The Frontstretch: Michael Waltrip Racing Is Not The Problem by Summer Bedgood -- Monday September 9, 2013

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Michael Waltrip Racing Is Not The Problem

Summer Bedgood · Monday September 9, 2013


If there is anything that NASCAR fans love, it’s a good conspiracy theory. I see it weekly in in my inbox and that magnificent thing we all call Twitter. NASCAR loves this team, hates this driver, and all kinds of crap that gets thrown around with zero evidence.

Every once in a while, though, they hit on something. The first mention of “He did that on purpose!” or “NASCAR intentionally screwed them!” generally causes the rolling of many eyes, but every once in a while it generates a second look.

Clint Bowyer generated that second look. And many more, including some from NASCAR.

With last Saturday night being the cut-off point before the Chase, tensions were high and the margin for error was paper thin. Though Bowyer was locked into the Chase, Bowyer’s teammate Truex was on the bubble. Trying to work his way into the Chase either via points or with a wild card spot thanks to his win at Sonoma earlier this year, the pressure was on for Truex and his No. 56 team.

With the “points as they run” swapping hands several times throughout the race, there was no predicting how the race would end, though the odds with only a few laps left were certainly out of Truex’s favor. Ryan Newman was leading and, if he won, would get into the Chase instead of Truex by virtue of a second win to Truex’s one.

As the field headed to just six to go, it was all but a given. Newman was in, Truex was out, and the shuffling of several others was going to impact drives like Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon in the final rundown.

Until a timely caution from Bowyer, that is. On lap 394, Bowyer spun off the front of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s bumper, bringing out a much-needed caution for teammate Martin Truex Jr.

The field headed to pit road, Ryan Newman had a slow pit stop, and, long story short, the night worked out in Truex’s favor. Truex made the Chase thanks to an awfully convenient spin from his teammate.

Still, stranger things have happened, right? It doesn’t necessarily mean that there was anything immoral about it.

Until Dale Earnhardt Jr. started talking.

“He just spun right out,” said Earnhardt. “That’s the craziest thing I ever saw. He just came right around. We were going through [Turns] 3 and 4, and… I don’t know if they can put up his brakes and his gas. We got all the technology. But he was hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out. It was crazy. I don’t know what was going on. It was right there, I almost run into it, so I’m glad we were able to get out of there without any trouble.”

Still, is it possible that Bowyer just had an issue? He sure seems to think so:

“I think we had something going wrong,” he said post-race. “We went from a car capable of winning the race, leading, to I think we started 12th or 13th, just went straight backwards. Extremely tighter, tighter, tighter, tighter. The 88 got up underneath of me. I had so much wheel, by the time I got to the gas, he was underneath me, I spun out.”

The evidence still seems suspiciously stacked against the team, though. A couple of weird radio transmissions from the No. 15 and the No. 55 has everyone talking, including the now famous “Does your arm hurt?” from Bowyer’s spotter Brett Griffin and an “itch it” from Bowyer’s crew chief.

Additionally, MWR driver Brian Vickers was told to come to pit road once under green, and asked his crew chief “Do I have a tire going down?”

The whole thing was just strangely bizarre, but the only reason it would have been bizarre is if there was something going on underneath the surface. When even the ESPN commentators, who usually downplay this kind of stuff, are saying that there was something up, something was up.

So, the question I have to ask is … why should they be demonized for this?

Wasn’t Jimmie Johnson’s blown tire convenient for his teammate Jeff Gordon? Don’t teammates work together at Talladega? Aren’t we used to this sort of thing by now?

The reason this has grown to the proportion that it has is that this impacted way more than just MWR. Ryan Newman was effectively screwed out of a Chase spot and potential win with that move. You could make the same statement with Jeff Gordon. It wasn’t just for one race win or one event. It was for the Chase for the championship.

Added in that, the bizarre conversations that make it blatantly obvious what was going on generated much more discussion than just a simple spin.

While I do think NASCAR has to address the issue, I don’t quite understand why everyone is so outraged at this team. No, I don’t like someone trying to manipulate a race any more than the next person. It made the exciting finish to the end of that race feel cheap and it made what was an exciting end to the race feel recycled and pre-determined.

But for MWR to be condemned for doing what they have to do for their team to make the Chase is unfair. It sucks for everyone else, especially for those of us who are watching, but it’s not as if Ty Norris and Michael Waltrip were supposed to sit back and do nothing. I know that’s what we wanted them to do, but that’s hardly realistic in a team full of closed door team meetings and radio transmissions.

I’m not saying that team orders need to become a normal occurrence in NASCAR, though in some way or another they are. You can’t tell me that, even a few weeks ago, team owners encouraged their lesser competitive to get out of the way of their Chase contending teammates if the opportunity presented itself. The only reason this was such a pre-meditated event was because it involved the Chase. Had this been the spring Richmond race, we wouldn’t have heard a word about it and it would have been a non-isue.

Don’t think the championship won’t have similar storylines either. If Clint Bowyer is in the running for the championship come Homestead (assuming NASCAR doesn’t ensure that their asses are so far down in the running order, they won’t be), guess which driver is suddenly on the hot seat to add some extra “assistance” on race day?

As I said earlier, though, NASCAR shouldn’t allow such blatant team orders. I don’t know what it is they have to do—a points deduction seems too steep, but a fine doesn’t seem like enough.

However, they can’t have this kind of thing going on in the sport. At least not publically. It cheapens the entertainment value, and the knowledge that what you’re watching is actually unpredictable. That’s what makes it fun!

What I am not doing, though, is condemning MWR. They did what they had to do within the relative confines of the rules and successfully got both of their drivers in the Chase. Kudos to them for being creative, albeit at the expense of some other teams.

NASCAR, however, needs to find a common sense way to fix this. If that means that they need to take Ty Norris aside and tell them to come up with some better codes than “your arum hurts” and “your tire is going down”, then that is what needs to happen.

Newman and Gordon might not be in the Chase. But the real losers in this are the fans. I think that team orders will always exist in NASCAR to a point, but let’s at least let us have the illusion of owner-free racing as much as we can.

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

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09/09/2013 12:57 AM

The problem isn’t MWR, or anyone else involved on the track.

The problem is “the Chase.”

You want camera time for the next 10 weeks? You better be in “the Chase.”

As for team orders .. it’s less blatant than the “allow your teammate to lead a lap” stuff we’ve seen since forever.

Besides, this is just MW being MW – he’s always been a sponsor prostitute and he needed another bed in the Chase to continue his trade. Wasn’t it predictable??

09/09/2013 03:36 AM

While no fan of Mikey, I think its absurd to think that teamates don’t help each other, after all their paychecks come from the same place. Manipulation comes in EVERY race, from the lowly back burner suddenly having a tire issue the last 2 laps, a caution comes out or to the mysterious debris caution that only seems to benefit the HMS drivers. This outrage is much ado about nothing. Stat wise the ones who belong in the Chase are there. Jeff and Ryan maybe should have a had a better season. Getting sick of the Jeff fans screaming foul, when last year at Richmond the same nonsense, but it turned in his favor. This year it didn’t. HMS fans are beyond reason, he simply did not belong, and as far as I see with Ryan, you cannot claim him a winner because the race had not ended. Much ado about nothing.

Granite Fan
09/09/2013 03:46 AM

The NFL has fake injuries, soccer and the NBA have flopping, and NASCAR has fake spinners and team rules. All team sports have ways that teams affect timing and outcome. Nothing new here except maybe how obvious it was. Only way to fix it is to get rid of teams.

Sue Rarick
09/09/2013 07:16 AM

Just wondering how ‘so what’ y’all would be if Boyer and Matt were going for the championship and Kyle has a ‘tire go down’ just as he’s side by side with Boyer?

Y’all would be screaming to the edges of the universe to have him banned for life a billion dollar fine and a public lynching of Gibbs.

BTW: MWR couldn’t engineer Truex actually beating Ryan….but they could engineer Lagano getting into 10th…..All he had to do was tie Gordon and he’d get 10th because of the win. The fact Lagano beat him by 1 point was just icing on the cake.

Bill B
09/09/2013 07:29 AM

I think what we are quibbling over here is,,,, how blatant is NASCAR going to allow the teams to be in manipulating the outcome of races (and the chase)? IMO it was the obviousness of what happened in the last 10 laps that needs to be discussed. Where is the line going to be drawn? And even if teams use better codes, if it seems blatant should NASCAR penalize? If Bowyer knew there was a high probability of starting the chase with a 25 point deficit, would he or MWR been as willing to risk it?

09/09/2013 07:33 AM

You wrote Wasn’t Jimmie Johnson’s blown tire convenient for his teammate Jeff Gordon?

No it was not considering all three Hendrick teammates had stopped and were a lap down because the cycle of stops had not completed. It actually benefited Kurt Busch who had not stopped and was only 6 points in front of Gordon,so if it was on purpose, execution was horribly timed.

09/09/2013 08:29 AM

I’m lovin’ it!

If Bowyer did that on purpose then that’s fantastic. Nascar is all about the show (debris cautions, etc) and folks can blame them and their stupid chase.

Don’t worry people, Nascar will still mess around…and John Middlebrook is still available.

And hey, Gordon can now do all kinds of stuff since he’s not in the (cough) “playoffs”.

Lee Staples
09/09/2013 08:45 AM

For everyone defending MRW’s actions, you are part of the reason that NASCAR is flushing itself right down the tubes. NASCAR used to be the best, now they are just one of the rest. Multi car teams continue to destroy this sport. It used to be 40 guys all out for themselves. Now, it’s degenerated into muli car teams trying to manipulate the outcome. I guess you guys consider me and old dude with “good ole days” syndrome, but I know the difference between “pure” and “garbage”. Nascar is now “garbage”.

09/09/2013 08:46 AM

Well, wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that MWR went out of their way to help Smoke by permitting Mark to leave his contract early so that they could have a proven driver finish out the year in the #14 only to be rewarded with a surprise defection by a crew chief who by most accounts was the chief of a group that was hitting on all cylinders and seemed to have that magic chemistry that most teams only dream about. Funny how things work out, huh. On the subject of the Hendrick band, what do think Jr would say, that’s his team mate that missed the trumped up chase. He’s drinking the Hendrick kool-aid. We all know that they would never cheat….

09/09/2013 09:02 AM

There is right and there is what one can get away with. I prefer to root for those who race the right way. Causing a spin isn’t the right way. Bringing cars onto pit road to let another driver gain points isn’t the right way.

Yes, I know NASCAR was supposedly founded on a ‘if you’re not caught, you’re not trying’ mentality. But implicit in that is a driver does everything he can to win, not take a dive.

09/09/2013 09:10 AM

IF it was just Bowyer’s spin, it would still be bad, but not enough to penalize Bowyer or MWR.
The fact that both Bowyer and Vickers pitted under green in the final laps for no particular reason puts it over the top. And the lap data showing Vickers running the slowest green flag lap in history of RIR is particularly damning. Did Bowyer spin on purpose? That’s up for debate. Did MWR order Vickers to pit so Logano would stay in the top 10 in points? Definitely yes.

09/09/2013 10:26 AM

Give the whole damn bunch a shot of “truth serum” and see what the real truth is.

Letting a teammate pass is fine, but the spin and the evidence surrounding it is manipulation that is truly detrimental to the sport. It changed entirely the course of the race and the chase and is unacceptable.

I can no longer defend NASCAR. Until they gather up the reins and set some legitimate ground rules and accompanying penalties, they are weak-kneed and unfil to manage any sport.

09/09/2013 10:32 AM

I seem to remember Jeff Gordon affecting the outcome of the championship last year. Karma’s a bitch!. I do feel sorry for Ryan Newman. But all things being equal what Jeff Gordon did last year was far worse

09/09/2013 11:11 AM

Amazing! Welcome to WrestleMania NASCAR style!

