Fans expect the race before the Chase to be chaotic and unpredictable but no one, not even NASCAR itself, expected controversy, manipulation, and in the end, one of the biggest fines ever handed down.
After Michael Waltrip Racing and their drivers manipulated the results of the race and in short, the Chase contenders on Saturday night in Richmond, its three drivers plus the core of the racing staff were fined, penalized and in reality, put to shame by NASCAR.
Let me break it down for you:
- Ryan Newman (SHR) and Martin Truex Jr (MWR) were both racing hard for the final Wild Card spot in the Chase. With just laps to go, Newman takes over the race lead and starts to put a sizable gap between him and second place. Clint Bowyer (MWR), already locked in to the Chase, spins in the middle of the field, causing a caution. Over his radio, moments before the spin, his Crew Chief asks him some strange questions. Is your arm getting tired? Do you have a tire going down? Suddenly, he spins. Dale Earnhardt Jr is right behind him and comments after the race that Bowyer was breaking oddly and just driving unnaturally. The caution causes the leaders to pit and Newman looses the race lead and eventually the final Chase spot to Truex by a tiebreaker.
- Brian Vickers (MWR) is riding mid pack towards the end of the race. After teams pit and the race goes green, Vickers’ Crew Chief tells him he needs to come back down pit road to pit. Vickers sounds surprised and even asks “Who? Me?” over the radio. Told he has a tire going down, Vickers hits pit road for a lengthy and seemingly unnecessary stop. After which, he rides around the track almost 50mph off the pace of the rest of the field.
- Social Media and the Internet exploded as soon as the first incident happened and continued well into Monday about MWR and their “team orders.” Fans big and small were outraged by the happenings and demanded NASCAR to do something about it. NASCAR responded with shocking results.
Before I get into the details of what penalties and fines NASCAR handed down to MWR, the staff here at Beyond the Flag responded to the incidents out on the track and gave their own opinions as to what took place.
LeRoy Beck: Bowyers Spin: Was it intentional? YES. It was as blatant as the day is long. We know that for the most part, the talking heads on the NASCAR pre and post race shows don’t say much (with the exception of Kyle Petty), but hearing Ray Evernham say as directly as “listening to the in car radio, watching his hands, listening to the engine, he spun that car on purpose. It seems to be a damning piece of evidence against Clint Bowyer. Not to mention Jr’s comments post race. Everything fails the “eye test.” Even Bowyer’s interview afterwards, he seemed like a very guilty man. I am less bothered by Vicker’s actions. He was explicitly told he had tire issue, to go slow, and pit. He seemed very confused on the radio, but did as he was told. Penalties handed down? Truex out of chase, Newman and Gordon in. Both Ty Norris (MWR Competition Director) and Michael Waltrip suspended until the start of the 2015 season, points penalty to Bowyer. This is an unprecedented event and needs an unprecedented response. Think along the lines of what the NFL did with the New Orleans Saints and their bounty program. What will NASCAR do? Probably put everyone on probation until the end of the year. NASCAR needs to be very careful with this decision, as it could effect the quality of Richmond races from here forward.
Matt Schafer: Was Boyer’s spin intentional? Since NASCAR and their broadcast partners have access to the car’s telemetry I don’t understand why there would be a question, except that NASCAR might not want to hand out the punishment merited. There’s already a precedent set for this sort of thing. in 2008 Nelson Piquet Jr. Intentionally crashed his Renault so that his teammate Fernando Alonzo could win. For following team orders Piquet was given a four-year ban, essentially a death sentence, team principal Flavio Briatore and the team’s chief engineer were all handed lengthy suspensions. In that instance there wasn’t even an championship implications. So even if NASCAR has the desire to penalize anyone they aren’t going to suspend Clint Boyer, Brian Pattie or Michael Waltrip for anything more than a couple of races, because ultimately they don’t really mind if this sort of thing happens.
