RELATED: Co-owner of MWR buys interest in CGR MORE: Kauffman: 'We're integrating the businesses' Michael Waltrip Racing , one of the charter Toyota teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, announced Wednesday that it will part ways with driver Clint Bowyer at year's end and that it plans to cease its full-time racing schedule after the 2015 season. RELATED: Bowyer free to pursue other opportunities for 2016 MWR said in a statement that it will continue to field cars for Bowyer, who has been with the No. 15 team since 2012, and David Ragan , interim driver for Brian Vickers in the No. 55, through the rest of the season. The move comes on the heels of MWR principal owner Rob Kauffman's confirmation Aug. 1 that he had purchased an ownership stake in Chevrolet team Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. "MWR will race hard and compete for the remainder of the 2015 season," Kauffman said in a release provided by the team. "This decision was made after weighing several different options and scenarios. I felt it was important to make an announcement as soon as we had clarity, so that is what we are doing today. I want to thank all of our staff, partners, sponsors and fans for all their effort and support over the years. " Clint Bowyer has done a lot for MWR since joining us in 2012 and we appreciate the energy and effort he has given the organization. After many discussions, 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 decision makes Bowyer, an eight-time winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, a sought-after free agent for 2016. Three of his victories came in 2012, when he finished a career-best second in the final championship standings. "I want to thank Michael, Rob and everyone at Michael Waltrip Racing that made these past four years special," Bowyer said. "After extensive discussions with Rob and MWR, we came to the point that we mutually agreed our paths in the future just didn't align, but I think we all agreed on the next steps in a very professional manner. I am looking forward to what future opportunities may come but for now we have a championship to pursue in 2015 and we owe it to every one of our sponsors, partners, employees and fans to deliver on and off the track." Michael Waltrip Racing made its full-fledged debut in 2007, bringing the Toyota Camry banner into the sport. The team featured Waltrip as driver/owner, former premier series champion Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann . MWR has seven victories in NASCAR's top division, the first with Reutimann in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 in 2009. "Rob joined MWR in 2007 and has helped give us the resources to build a competitive race team, and in 2012, Clint Bowyer took us to the doorstep of a championship. From where MWR started behind my house in Sherrill's Ford to winning Sprint Cup races, poles and earning Chase berths, I am proud of what we accomplished," Michael Waltrip said Wednesday. "My family has been a part of NASCAR for almost five decades and I plan on being a part of it for years to come. I would not have had the opportunity to start this journey without so many great partners, sponsors and employees and I want to thank each of them for making Michael Waltrip Racing a reality." The Waltrip-owned team scaled back its operations from three full-time teams to two after the 2013 season, which was marked by a race-manipulation scandal surrounding MWR in the regular-season finale and the ensuing departure of Martin Truex Jr . and longtime sponsor NAPA. Waltrip talked a bit about the news at the start of FOX Sports 1's broadcast of final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice Wednesday at Bristol. "It's a sad day for MWR obviously. I love the culture we've built there. You know, our sponsors, they're not sponsors; they're partners, and our employees are our teammates," Waltrip said. "We just have the perfect workplace, and unfortunately in 2016, we're not going to be racing there. My hope is somebody wants to have a really nice shop full of really cool people that work together well and want to have a race team and we can provide that for them. "But Rob's going to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing going forward. Rob and I are best of buddies. He's done an amazing job of stabilizing MWR in the beginning and then we raced for a championship, finished second in 2012. So my heart goes out to all the employees, all the people that work at MWR, and hopefully somebody wants to have a team and they can have it right there at our place." Asked how hard it was to make this transition with MWR after starting the company behind his house, Waltrip revisited some of the history of his company. "Our first race was here in 1994 with Jeff Green . We towed in here with Ronnie Silver a flatbed trailer, unloaded our car and ran third that day. Won Nationwide, XFINITY races behind our house and competed in the Cup Series. We made the Daytona 500 with Kenny Wallace in a car we built in Sherrill's Ford behind my house. That grew to Michael Waltrip Racing, and we raced for a championship like I said. Chase berths, race wins. I'm thankful. I'm happy. It's a great run that we've had. We'll just see what's next."
