CORNELIUS, N.C. - Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip will scale back to a partial schedule to make room for Martin Truex Jr. to join the team in 2010.
Truex will leave Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing at the end of the year to drive the No. 56 Toyota, which he drove into the Michael Waltrip Racing shop Tuesday to announce his hiring. Truex received a thunderous ovation from the MWR employees on the shop floor, as well as about 100 fans Waltrip allowed to watch the announcement from an overhead balcony.
'Welcome aboard, brother,' Waltrip told his new hire.
Waltrip will keep his No. 55, but run a partial schedule. He said he'd race in at least four races - maybe as many as 12 - and longtime sponsor NAPA was committed to sponsoring him in next season's Daytona 500.
NAPA will be Truex's primary sponsor, and the auto parts distributor is already supporting Ryan Truex, his younger brother, who signed earlier this year as a development driver for Waltrip.
But signing Truex wasn't a slam-dunk for Waltrip, who had to first come to terms with giving up his seat and then convince a top free agent to sign with his race team. MWR had a disastrous 2007 debut, when Waltrip was ensnared in a cheating scandal at the season-opening Daytona 500 to start a season of embarrassing struggles.
The organization has slowly rebounded, and driver David Reutimann has emerged as a legitimate contender for the Chase for the championship. He won his first career Sprint Cup race in May at Charlotte, and is currently 14th in the standings.
It forced the 46-year-old Waltrip to decide if his team would be better off with a new driver. He had said at the start of this season he would give up full-time driving if he could not compete with Reutimann - but racers typically struggle to accept that reality.
Waltrip, who is 34th in the standings, said he was 'totally at ease' with the decision.
'I am turning my car over to a guy I think can win the championship,' Waltrip said. 'I just believe at this time in my career, Martin is the right guy.'
Truex, who has one career victory and finished a career-best 11th in the 2007 standings, is currently 24th in points. But he's been considered the top free-agent in this year's class and was sold on MWR by Waltrip and general manager Ty Norris' hard sell.
'I think we're going to go on to do really good things,' said Truex, who thanked MWR for allowing him to use the No. 56, which he raced in every series before he reached NASCAR.