William Babbington: I love a good conspiracy and Bowyer’s spin has all the makings of a good one but I am just not convinced that he spun on purpose. The timing and who it was will always raise suspicions but the Cup cars are powerful beasts that can be hard to handle at the best of times, after all how many times have we seen say Jimmie Johnson spin on his own, it happens. There are the comments over Bowyer’s radio asking about his arms getting tired but I just struggle to believe that Bowyer would purposefully spin. Plus there was no guarantee that it would allow Truex Jr to make up some positions or that Newman wouldn’t exit the pits still in first. Dale’s comments don’t add anything from my point of view, he wasn’t in the 15 car and didn’t know how it was handling or any issues that Boyer could be having. Plus lets not forget that he’s not exactly neutral in this discussion. He would have wanted Gordon in and would have been told what it looked like had happened by his team and possibly other Hendrick Motorsport people. Vickers is a different kettle of fish than Bowyer as his actions didn’t bring out a caution and put other drivers in potential danger. I think that he was asked to come to pit road purely for the reason of giving up his position and helping out Truex Jr and the radio chatter seems to confirm that he was trying to figure out what was going on and then playing along when he figured it out. But I’ve got no issues with what he did, teammates help each other out and there is nothing in the rules that say they can’t. The exact same thing would happen if Jr was asked to give up some spots so that Gordon would make the Chase, it’s just that Gordon’s fans are the ones currently shouting the loudest. I don’t buy the argument that a lot of people have been putting forward that it’s not within the spirit of the sport. If there is no rule against it then it is allowed and when the prize is something as important as a Chase spot than nobody can have any doubt that the teams will do what ever they can to ensure that they are in it, and as long as they don’t break the rules, which they haven’t (although there might be an argument of bringing the sport into disrepute) then its game on.
Daryle Hier: Having several football games to scream at and write about, I waited until Sunday to watch the race. Whether anyone knows for sure considering Clint Bowyer’s timely and purposeful spin ? if it walks like a duck ? And that’s a shame for Ryan Newman. BTW, if you noticed, Newman was coming and probably would have gotten around Kurt Busch for second with one more lap. Like Bowyer, Vickers was just another ploy by Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) to manipulate the outcome. Jeff Gordon barely got in last year and just misses this year. I believe Gordon’s best days are long gone and retiring can’t be too far in the offing. As I’ve said before, Brad Keselowski missing the Chase is primarily because of the penalties to the team and his crew chief Paul Wolfe as the reason for missing the playoffs. It broke whatever momentum the No.2 had plus the penalty point loss was hefty.
As you can see, the opinions varied quite drastically. Did Bowyer spin out on purpose? Was Vickers’ green flag stop intentionally done to help Truex? All of these questions were asked and the staff answered and then tonight, so did NASCAR.
NASCAR announced a press conference with President Mike Helton at 7:15pm EST on Monday night, an unusual time for a press conference from NASCAR. The odd timing and the sheer immediacy of it made it obvious that NASCAR was about to lay down the law of the race.
Michael Waltrip Racing was found to have violated Section 12-4 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing). The penalties handed down were as follows:
- MWR’s three teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (No. 15, 55, 56) have been penalized with the loss of 50 championship driver and 50 championship owner points, respectively.
- These point penalties are assessed following the season’s 26th regular-season race and not after the seeding for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
- Therefore, the point total for the No. 56 car driven by Martin Truex Jr. is reduced to 691, putting him in 17th position and eliminating him from the second Wild Card berth for the Chase field.
- Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 car, now moves up into the Chase as the second Wild Card participant.
- NASCAR has also fined the MWR organization $300,000
- NASCAR has indefinitely suspended Ty Norris, MWR Executive Vice President/General Manager and spotter for the No. 55 car, for violating Section 12-4.
- The three crew chiefs — Brian Pattie (No. 15), Scott Miller (No. 55) and Chad Johnston (No. 56) — have all been placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, had this to say about the events on Saturday.
“Based upon our review of Saturday night’s race at Richmond, it is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race. As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects our commitment to that.”
SHR co-owner Tony Stewart released this statement regarding the penalties and having teammate Ryan Newman in the Chase.
“Obviously, we’re very pleased with NASCAR’s decision to provide Ryan Newman’s rightful place in this year’s Chase. NASCAR was put in a very difficult position Saturday night at Richmond and we commend the sanctioning body for taking the time to do the necessary due diligence to ensure that the right call was made.”
Drivers and organizations alike took to Twitter after the penalty announcement to voice their opinion. Jeff Gordon tweeted,
“Feel bad for Truex. He got in under controversy now out due to it. But the guy (Bowyer) who started all of this not (a)ffected at all? Don’t agree! Take me out of this completely. At this point all that matters to me is if NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely!”
The point’s loss for Clint Bowyer will have no effect on his starting position for the Chase and he will start in 10th as originally placed on Saturday.
The fine handed down by NASCAR to MWR is one of the largest seen in NASCAR history and shows that team orders, big or small, will not be tolerated in this sport.