Should there be a road course race among the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup 's 10-race playoff portion of the schedule? I have been a proponent of this since the Chase was first instituted, written several columns and debated on radio and television over many years explaining the benefit of featuring a road course -- I believe the purest test of a driver's ability -- in the Chase. And now ... it seems others don't think the idea is far-fetched. An enthusiastic, and importantly, very large crowd -- sold out reserved seating -- witnessed a great show at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International over the weekend. And as typically follows a good road course show, the question of adding one to the Chase demands extra attention and at least serious consideration. The Century Survey of 100 NASCAR industry insiders, half from the media and half from the garage (including crew members, drivers, crew chiefs, track officials and public relation representatives) was released this week after taking a poll over the past weekend on whether a road course should be added to the Chase, and if so, which one. The most popular idea was to move the Watkins Glen race into the Chase. Adding Austin's Circuit of the Americas or shifting the June Sonoma, California, race into the Chase were the next two biggest vote getters. Interesting, the biggest disparity among the voters was an 8-1 vote with people in the garage (8) against even adding a road course at all. Only one media representative didn't want to see a road course in the Chase. Ten different tracks received votes as good venues to have in the Chase. In addition to the Glen, Sonoma and COTA, Road America (Wis.), Laguna Seca (Calif.) and Road Atlanta received the next most votes in that order. And NASCAR executives have indicated they are at least listening to the voice of the fans, media and industry insiders, even if they aren't quite ready to make a big change to the Chase yet. For many years, the drivers and teams were the tough sell. But the trophy isn't a foregone conclusion anymore going to a racer like the retiring Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart or a couple road course ringers. RELATED: Let's debate adding a road course to the Chase In the 1980s and 1990s, road course races were tolerated by a large portion of the starting grid, considered a couple complicated weekends to just check off and collect as many points as possible -- two and through. It was common for drivers to show up with their helmet at a Bob Bondurant School for a quick refresher course in the days leading up to the Sonoma race and maybe hit a Skip Barber Racing School on the East Coast just before Watkins Glen. But today's NASCAR drivers embrace the skill set it takes to do well on road courses and have even come to like them and the unique challenge. There was a time for the argument that a road course race in the Chase essentially worked to the benefit of an elite group making it an unfair situation during the most important 10-week run of the season to crown a sport's champion. But that's not the case today and it's time for the Chase to turn right. "To me, always when I think of drivers that were really good, they did well on the road courses," said NASCAR's all-time road race winner Jeff Gordon . "But then you had this big drop off where drivers and teams just didn't really go after them and really struggled on them. To me, about the late 90s is when I saw everyone really putting a lot more focus and attention on them. And it started bringing the whole level of competition up higher. "By early 2000, 2001 it seemed like most of the field was good on a road course." The statistics back up Gordon. Until Kyle Busch 's win at Sonoma earlier this summer 10 of the last 11 races have been won by different drivers ranging from Clint Bowyer to Kasey Kahne , to Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr . At Watkins Glen, there have been only three repeat winners ( Tony Stewart , Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose ) in the last decade. On a FOX Sports 1 broadcast called "Fans Speak Out" this June, a poll revealed that adding a road course to the Chase was the No. 1 topic among those NASCAR fans. NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell acknowledged the increasing calls for a Chase shake-up. "As you can tell, the fans voting it number one, there's certainly a lot of passion around it," O'Donnell said at the time. "It is a topic we look at each and every year. Although I don't see something in the immediate future when you look at '16, it is something that we're aware of from a fan standpoint, to look at and see if we can introduce that in the future." This week O'Donnell addressed the subject again. "We never say never to that question, but we really like where Watkins Glen fits on the schedule, the build-up, where it stands in the schedule, and drivers really going after wins," O'Donnell said Tuesday. "Some of the drivers feeling like that's their one shot to propel them into the Chase so that's a really neat storyline. It is something we'd look at down the road and would have to figure out weather considerations and that sort of thing. "But for the time being, we're really happy with where both our road courses stand in terms of how they play out throughout the regular-season schedule."
