NASCAR Levies Unprecedented Penalty On Michael Waltrip Racing For Race Manipulation
NASCAR yesterday "levied the biggest penalty" in its history and "altered the makeup of its playoff field two days after it was set," according to Jeff Gluck of USA TODAY. The decision to take driver Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup was "an unprecedented move." Truex "made the championship playoff field after teammates Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers apparently manipulated the outcome" of the Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Int'l Raceway last Saturday "under orders from the team." Driver Ryan Newman, whose Chase hopes "were seemingly thwarted" by Michael Waltrip Racing's foul play, "was put back into the Chase." But Jeff Gordon, who was "also affected, remained out of the Chase." NASCAR President Mike Helton said, "It's a message from the sanctioning body to say, 'You can't do this.'" Gluck notes NASCAR, after "warning the drivers to race 'fair and square' in a prerace meeting ... ultimately felt it had to act." Included in the penalty was "a record-setting fine of $300,000 to MWR." But it made the points penalty "only apply to the regular season -- meaning Bowyer will be able to start the Chase only 15 points behind leader Matt Kenseth." Helton said that "there was 'no conclusive evidence' that Bowyer spun intentionally." NASCAR "deemed the penalty necessary because it reviewed radio communications" between MWR GM & Exec VP/Business Development Ty Norris and Vickers. Norris "acknowledged the conversation in a meeting Monday with NASCAR officials" and was "suspended indefinitely." Michael Waltrip yesterday in a statement said that his team "would accept the penalties." NASCAR initially said that there was "no funny business." But Helton said that officials "began to get more information early Sunday morning, which changed the situation and forced an hours-long meeting" yesterday (USA TODAY, 9/10).
JUSTICE FOR JEFF? Helton said that NASCAR officials "spent much of the day debating the penalties." Helton: "We feel like we researched it extremely well." FOXSPORTS.com's Tom Jenson wrote for Gordon, who "missed the Chase by a single point" when driver Joey Logano made up two positions at the end of the race, there is "no relief." Gordon wrote on his Twitter account, "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!" Helton said that putting Gordon into the Chase was "not something NASCAR was prepared to do" (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/10).
SPIN MACHINE: SPORTING NEWS' Bob Pockrass wrote MWR's "stomach-churning actions to help one of its drivers make the Chase was too much for NASCAR to ignore." NASCAR's "credibility was on the line, and it had to do something to protect the integrity of the sport and to ensure the spirit of competition." But Bowyer, who "did a very dumb thing, won't pay for it." The penalties were "harsh but appropriate." It "just wasn’t enough" and the "reasoning for it all seemed skewed." Instead of "penalizing a specific driver," NASCAR "penalized the team." A suspension of Bowyer for a race "would not have been out of bounds." This "appears to be a case where money talked." It is "big money to get into the Chase thanks to bonuses," and MWR "saw the extra cash to justify this shameless manipulation of events." Bowyer "should consider himself fortunate" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/9).
AVOIDING A REPEAT: USA TODAY's Nate Ryan writes there are "no guarantees the regular-season cutoff race won't unfold under exactly the same cloud of deceit the next time it is run." The "overarching lesson that teams learned" from NASCAR's penalties "wasn't 'don't do this, or we'll nail you.'" It was "do a better job of disguising it until NASCAR figures out how to monitor its teams' traffic well enough to determine when underhanded tactics are occurring." Ryan asks, "So what steps is NASCAR taking to ensure that doesn't happen in the future?" Helton's answer to that "wasn't exactly reassuring." Ryan writes of NASCAR, "Even though there might have been no recourse for a perfect administering of justice, there had to be a better way to reassure its fan base and industry that it wouldn't happen again" (USA TODAY, 9/10).
did not receive a spot in the Chase
DONE ENOUGH? FOXSPORTS.com's Lee Spencer wondered if the $300,000 fine and the financial impact of losing a Chase spot were "enough to ensure that what happend Saturday night at Richmond never ever happens again." Helton "would not confirm whether any of the Waltrip principals acknowledged culpability in the plot -- only that the radio conversations indeed happened." While every sponsor contract differs, two industry experts claim that, "depending on each sponsor’s performance clause, a team could stand to gain an additional" $500,000 to $2M depending on results on the track and sponsor mentions. Spencer: "If the financial threat to teams is not severe enough to keep teams from gaming the system, just how does the sanctioning body intend to stop the madness moving forward?" (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/10).
CAUTION FLAG: In Charlotte, Tom Sorensen writes the incident has "generated considerable attention for a sport that annually is buried by the NFL’s opening games." The controversy has "enticed people who otherwise wouldn’t have noticed to notice." NASCAR "should be embarrassed by what they see." MWR "comes off like some kind of twisted fraternity, the end of the race a twisted fraternity prank." Altering a car "is one thing," but "taking a dive to alter the field for the Chase is another" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/10).
TWITTER REAX: ESPN.com's Mark Garrow wrote, "NASCAR's new major 'no-no' list..don't mess with engines, tires,or sport's integrity. See what we did to MWR, next team gets it even worse." Gordon: "Feel bad for Truex. He got in under controversy now out due to it. But the guy who started all of this not effected at all??? Don't agree!" Waltrip: "This wasn't a master plan or about a spin. It's about a split-second decision made by Ty to try to help a teammate. I stand by my people." Media consultant Bob Margolis: "The real punishment begins for MWR this weekend when they have to wear their shame while walking through the Cup garage."