09/09/2013 11:19 AM

This argument can go a lot of ways: First of all, I am (or WAS) a Clint Bowyer fan, but cannot bring myself to root for such blatant unsportsmanlike conduct. Looking at it another way, it WAS his crew chief that told him to “itch” his arm. (Team orders – Bowyer did not think that up on his own – he was driving a race car). Also, look at Vickers, who was totally confused by his TEAM ORDERS to pit. So, in a way, you cannot or should not fault the drivers alone. Then again, if they then lie about it post race, then I DO have a problem with that. On the flip side, you may argue that what MWR did was actually not against the rules. Then again, you would be correct (unless they violated the standard “actions detrimental to stock car racing”). But either way, no matter how you look at it, the whole thing stinks to high heaven. But where to put the blame? Simple: That lousy, stinking %@#$&! Chase! If drivers and teams were competing in each race FOR THAT RACE, this would not have occurred. The stupid chase system not only nullifies 31 drivers out of the last ten races, it also adversely affects the actual racing itself – in several races. Case in point was the recent Bristol race. If there was no fear of possibly messing up and losing those precious “chase points”, don’t you think Kasey Kahne would have put the chrome horn to Matt Kenseth for a chance to take home the checkers? The way it actually ended up was the “safe” scenario considering that all-important chase standing. This weekend’s Richmond race shenanigans were just more blatant icing on the cake. Yes, without question, the most guilty underlying factor contributing to this black eye on the sport is the chase itself. Add to this the fact that some overwhelming majority of fans dislike the chase format, plus the huge, continuing exodus of fans every year, I would recommend NA$CAR take a serious, long hard look at the big picture, and come to the same conclusion that I have: The chase is “detrimental to the sport of stock car racing”. Period.

09/09/2013 11:46 AM

Ok BOWYERS spin was questionable , then Dale Jrs postrace comments added to it , but the AUDIO from ESPN between the pits and the #15 #55 cars sort of added the holding a smoking gun over the corpse , looks BAD.

Steve B
09/09/2013 12:44 PM

Anyone following NASCAR (or racing in general) knows that this is business as usual. The situation today is that there are so many cameras, scanners, and social media that any kind of strategic planning and execution needs to be very well coordinated and coded.

If MWR did coordinate these events, their biggest fault is not finding a way to better cover their tracks.

Racing is, has, and always will be about maximizing the “grey” areas of the rulebook. In the multicar team world, to not coordinate activities between the teams in a critical race is foolish. The better teams find a way to keep the coordination out of the public eye.

What stinks, from the fan standpoint, is the perfect storm of possible issues messing up an exciting finish to the chase seeding. Jimmy Johnson hitting the wall, Clint Bowyer spinning, and Carl Edwards jumping the start all combined to mess up what could have been an exciting finish. Any one of these things would have been tolerable, but all three occuring will overshadow the results with controversy.

But ultimately, the Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman teams can only blame themselves. They put themselves in the position of making every point matter by not outperforming their competitors on a weekly basis.

09/09/2013 01:38 PM

The Chase has wrought all this, and with teammates ya get help. Get rid of The Chase, its a toxic poison to a once great sport.

09/09/2013 01:44 PM

C H E A P!! Not to condem
mw and his bunch is very questionable. Does the writer seem to say it is
ok to cheat? Evidently
the writer was reared
different than myself.
The nascar game has sunk
to its lowest of low.

Ron Schwalbe
09/09/2013 02:31 PM

Been a fan since the 60’s _ “MY” 26 week NASCAR season is over _ I do not watch the “farce”. Giving UNEARNED points to the underachievers while PUNISHING the points leader and taking AWAYwhat he has EARNED — is NUTZ ,!!

09/09/2013 03:47 PM

At least this year we didn’t have someone (Gordon,Newman) running through the pits looking for someone to punch like Boyer did last year. Gordon and Newman and their crews handled the situation a lot classier than Boyer and his crew did back then.

doug jones
09/09/2013 04:50 PM

So why do you think Jimmie Johnson ran so bad the last 4 races , so the 24 car would get more points. Think about it why would Jr make that statement so quick. They are all doing it and it will never change.

Bill B
09/09/2013 07:18 PM

LOL @ doug jones comment…

Doug, if Jimmie was trying to help Gordon by finishing behind him don’t ya think he kind of over did it?

09/09/2013 09:17 PM

There may be justice after all.

Truex penalized and out of the chase. Newman in.

NASCAR made the right call here.

Carl D.
09/10/2013 08:22 AM

“As I said earlier, though, NASCAR shouldn’t allow such blatant team orders. I don’t know what it is they have to do—a points deduction seems too steep, but a fine doesn’t seem like enough.”

A points deduction alone is not steep enough. Add in a steep fine and a suspension and now you’re in the ballpark. Of course, Waltrip himself should be banned from the tracks for the rest of the season, and Bowyer, who I do like, should be docked with chase points as well. But at least Nascar got it partially right.