MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Rusty Wallace Racing, which late last year lost its biggest sponsor to a Sprint Cup organization, has suspended the on-track activities of its two-car Nationwide Series team and released one of its drivers to pursue other opportunities.
RWR announced the move late Friday afternoon. It comes three months after sponsor 5-Hour Energy, which backed the team's flagship No. 66 team, said it would leave the organization after the 2011 season to pair with Michael Waltrip Racing and new driver Clint Bowyer on NASCAR's highest level.
“I promised myself and my family long ago that if the team wasn't funded to a level with which we were comfortable, we just wouldn't run it. ”
-- RUSTY WALLACE
RWR said its business staff would remain in place to pursue the development of future sponsorship opportunities, and that current sponsor relationships would be maintained. But the cars of Michael Annett and Steve Wallace -- who finished ninth and 10th, respectively, in final Nationwide points last season -- will be idled for the time being. The team said it is assisting the younger Wallace with finding opportunities for 2012 with backing of current sponsors, while Annett has been released to seek another ride with his longtime family sponsor, Pilot Flying J.
"This was a tough decision to make, but it was the prudent one from a number of perspectives," team owner Rusty Wallace said in a statement. "While we had several great partners -- such as Pilot Flying J -- on board for 2012, we just didn't feel like we had enough sponsorship in place to accomplish all of our goals.
"A lot of teams would have run with the level of funding we have now, but we want to ensure that our team has the resources necessary to compete and to improve our operations. I promised myself and my family long ago that if the team wasn't funded to a level with which we were comfortable, we just wouldn't run it. I've worked way too hard to put part of my life savings into a race team.
"So, we collectively decided to take a break, regroup and focus on the future. We'll keep working hard on sponsorship programs for Steve and for future seasons. This also allows us to focus on the other aspects of our companies and our brand as well, whether it's our car dealerships, new track design projects, licensing, personal services or even something new."
The elder Wallace owns a number of automotive dealerships and has been involved in race track design on facilities like Iowa Speedway, which hosts NASCAR's Nationwide and Camping World Truck circuits. He said the company would continue to work on a 2012 racing program for his son Steve, and that he hoped to have an announcement on that front soon. RWR officials did not immediately respond to a request for further comment Friday.
The 5-Hour Energy brand began its association with RWR on a limited basis in 2008, and by 2010 had become the full-time primary sponsor for Steve Wallace and the No. 66 car. Wallace's results on the track improved over that same span, to the point where the 24-year-old has finished inside the top 10 in Nationwide points each of the past three years. But in October of last year, the company announced that it was joining with MRW and would serve as primary sponsor on 24 points races for Bowyer's No. 15 car next season.
"When we decided to make the move up from Nationwide, we thought really long and hard," 5-Hour Energy president Scott Henderson said then, "because this is a huge investment for us."
RWR is only the latest organization to take drastic steps in the face of a severe sponsorship shortage that is altering the complexion of the NASCAR garage area. Roush Fenway Racing recently shut down its No. 6 program after sponsor UPS departed, and the two-car Red Bull Racing team was closed after the Austrian energy-drink manufacturer withdrew its ownership and sponsorship support.
"One of the hardest parts of this decision was knowing the impact that it would have on our employees and their families," Wallace said in the statement. "It's just the unfortunate reality that our sport is facing right now. We wish all of our employees the very best in the future."
Go Rocketman! Go Smoke!
Go Stewart-Haas Racing!!