BRISTOL, Tenn. — Driver Clint Bowyer and team co-owner Rob Kauffman seem to agree on two things: conditions at Michael Waltrip Racing won't allow the team to continue in its current form and it was no place for Bowyer.
MWR announced Wednesday that it would not run as a full-time team in 2016 and that it would release Bowyer after this season.
"Michael Waltrip Racing wouldn't have existed through today without substantial and continued financial support from me," said Kauffman, who bought a share of the financially struggling team in 2007. "You can't have a top-10 budget and top-10 resources and not be in the top 10 for a sustained period of time. From a business standpoint, that didn't make sense any longer. It's a performance-related business. … It's a great sport but a very difficult business model."
Bowyer, who has driven MWR's No. 15 Toyota since 2012, said he understood.
"Rob provided us all of that and invested a lot in this sport," Bowyer said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway before practice for tonight's Irwin Tools Night Race. "It's a business decision to move forward on his end. Our futures just don't align any more."
Bowyer said he's open to all options in finding a new team. As of now, there are no openings in any of the top teams' rosters.
In July, Kauffman announced he was buying a stake in Chip Ganassi Racing, a move that immediately raised doubts about MWR's future.
Bruton Smith treatment: Speedway Motorsports Inc. executive chairman Bruton Smith revealed he was treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in June and used this weekend's races at Bristol as motivation during his recovery.
Smith, 88, arrived at Bristol on Wednesday for the truck series race — his first since his diagnosis — and will stay until tonight's Sprint Cup event. He missed four race weekends at SMI properties while he was ill.
"I hate to miss any of our races, it's heartbreaking," Smith said in an interview with the Associated Press and espn.com. "I enjoy what I do. I love the automobile business, I like the racing business and I want to do more and more. That is the driver for me — to just do more things."
Smith was reluctant to discuss his health during the interview. His son Marcus and longtime aide Don Hawk eventually explained his illness. Smith didn't feel well in late May during races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the cornerstone of his SMI empire, and was diagnosed with the cancer. He had surgery, and Smith said he did not require chemotherapy or radiation.
Hamlin on pole: Denny Hamlin set a track record in leading a Toyota sweep of the first two rows in qualifying for tonight's race.
Hamlin turned in a lap of 131.407 mph on the 0.533-mile, high-banked oval to break the mark of 131.362 mph set last August by Kevin Harvick.
It was Hamlin's 22nd Sprint Cup pole and continued Joe Gibbs Racing's recent dominance. JGR drivers have won five of the past six poles and his teammates, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, will line up second and third, respectively. David Ragan of Michael Waltrip Racing gave Toyota a sweep of the top four starting spots.
Tampa's Aric Almirola (127.563 mph) will line up 31st.