Should NASCAR allow team orders?

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We are always told while growing up that winning isn’t important and it’s the taking part that counts. That’s all well and good when there’s nothing at stake other than a bit of personal pride but when the stakes are money, jobs, sponsorship etc. than to quote Vince Lomabrdi “winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing”. It appears that at last weeks Richmond race that some teams certainly took this quote to heart and did everything they could to win including, according to NASCAR altering the finishing positions of a race in order to make the Chase.

Sep 7, 2013; Richmond, VA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer (15) spins out during the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Just in case you’ve been on Mars for the past few days a quick recap, in the final stages of Saturday night’s race Martin Truex Jr was in danger of missing out on a wildcard spot due to Ryan Newman leading and Joey Logano had slipped outside the top 10 in points and was also eligible to take a wildcard spot. Truex Jr’s teammate Clint Bowyer, then ‘spun’ to bring out a caution, while Brian Vickers was also told to come to pit road and therefore give up a few spots and move Logano’s car up the order. Sure enough Newman failed to win, Logano got enough points to get back in the top 10 and Truex Jr made the Chase as a wildcard.

Immediately after the race NASCAR announced that nothing untoward had taken place but then delayed the release of the official results which suggested that they were investigating. They then announced the biggest penalty in NASCAR history, all three Michael Waltrip Racing cars were docked 50 points, the team were fined $300,000 and General Manager Ty Norris (who was acting as spotter for the 55) has been suspended indefinitely. This points reduction meant that Truex Jr, who was an innocent bystander in all of this, fell out of the final wildcard spot which was taken by Newman.

This is where the story gets interesting in my view. NASCAR stated that they could find no conclusive evidence from listening to race radio, watching replays etc. that the 15 car spun deliberately. But the actions of the 55 team was seen as ‘the smoking gun’ and this showed what MWR’s intentions were to manipulate the race standings. This is what I have an issue with, at every race teams manipulate their drivers to get extra points here and there. It is seen as perfectly acceptable for team mates to swap positions to allow the extra point for leading a lap so the principal of swapping positions is allowed. It should make no difference if this extra point comes in the final lap of the final pre-Chase race or in the second lap of the very first race. The result is the same a team has manipulated its cars to get an extra point.

Sep 7, 2013; Richmond, VA, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner Michael Waltrip Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. (56) and Sprint Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer (15) pose with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Trophy after the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

I also have no issue with team orders if they are allowed, as they are in NASCAR. A team has to look at the bigger picture for all its drivers and if that means shuffling them about so as to ensure another teammate gets more points than so be it. In terms of a team ordering its drivers to do something to aid another team while it is a little weird, provided the other team isn’t aware of what’s going on, than to me that is a tactic teams should use to do their best for their drivers. For example Kurt slowed coming out of the pits on Saturday so as to ensure he was passed by Brad Keselowski and would restart on the preferred bottom line.  This action benefited another team and could have altered the result if it had happened on the final restart but again this is appears to be perfectly acceptable by NASCAR and fans alike, driver Michael McDowell even tweeting yesterday:

” This kind of stuff goes on all year. Let a teammate pass to lead a lap, pit selection etc…if NASCAR had to police every point and every spot exchanged intentionally all year it would be a mess. The obvious is obvious.”

What Bowyer did is arguably worse (if indeed it was deliberate) as he purposefully put himself and other drivers in danger. While what the 55 did was in my view no different from any other team do when they shuffle their drivers around for an extra point. Yes, how they went about it was crass but I say again, team orders are not banned in NASCAR, yet suddenly this is what NASCAR said they had an issue with. This manipulation is also what fans have been most upset about. Some of these fans were ironically screaming blue murder when earlier in the year (I forget which race!) Jimmie Johnson spun while just ahead of Jr who he had just lapped but he pulled in front of Jr and didn’t let Jr unlap himself. If Johnson had let Jr unlap himself than the teams would have manipulated the running of the race. I accept this didn’t happen that time but has happened at many races and fans have no issue with it providing it’s their driver that benefits.

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