to three teams for next year, as team minority owner Felix Sabates claims, majority owner Ganassi would have the biggest say in the identity of the third driver, wouldn’t he? Maybe Bowyer will work out a deal with Ganassi, separate from Kauffman, to join the CGR driver roster.
What about David Ragan? He seems to be forgotten in all of this. Remember him? He’s the current driver of the No. 55 at Michael Waltrip Racing. You remember, the guy who wound up in that seat when Brian Vickers was, once again, sidelined by blood clots?
It’s looking like Bowyer and Ragan are going to be the two biggest names this “silly season.” But where could they go. Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser has expressed a desire to grow his single-car operation to a two-car team, if sufficient sponsorship is found. Also, is Chip Ganassi Racing really expanding to three cars? Do we really know that for sure?
I’m guessing if both teams expand, Bowyer and Ragan would be the two drivers getting those two rides. Which driver could end up with which team, though, I don’t know. But what if only one expansion happens? I’m guessing Bowyer would be first choice for either, leaving Ragan out, possibly ended up with some “also-ran.”
What if neither team expands with Visser unable to find a sponsor for a second team and Sabates just blowing smoke about a third team at CGR? Best case scenario for Bowyer would be if current sponsor on his car at MWR, 5-Hour Energy, wants to go somewhere with him. That would give Furniture Row that desired sponsorship for a second team, and for that matter, sponsorship for a CGR expansion. I’m pretty sure Ragan’s not in that position, though. I kind of have a feeling he’s still seen as a fill-in driver. Aaron’s Sales & Lease is approaching the end of its contract and has had a relationship with Waltrip. I don’t really see Aaron’s on a car after this year, unless MWR fields a part-time ride next year.
I have a feeling Bowyer’s going to be just fine as far as winding up in a quality ride in 2016. For Ragan, though, I think the cars have to fall a specific way. For his sake, I hope they fall exactly right.
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