NASCAR’s Stiff Penalty to Michael Waltrip Racing..But it’s not enough….
“MANIPULATION DAY” FOR NASCAR
It was a rare Monday for Ryan Newman, perhaps the rarest ever for a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. Without ever touching the pedal to the metal Newman earned a spot in the season ending ten race “Chase” while finding a ride for 2014. Two months after being fired by Stewart-Haas Racing effective at the end of this season, Newman was hired as the new driver with Richard Childress Racing, replacing Jeff Burton, for next season. No sooner did Newman have a new ride than he learned he’s in the “Chase” and Martin Truex, Jr. who won the final race of the regular season, Saturday in Richmond, to claim the 12th and final spot, is out. After a further review of the finish in Richmond, in an unprecedented move, NASCAR stripped Truex of his victory, the change in points from the race giving Newman the final berth. On the surface it appears that justice has been done, but at what cost, and how slippery does the slope NASCAR has started down become? In announcing the sanctions against Truex and Micheal Waltrip Racing NASCAR president Mike Helton said the message they’re trying to get across is simple, “You can’t do this.” The “this” he referred to is race manipulating for the sake of a teammate. With Truex on the outside looking in for a spot in the “Chase”, but in contention in Richmond, MWR drivers Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers attempted to manipulate the outcome, Vickers by taking an unnecessary pit stop that moved Truex up, Bowyer with a spinout with seven laps to go that forced Newman into third place during the caution. With the win Truex snuck in under Newman to get to the “Chase”. Ruling that the Vickers move was orchestrated by Waltrip Racing general manager Ty Norris, NASCAR suspended Norris indefinitely, but, even with taped conversations between the pit and the driver, NASCAR says, while it seems obvious the decision was made based on those communications, it cannot prove conclusively that the Bowyer spinout was intentional, and there’s the rub. Bowyer, who’s action set the running order that cut Newman out, gets no penalty in regards to his position in the “Chase”, despite being penalized 50 driver points for the Richmond race. At the other end of that spectrum sits Jeff Gordon, who also was relying on a high finish to have a shot at the last spot in the “Chase”. His position was also effected by the spin out and the ensuing order set during the caution. Gordon himself went to the greater issue. He never addressed how the incidents at the end of the race may have effected him, but, over social media, he openly wondered how Bowyer could go unpunished in terms of “Chase” standing when he was the one who committed the most egregious act. While he didn’t deny this ruling is likely to have a ripple effect, Helton declined to address what that effect might be and how NASCAR would deal with it down the road, saying correcting the immediate problem had to come first. Gordon added in his tweet, “At this point all that matters to me is if NASCAR decides to fix this, then fix it completely.” Give NASCAR credit for seeing an immediate problem and addressing it, but they came up short in making sure the trickle down to all effected drivers was addressed. Now that they’ve set a precedent they’ll have to live with it. That means dotting every “I” and crossing every “T” in establishing comprehensive rules, penalties and formulas for correcting point status in time for next season and sticking by them when this kind of manipulation happens again. In a sport in which teams are structured the way they are, team members competing with each other and against each other, it most definitely will. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.