NASCAR Did Good – But Not Great – On Monday
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
The move by NASCAR officials on Monday to issue playoff-changing penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing’s Sprint Cup drivers and team members was a stunner.
It was was ground breaking and precedent setting and totally justified. It should be heartily applauded by a sports-following public that more often than not, seems to be viewed as nothing more than ticket buyers and consumers by leagues and series.
Yet the ruling was also a bit unsatisfying in that it came up short in the category of ” justice for all.”
Monday’s ruling came about because of events which occurred during the final seven laps of Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond International Raceway. During those seven laps, Waltrip driver Clint Bowyer – who had long since locked himself into the Chase playoff field – spun out to bring out a yellow flag.
The spin occurred with Ryan Newman leading the race and almost assuredly en route to a victory that would have put him and his Stewart-Haas Racing team into the playoffs – which begin this weekend in Joliet, Ill.
The effect of the caution and restarting of the race with a couple laps to go was to put Bowyer’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr., into the Chase at Newman’s expense. The ripple effect of the spin also cost four-time champion Jeff Gordon a Chase berth.
The question after the race became: Did Bowyer spin on purpose in an effort to get a second MWR driver into the Chase?
Then there was a late pit stop by Brian Vickers, a third MWR teammate. He was mysteriously ordered to pit and that also had an effect on the Chase.
Some contended there was ample evidence – from in-car camera video, team two-way radio traffic and eye-witness testimony – that the spin and pitting was purposeful and a manipulation of the outcome.
But when the NASCAR carnival packed up and headed home early Sunday morning, it did so with Truex in the Chase and Gordon and Newman out.
During the day Monday, NASCAR sent word to the media that it was reviewing the Richmond finish. The only thing out of place about that was the series sending out word as all races are reviewed ex post facto.
So, it was hard to get enthused that anything other than an action-aoviding pro forma response was in the offing.
But in early evening, NASCAR announced the series of penalties which would alter this year’s championship run and, perhaps, serve notice that the policy of “Have at it, boys” would not extend to fixing races and championships.
All three MWR drivers – Bowyer, Truex and Vickers – were docked 50 championship points. Also, NASCAR fined the MWR organization $300,000 and indefinitely suspended Ty Norris, MWR Executive Vice President/General Manager and spotter for Vickers’ car. 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.
The point deduction knocked Truex out of the playoffs and put Newman in. This is as it should be.
But then there is the unsatisfying part of the action. The half-just part of the action.
In terms of doing the right thing: Gordon will still end up being deprived of the Chase berth that he earned. NASCAR officials said that Gordon was submerged by the ripple effect of the spin and that they did not/could not get involved with ripple effects.
In terms of penalizing the trigger man: Bowyer’s loss of points is unconsequential. He will remain the No. 8 seed when the playoff starts – just 15 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
NASCAR officials had a major chance to step in and do a complete job on Monday night. They could have went for total justice rather than partial justice. They could have made a major statement on the practice of fixing races and, hence, cheating fans.
They should have put Gordon in and moved Bowyer out of the playoffs.
By doing so, NASCAR would have put itself into position be something that no other series or league or association is: truthful in claims that it cares about justice for all.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments