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Woody: First Point-Fixing, Now Fake Spins?

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 17 2011

Paul Menard and team owner Richard Childress say there were no intentional spins in Richmond. Some don't believe that. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

I’m surprised that anyone’s surprised that a NASCAR driver might (gasp!) intentionally spin out to bring out a late-race caution to help a teammate win.

Heck, drivers routinely engage in point-fixing. They do it right under NASCAR’s nose, plotting their strategy over the radio, on national TV.

How many times have we seen a driver who’s leading a race deliberately slow down and allow a trailing teammate to pass, inherit the lead, and collect the bonus point that goes to each lap-leader?

At the start of the season, drivers harp about how “every point is precious” in the battle to make the playoffs. Then they casually dole out points to teammates that they didn’t earn by giving them a free pass.

A few of those unearned points could spell the difference in a driver making the Chase and bumping out another driver who deserved to be there.

In other sports, point-fixing is illegal and sends shivers down the spines of officials. But in NASCAR it has become commonplace.

In NASCAR, giving a teammate a free pass – and a free point – is considered just being a good team player.

So why would anybody be surprised that driver might intentionally spin out to produce a caution that helped his teammate?

That’s what some suspect happened at Richmond last Saturday night. Paul Menard, who was out of contention, spun out with 16 laps to go, bringing out a caution. Menard’s teammate Kevin Harvick was running second to Jeff Gordon at the time. Harvick took advantage of the caution to beat Gordon off pit road and never looked back.

Could Harvick have caught and passed Gordon without the Menard-produced caution? We’ll never know. All we know is that during his teammate’s-caused caution he was able to pull it off.

Gordon called Menard’s timely spin “a little suspicious.”

Menard denied that he deliberately spun. Again, we’ll never know for sure. All we know is that he DID spin, Harvick DID win, and it DID look suspicious.

The victory gave Harvick three more bonus points, tying him with Kyle Busch at the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Harvick’s three-point gain and Gordon’s three-point loss represented a huge six-point swing between the two title contenders. If the Chase is as tight as we expect, how critical might that six-point swing be?

Of course there’s another way to look at it: three points equals only three lap-leader bonus points, and we’ve seen how freely those have been swapped among teammates throughout the season.

Point-fixing is like getting pregnant – you can’t do it just a little. Whether Menard helped Harvick gain unearned points with his Richmond spin or not, we know for certain that teammates have done it previously by awarding each other free passes.

Other sports don’t tolerate points tampering because they know it tarnishes their integrity and casts a pall of suspicion over every victory and every championship. It’s time for NASCAR to share that same concern.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 17 2011
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Deborah Chastain says:

    Nascar shouldn’t tolerate so-called reporters like you that don’t do anything for the drivers or the sport but rehash old stories and speculation and try to stir up trouble by writing stupid articles like this one.

    • al pearce says:

      So, Deborah, would you prefer that all of us who professionally cover NASCAR should simply ignore what everyone in the garages are talking about? Should we look the other way and keep quiet when NASCAR says it’s looking into the incident? I wonder if your stance would change if YOUR favorite driver lost a race because a rival’s teammate did something “fishy.” Remember, you can’t have it both ways.