In what can only be described as a surprising move, Michael Waltrip Racing has released Trevor Bayne. The move was confirmed by Martin Truex Jr. today on Sirius Speedway. Truex himself will be in the #99 Diamond-Waltrip NNS car at Kansas this weekend. From what we’ve heard, there is a great deal of interest in Bayne from other teams, most notably Roush Fenway, so expect his future to be just fine. But this situation certainly begs the question, what the hell is Waltrip thinking?
At the end of 2009, Bayne signed a three year deal with Waltrip that was supposed to include a full NNS ride for 2010 and 2011, along with a partial Cup schedule for 2011. The aim of the deal was to get Bayne ready for a full time Cup ride for the 2012 season. According to reports though, MWR had a contract option due for Bayne that came up on September 15, but that date came and went without any action. Speculation began then on what Bayne’s future held, and was fueled further by rumors that Truex would be driving the #99 at some point. Bayne then began seeking out other teams, and we heard that he was recently seen touring the Roush Fenway Racing complex in Concord.
The most obvious explanation for MWR releasing Bayne is their sponsorship situation. No team can afford to run without backing, and if Waltrip was unable to put together a sponsorship package for Bayne, keeping him around maybe wasn’t an option. But it’s curious that they would let him go before the season was even complete. If they were as high on Bayne as it would seem, you’d think they would wait until the very last minute before releasing the driver, so as to give their business people ample time to track down a deal. The young driver has run very well over the last few months of the season and appears to only be getting better. He currently sits seventh in the Nationwide Series standings.
Another explanation is one that also involves money, but is on Bayne’s side. Kenny Wallace floated on his Twitter that Bayne lost his ride because he didn’t bring the money to the deal that he was supposed to. We can’t confirm this little bit of information, but it certainly brings up an interesting situation. If it’s true, MWR is letting a talented driver go because he was supposed to help pay for his own ride, but for whatever reason didn’t come up with the cash. It would also seem that if this is indeed the case, Bayne isn’t valuable enough to MWR to keep around if there is no money behind him.
All signs now point to MWR putting Ryan Truex (Martin’s younger brother) in their #99 NNS car for some of the remaining 2010 schedule, and for 2011. Truex has been a Waltrip development driver for a few seasons now, and has racked up two K&N Pro Series East championships. Truex obviously has talent, but the Bayne situation makes me wonder what it’s costing the Truex family to put Ryan in MWR equipment. It also spawns the question, who is a better prospect, Truex or Bayne?
Like I said before, Bayne’s availability has sparked interest from other teams, so don’t be surprised to hear an announcement about his future over the next few weeks. He is obviously a very talented driver, and he’s proven that he can race with not only the best in the Nationwide Series, but also the best in the Cup Series (who drop by the NNS periodically). Waltrip may soon regret ever letting Bayne get away.