Jeff Green , who is subbing for Eric McClure, crashes hard into the wall after a tire blows on the No. 14 car.
After a mechanical failure of some sort, Jeff Green's day ends with a hard hit in the tire barrier.
RELATED: Chase Grid " Chase bubble watch " Chase Fest details A year ago, it was Kasey Kahne . Only two races remained before the start of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , and the Hendrick Motorsports driver was 13th in points. Unfortunately, he was outside the top 16 in the Chase standings. Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin , AJ Allmendinger , Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola trailed Kahne in points. But they were among those that had wins. They had invitations to the dance. At the time, Kahne had managed only two top-five finishes. His average finishing position was 16.8. He hadn't been to the victory lane since midway through the previous season. So he and his team went out and won at Atlanta Motor Speedway . It earned Kahne one of the final Chase spots and the No. 5 team a second chance. It wasn't quite as easy as it sounds. Kevin Harvick , as was often the case, was dominant at AMS. Kahne fell a lap down early. The team battled back. He didn't take the lead for the first time until Lap 303 of the scheduled 325-lap race. Suddenly, he seemed to be on his way to the win. Then cautions appeared, forcing two late restarts. Green , white, checkered late. Kahne's lead was lost on pit road. Yet somehow he muscled his way past Matt Kenseth coming to the white flag, holding on for the win and a spot in the Chase. It's a similar position for the 35-year-old this year. Two races remain -- stops at Darlington Raceway and Richmond International Raceway -- before the field is finalized for this year's 10-race run to determine the Sprint Cup champion. Kahne is once again winless. He is not alone. Teammate Jeff Gordon has finished inside the top five only three times this year. The four-time champion is ahead of Clint Bowyer in the playoff picture, with a wider margin back to folks such as Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle . A year ago Gordon had three wins and a vise-like grip on first place in the points. Bowyer's got a pair of top-fives, but much of the attention around the No. 15 team of Michael Waltrip Racing centers on where Bowyer will call home next season. Paul Menard has a razor-thin lead on Gordon in points, but taking nothing for granted. Can anyone? Matt Kenseth 's blown engine at Bristol last week, leaving the Joe Gibbs driver 42nd in the final rundown, didn't go unnoticed. Things not only can happen, they often do. With 10 drivers already secure -- 11 if you go ahead and give Kyle Busch one of the spots although he's close enough to the fault line that a misstep could make things interesting -- and two races remaining, at least three of this year's Chase spots will be filled based on the points standings after Richmond. It could be five, if no new winner emerges in the next two weeks. Few on the fringes, though, have shown signs of contending for wins. Almirola? One top five and only three laps led this season. Biffle? It's shaping up to be the wrong type of career year for the Roush Fenway Racing driver, with just two top-fives and an average finish of 20th. Austin Dillon ? Kyle Larson ? Both have shown potential. Both are winless. Kahne? Well, who knows? The question isn't can it be done. Kahne's already proven that it's possible. The question is who among those can pull it off?
Jeff Green gets heavy damage in a hard hit at Atlanta.
MORE: Gifts from Gordon's final season " SHOP: Gordon Rainbow Warrior gear Jeff Gordon 's iconic No. 24 rainbow paint scheme is back for this Saturday's IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The four-time champion has five career wins at Bristol, and a win on Saturday would lock him into the Chase Grid for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . How exactly did it all come together? Check it out with this video of the No. 24 paint scheme being wrapped, courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports . Bristol Motor Speedway also unveiled on Friday that the track in 2016 will have the " Jeff Gordon Terrace," a backstretch grandstand named after the legendary driver. Charlotte Motor Speedway also announced Friday its upcoming tribute to Gordon. Leading up to the Oct. 10 Bank of America 500 , the speedway is rolling out " Jeff's Last Ride: A 24-Day Salute." NASCAR licensed artist Sam Bass will create original artwork for the Bank of America 500 souvenir program as part of the salute, which also includes a 24-day social media campaign. Another highlight is a collection of iconic No. 24 race cars on display during the Charlotte Auto Fair Sept. 24-27.
