The Frontstretch: Side By Side: Did NASCAR Make The Right Call On MWR? by Brett Poirier and Mark Howell -- Wednesday September 11, 2013

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Side By Side: Did NASCAR Make The Right Call On MWR?

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.

Did forever altering Michael Waltrip Racing’s 2013 championship picture send a big enough message…

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.

…or was this overall picture not changed quite enough?

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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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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09/11/2013 06:55 AM

Eliminating the ridiculous ‘chase’ would help.

The Old Guy
09/11/2013 09:48 AM

It matters not what NASCAR’s ruling is. For some it isn’t enough and for others it’s too much.

09/11/2013 10:16 AM

Just end the chase or make it a field of 13 by adding Gordon. Or kick Bowyer out for his part in this whole thing. As you pointed out, if you are not part of the chosen 12, you may as well save the $ and fuel and not show up at the track for the next 10 wks. Heck you can’t even break into the top 10 which under the old system was possible. I have NO reason to watch, follow or even give a rat’s patoot about the next 10 races. My guy is out and will be ignored by the TV cameras.

So my recourse is to enjoy the nice weather and ignore the races.

JD in NC
09/11/2013 10:33 AM

The most significant “penalty” for MWR may well be the defection of sponsors from such a blatantly dishonest organization. NAPA has already released a statement saying:
“we have launched our own review to determine the future of our partnership with Michael Waltrip’s Racing team. The NAPA AUTO PARTS organization is proud of its long-standing NASCAR relationship. We share a passion with our customers for high quality racing and seek to determine the best course of action for our customers, NASCAR fans, and the NAPA organization.”

Sue Rarick
09/11/2013 12:26 PM

Using Menard’s spin wasn’t the best call….. You do remember that head of comp for MWR is scott miller who was head of comp for RCR at the time of the Menard pin …….just sayin.

09/11/2013 12:57 PM

JD beat me to it. MWR could be in a whole lot of hurt sponsor wise. More importantly, Japanese companies do NOT like to be embarrassed. You can chuckle at the concept of face but if you know anything about Japanese culture you would realize how serious it is. I suspect that the motors MWR gets during the chase will be the rejects. The chase has got to go; its a farce. Last whimsical idea for the day…why don’t RCR and Stewart do a driver swap now? be a hell of a lot more interesting!

09/11/2013 01:04 PM

The big elephant in the room is Nascar manipulates every race with their phony debris cautions and the like. They manipulated “The Chase”. People are screaming for MWR to fold their tents up, I disgree, with this level of rhetoric, everybody better come clean and list their deadly sins, and the fans screaming might be schocked at what they find. As for these fans calls to have MWR’s sponsors drop MWR..I say the world is full of bad stuff, put your lame Nascar activism into something that really matters. If the sponsors leave MWR, I will be the one NOT buying their product. Too much phony damn PC stuff. Shame on Nascar. Nascar has opened Pandora’s box letting Newman in, and I am sure soon enough the man who had the best stats plus the most wins(sarcasm) Jeff Gordon will be let back on the playground too. Nascar has painted themselves into a corner and its not going to be pretty going forward.

JD in NC
09/11/2013 01:45 PM

I don’t think NASCAR necessarily painted themselves into a corner just by the fact that they didn’t just let Newman in (or Gordon, as many fans wanted). They just issued their standard points and dollars type penalty. The outcome of which put Newman in the position of getting a wild card instead of Truex. If they would have just kicked the 56, and/or even 15, out of the chase and replaced them with the 39, and/or 24. Then they would have set a whole new standard. Granted, they could’ve made the penalty 100 points effectively kicking the 15 out and letting the 24 in, but that would have still followed the points/dollars format. What they did not, and should not, have done would be to have retroactively frozen the running order seven laps from the end. That would be painting themselves into a corner. We all know there was a 50/50 chance of a mystery debris caution before the checkers flew anyway.

Sherri T
09/11/2013 02:05 PM

I agree with jerseygirl. I feel like there is only one driver I would be rooting for in the travesty that is the “Chase” and that’s Newman. With Gordon out, I don’t really want to spend the time watching any more. I hate the Chase anyway. MAYBE I’ll DVR and watch on FF, but that’s about it from here on out.

09/11/2013 02:22 PM

By painting themselves in the corner I meant that Nascar needs to watch how they handle situations in the future, it might cause them more headaches that they are prepared to deal with. All good intentions……

Salty Dog
09/11/2013 02:24 PM

Teams doing all they can to manipulate the order of finish to their benefit? That’s what racing is all about. Think about it for a few minutes.

What it all boils down to is this: SHR didn’t have a car in the chase when the race was over. MWR had two in. I believe this did not exactly fit the NASCAR ideal. And some of the fans (bless their ignorant hearts) were crying cheating. There was none – the penalty in the book for intentionally causing a caution is 3 laps and it’s not illegal to pit when pit road is open. NASCAR pulls out the Actions Detrimental secret weapon. SHR gets a car in the chase and certain fans get to rejoice in NASCAR “sticking it to the cheaters.” Total BS…the largest pile of it I ever seen in 45 years of racing…

A sad day for racing…

09/11/2013 03:31 PM

You can bet that if any of the sponsors leave MWR then that is my ticket to not buy their product. Can we do a dollar fine for nascar? Every race they manipulate by there “debris” cautions when there is nothing on the track.

phil h
09/11/2013 04:45 PM

maybe if Nascar had black-flagged Carl Edwards for jumping the restart Gordon would have gotten in the Chase!
LOL just a thought

09/11/2013 04:51 PM

Now I read that Pensky make a last minute request to Front Row the let Lagano by so he could get enough points to get in. What’s the difference between that and the 55 or 56 being told to pit to do the exact same thing? Keep in mind that is what MWR was penalized for, per transcript of Helton at new conference.

Salty Dog
09/11/2013 05:09 PM

Whoops…now NASCAR is gonna have to go investigate all those times when driver A slowed so driver B could get a hot dog wrapper off his nose. “They’re manipulating the finish of the race! They’re cheating! Driver B wouldn’t have made the chase ‘cause he would have done blowed up in that race. Driver C (my driver) got cheated out of a place in the chase!”

Robert Eastman
09/11/2013 06:32 PM

If “Salty Dog” is correct… the penalty for purposely causing a yellow flag IS… 3 laps in the pits, then it could be said that Clint Bowyer just “Voluntarily Penalized himself” by pulling in the pits… so he absolutely followed the rules and thus should not be penalized any further by NASCAR!
How’s that for “twisted logic”… that actually has “some merit.”

09/11/2013 07:01 PM

Up the penalty from 50 points to 80 for each MWR car and both Bowyer and Truex would be out and Gordon in. Just sayin’.

09/11/2013 08:31 PM

Case in point, about being careful what you wish for Nascar, AP is reporting “suspicious” radio comm between Penske and another team. Sounds like normal race stuff, except..wait for it, nothing is going to be normal anymore, and Nascar better hire more people to keep the uninformed fans happy because they are going to think its cheating, when in reality it is not. Nascar made a bad decision.

09/11/2013 08:53 PM

Lol! Who really gives a fat rats a**? The chase is a farce, Brain France is an idiot and at the rate fans are bailing, Demolition Derbies will soon be outdrawing NASCAR.

09/11/2013 11:46 PM

Someone said it for some it wasn’t enough for others it was to much. If Bowyer’s spin was not consider in the punishment, then I for one don’t understand why MWR was penalized. NASCAR is a team sport is it not. By pitting the 15 and 55 help the 56. They did not wreck anyone. NASCAR has a long history of drivers pulling over and letting other drivers by. So I guess I should change my name to confused.