Brett Poirier and Mark Howell · Wednesday September 11, 2013
Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we’re going to bring them both, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question … feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll, and also in the comments section below!
This Week’s Question:Did NASCAR make the right call on the penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing, effectively putting Ryan Newman in the Chase?
Brett Poirier, Senior Writer: Good Call, NASCAR
NASCAR has made more bad calls than good ones this year, but this one they got right.
Clint Bowyer’s intentional spin at the end of Saturday’s race at Richmond certainly received more attention than any spin in recent memory because of the Chase implications involved, but it was far from the first time a driver spun intentionally to manipulate a race, or even the Chase for that matter.
In 2011, Paul Menard taught Clint Bowyer how to perfect the spin off of Turn 4 at Richmond. Menard spun intentionally to give his Richard Childress Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick, another shot at beating Jeff Gordon. Gordon was better on the long runs and Harvick was better on short runs, so Menard spun late and brought out the caution, and Harvick beat Gordon on the restart and held off Carl Edwards for the win. The move didn’t change who was in the Chase, but it gave Harvick three extra bonus points heading in.
NASCAR did nothing. They said there was no evidence that Menard’s spin, which mirrored Bowyer’s, was intentional, and RCR got away with one. That’s why it wasn’t a shock that two years later, another organization pulled the same move. Michael Waltrip Racing wasn’t exactly cat-like in stealing Martin Truex, Jr. a Chase spot. The radio communication for Brian Vickers and Bowyer was idiotic. It sounded like something scripted by a five-year-old. MWR was obvious in their intent to manipulate the race — pitting Bowyer and Vickers over and over for no reason — because they thought the governing body wouldn’t do anything, because they hadn’t before.
This time they did… finally. The ruling is not perfect, but no NASCAR ruling ever is. Ryan Newman wasn’t the only one possibly screwed out of a Chase spot on Saturday. Gordon was impacted as well, and the ruling did nothing to benefit him. He still ends up screwed (no surprise there). But there was no action NASCAR could’ve taken that would’ve made all parties happy. If they somehow decided it would be just to put Gordon in the Chase, then Newman would be out.
Let’s take a look at the penalties: MWR general manager Ty Norris, the main culprit in planning these late race dives for the No. 15 and No. 55, was indefinitely suspended. MWR not only lost a car from the Chase and the payout that comes with it, but was fined $300,000 on top of that.
Each team was also docked 50 points. In Bowyer’s case, the point deduction will make no impact, but do you really think he is going to win the Chase after what happened? Barring Gordon doesn’t run him over in every race, this guy is shaken by his own actions and he’s going to have a target on his back for at least the next 10 races.
The ruling wasn’t perfect, but it certainly accomplished its goal. A team is going to think twice before it pulls any behavior like what we saw on Saturday again.
“We penalize to not have this happen again,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “It’s a message from the league saying, ‘You can’t do this.’ ”
And the message was heard loud and clear.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Too Little, Too Late
The myriad of penalties announced Monday night by NASCAR against Michael Waltrip Racing for manipulating the outcome of Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond are being considered historic and unprecedented. On the surface, it looks like Mike Helton and Friends were serious about their frustration over the situation and how the teams’ collective actions reflected against the sport of stock car racing: MWR fined $300,000; executive VP / General Manager Ty Norris suspended indefinitely; all crew chiefs on double-secret probation until the end of 2013; drivers Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, and Martin Truex, Jr. each penalized fifty “regular season race” points; and Truex, Jr. dropped from the Chase lineup as a result and replaced by Ryan Newman, who was leading the event (and in desperate need of a win to secure a wild card berth) when the assorted hijinks occurred.
So did NASCAR drop the hammer and make MWR pay dearly for its sins? Even though it sounds that way, some folks in and around the sport are grumbling that Monday night’s penalties – while glaringly severe – failed to address the elephants still stomping around the garage area: the arbitrary nature of NASCAR justice and the overall structure of The Chase for the Championship. The Battle of Richmond last Saturday night may have been MWR’s at “shock and awe”, but instead it was an offensive maneuver just waiting to be bungled.
And, oddly enough, the actions of MWR at Richmond were to be somewhat expected given the nature of the Chase. Making NASCAR’s version of the Fall Classic means more attention and more (they hope) revenue for sponsors involved with the top 12 teams. Missing the Chase means alienation by the media out covering the races, so all the hand-wringing that goes on during the dog days of summer, as drivers struggle to win events and earn points, can lead some teams to take extreme measures.
NASCAR, as well, is prone to taking extreme measures when it comes to the Chase for the Championship. It was not that long ago (2007) when Brian France and Company stretched the “top 10” into the “top 12” when it looked like fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was less than a shoo-in to make a run for the title each season. Sure, France said the change was to put an emphasis on winning races, explaining that “Nobody likes to see drivers content to finish in the top ten,” but the reality of the situation was about as understated as a kick to the groin: the Chase is a matter of show-and-dough (teams make the show, NASCAR makes the dough).
So, here we are, pointing fingers at Ty Norris, Michael Waltrip, and Clint Bowyer while the fortunes of Martin Truex, Jr. and Ryan Newman twist-and-turn like the falling leaves of autumn. In the meantime, NASCAR growls and harrumphs about maintaining the credibility of its sport and leveling the playing field, all while doling out justice by taking “the right steps” and doing “the right thing”.
Okay…. So what about Jeff Gordon, whose post-season opportunities died on the vine when Bowyer spun the No. 15 and Vickers needed help from his pit crew to know if he had a tire going down while still circling the track? It seems to me that the penalties enforced by NASCAR were too few and too late, especially when it came to doing “the right thing,” as Mike Helton declared during the official MWR penalty teleconference.
Why not, then, try to make things “right” for other drivers who sat on the cusp of making the Chase? While very nearly impossible to do, it still seems that a level playing field means equal opportunities for all those even remotely involved. If Truex, Jr. could be shuffled out of contention, why not re-position the fifty point deduction and take them from a driver who a) was directly involved and b) has something relevant to lose? That’d be Clint Bowyer, by the way, who’s at the center of the controversy yet still running for the Sprint Cup championship.
Is there an easy way to address the events of last Saturday night in Richmond? No, there isn’t. Is there an easy way to ensure that similar events will not take place as the Chase approaches each and every fall? Nope. Is there ever going to be a penalty from NASCAR that legitimately enforces the severity of the violation in question?
Not as long as they keep “revenue” and “competition” in the same column on its spreadsheet.
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