Dale Earnhardt earned his Intimidator nickname by handing out some lickings on the racetrack, but he could take one, too, as he proved in 1996 at Watkins Glen. He couldn't breathe and he couldn't raise his right arm as NASCAR's premier series headed to the road course in New York. Earnhardt had been in a hard wreck at Talladega two weeks earlier, suffering a disclocated sternum and broken collarbone. But he wanted to both qualify and race at The Glen after running just six laps at Indianapolis the week after Talladega before handing over the No. 3 to relief driver Mike Skinner. Dr. Jerry Punch recalled in 2014 for NASCAR.com how he was called to the motorhome with Dale and Teresa Earnhardt and Richard Childress as the debate went on about whether Dale would pilot the Goodwrench Chevrolet that weekend. "In spite of us telling him how dangerous it was, and how painful it was, he wanted to be in that car," Punch said. "Richard and Teresa were getting me to help convince him to not get in the car, for his own safety. He looked right at Richard and said, 'If you tell me, Richard, I'm going to hurt this race team by being in your race car, I won't get in it.' Richard said, 'Are you kidding me? You're Dale Earnhardt. I can't tell you you're going to hurt my race team by being in my car.' And Dale said, 'All right, it's done.' " A loose sternum was very disconcerting at the road course, as any impact could send bone fragments into nearby vital organs -- the heart and lungs. But those around Earnhardt were more worried about his body, and he was concentrating hard on the racing. All that shifting and steering didn't stop the tough-as-nails driver, who reportedly used his knees to help steer on his way to winning the pole for The Bud at The Glen. Earnhardt stayed in the car for the whole race on Aug. 11, 1996, as well, despite Jeff Green standing by in case he needed or wanted relief. The No. 3 finished sixth. After finishing the 220.5-mile race, Earnhardt said, "It hurts. But it's a good hurt." That season he wound up fourth in the points standings.
Coors Light Pole Qualifying, 11:35 a.m. ET, July 25 (NBCSN/Live Extra) Entry Car # Driver Team 1 19 Jeff Green TriStar Motorsports Toyota 2 40 Josh Reaume # Phoenix Air Dodge 3 74 Mike Harmon Battery Saver Dodge 4 70 Derrike Cope Chevrolet 5 52 Joey Gase Donate Life/DB Sales Company Chevrolet 6 13 BJ McLeod (i) Grafoid/Main Gate Dodge 7 89 Morgan Shepherd Malamphy Electric Inc. Chevrolet 8 0 Harrison Rhodes # teamjdmotorsports.com Chevrolet 9 15 Stanton Barrett Navy Seals vs Zombies/Lilly Trucking Ford 10 90 Martin Roy Gamache Truck Center Chevrolet 11 97 Peyton Sellers # VroomBrands Chevrolet 12 24 Eric McClure Reynolds Wrap Toyota 13 4 Ross Chastain # Watermelon.org Chevrolet 14 51 Jeremy Clements AllSouthElectric.com/RepairableVehicles.com Chevrolet 15 44 David Starr Zachry/Build Your Future Toyota 16 26 Timmy Hill (i) JGL Racing Toyota 17 01 Landon Cassill Flex Seal Chevrolet 18 14 Cale Conley # IAVA Toyota 19 28 JJ Yeley HSG/CodeBlue Toyota 20 8 Blake Koch LeafFilter Gutter Protection Toyota 21 39 Ryan Sieg Uncle Bob's Self Storage Chevrolet 22 16 Ryan Reed Lilly/American Diabetes Association Ford 23 43 Dakoda Armstrong WinField Ford 24 25 Alex Bowman (i) Zaxby's Chevrolet 25 3 Ty Dillon Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet 26 9 Chase Elliott NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet 27 60 Chris Buescher Zest Ford 28 88 Kevin Harvick (i) Morton Buildings Chevrolet 29 6 Darrell Wallace Jr . # Ford EcoBoost Ford 30 1 Elliott Sadler OneMain Financial Ford 31 7 Regan Smith AmericasPower.org Chevrolet 32 2 Brian Scott Shore Lodge Chevrolet 33 62 Brendan Gaughan South Point Chevrolet 34 98 Aric Almirola (i) Sledgehammer Ford 35 18 Daniel Suarez # ARRIS Toyota 36 22 Ryan Blaney Discount Tire Ford 37 42 Kyle Larson (i) Dixie Chopper/Big Machine Records/Jacobsen Chevrolet 38 20 Erik Jones (i) Game Stop Toyota 39 33 Paul Menard (i) Richmond/Menards Chevrolet 40 54 Kyle Busch (i) Monster Energy Toyota
RELATED: Updated Chase Grid " Driver standings We hope you enjoyed some rest and relaxation during the off week for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Because starting this week things are about to get real -- real fast. With just two races remaining until the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is set, there are still some spots up for grabs. Ten drivers are locked into postseason berths, but that means six openings are still available -- five if you're penciling in Kyle Busch , who has four 2015 wins but is 29th in points. Of the winless drivers who'd be in the Chase if it started today ( Jamie McMurray , Ryan Newman Paul Menard , Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer ), which one is most likely to lose his spot? Conversely, of the drivers currently outside the top 16, who is most likely to win their way into the postseason party? NASCAR.com editors George Winkler and Maggie MacKenzie are here to give their opinions. Check out their take, then vote in our poll and let us know your view in the comments section below. Winkler: Hey Maggie, hopefully the pressure won't get to you like it might get to some of these drivers. These are tense times indeed. One driver I'm skeptical about making the Chase is Paul Menard . Despite his heartwarming hometown win in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Road America , Menard has visited Victory Lane only once in his Sprint Cup Series career. Qualifying for the Chase based on points is a dangerous way to live, especially when you consider Menard is just plus-19 points from the cutoff line. Throw in the fact Menard hasn't had much success at Darlington or Richmond (one top-10 finish in 25 races combined) and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fall out of contention. MacKenzie: George, looks like we, once again, find ourselves in a head to head debate . You're right, tense times are upon us with the Chase looming in the near future and drivers are scrambling in last chance efforts to earn a coveted Chase berth. The clock is certainly ticking and I'm starting to feel the pressure -- are you? You've got a valid point about Menard and although I do think it is likely for him to fall out of the top 16, I'm going to have to pick a different driver. I think Clint Bowyer will be losing his spot before Menard does. Bowyer currently sits in the last spot on the grid, 17 points behind Jeff Gordon in the 15th position. Bowyer's safest bet for securing a spot in the Chase would be with a win since getting points is clearly not his forte this season. Unfortunately, the odds are against the driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota as he hasn't visited Victory Lane since 2012 at Charlotte. Winkler: There's no clear choice outside of the top 16 for a driver making it into the Chase. It's going to take a special day and a pressure-packed win for any of them to get the job done. Kasey Kahne came through with the equivalent of a ninth-inning home run last year when he qualified for the Chase with a win at Atlanta in the second-to-last race of the 2014 regular season, and he could be the one to do it again. RELATED: Kahne proves bubble driver can make Chase Even though there's no reason to look at his recent performances and feel confident about the pick, there are some silver linings. He finished sixth at Richmond earlier this season, and he has a driver rating of 104.00 in the past five years at Darlington. MacKenzie: Ah, I like where you are going with this one, George. Although I don't think any driver outside of the grid has a great chance of entering the top 16, I, too, think Kahne could go for the repeat and get himself a last-minute win. And how great of a story would that make? The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been pretty vocal about how disappointing the past few races have been for him and he knows he needs a win . He has proven that he can work well under pressure after last year's Atlanta win so I say that if there is any driver who can snag a last-minute victory, it would be Kahne. MORE: Kahne knows he must win to earn Chase berth