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
©2000 - 2008 Summer Bedgood and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!