The Frontstretch: Vexing Vito: Add Penske To The Richmond 'Funny Business' ... But Was It? by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday September 12, 2013

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Prior to the start of Saturday night’s Richmond race, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton reminded drivers to not put NASCAR in a position to make balls and strikes calls, as they would likely not go in their favor.

On Monday evening, NASCAR not only called a strike but ejected them from the game, as Martin Truex, Jr. was removed from Chase contention following a 50-point fine brought about by the coordinated efforts of Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 15 and 55 teams to manipulate the outcome of the race. Their actions affected the winner of the race, and the Chase fates of three drivers. With NASCAR on the precipice as it has been the past five years, it was not something that could have – nor should it – let go unpunished.

The now infamous “Frontstretch Flop” by Clint Bowyer to bring out a caution with six laps to put Truex back into Chase contention, was obvious and could not be tolerated, despite of the claims of “lack of proof” – though Bowyer’s interview with Ricky Craven had him squirming in his chair like Nicholas Cage in “8mm”. The intercepted radio traffic and in-car footage from Bowyer’s car has quickly become the Zapruder film of NASCAR, indicting a complicit driver in Bowyer and crew chief Brian Pattie.

I call it The “Training Day” Doctrine. As Alonzo told Officer Hoyt, it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove.

Clint Bowyer’s conspicuous spin with a few laps to go at Richmond put NASCAR in the unenviable position of having to remove a driver from The Chase — who wasn’t even involved in the action.

The resulting fine knocked Truex out of the Chase, with Norris suspended indefinitely. Norris communication to Brian Vickers to make an unnecessary pit stop because they needed a point was also part and parcel of Truex making the field, by moving Joey Logano into the mix, displacing Gordon.

The spin was as blatant as the move executed in 2011 by RCR to send Paul Menard around to help get Kevin Harvick a win heading into The Chase. What was worse, MWR also had to get Brian Vickers in on the action as well, to make an unnecessary pit stop to give Joey Logano one more car to race, and a 79mph last lap speed. The leaders at the time were running 120-123mph lap times. On the final restart, Newman’s new SHR teammate Mark Martin was in fourth position and could have made things very difficult for both Truex and Joey Logano, but ran his line and allowed the faster cars to race for the Chase spots amongst themselves.

Memo to teams attempting a similar strategy: if you’re going to come up with a secret code to tell your driver to spin out, maybe come up with one a little better than itching your arm (after all, scratching your arm would be the proper instruction…). Still, I guess it’s still better than a start and park team using “vibration” for a lap 5 exit from competition. Clint Bowyer’s post-race interview avoiding eye contact, reciting a series of events that didn’t happen, and changing the subject halfway through his answer was not exactly Oscar-worthy either.

Don’t get me wrong: we all know that team orders have been a part of racing for quite some time, and to its credit, has been less of an issue with NASCAR than any of the other major racing series – Formula One being the primary example. What’s worse is that there was such overwhelming evidence both audio, visual, and empirical timed data to confirm that the outcome of the race was manipulated.

When team cars became the norm in NASCAR in the mid 1990’s, it was the “what if…” scenario that has been playing itself out for five days now.

Now word comes down that NASCAR is investigating radio traffic that indicates Joey Logano’s No. 22 Penske Racing team was trying to work a deal with fellow Ford team Front Row Motorsports and David Gilliland to move over and let them have a spot.

Some are trying to draw a moral equivalency between the two — and look beyond desperate doing so. If a driver elects to yield a position to another for whatever reason, that’s their call. Trading 20th position for 19th is worth just as many points as leading a lap — and how often do drivers trade the lead so they can both get a bonus point during the season? That is a far cry from dictating who wins the race, and the championship outcomes of three different drivers by intentionally halting the race and leaving the racing surface.

It’s a bit ironic that the discussion surrounding the events of the past few days, in part stems from NASCAR’s desire to gain legitimacy with both the core fans and casual fans. This current scenario is in part fostered by Green White Checker restarts and the the nature of the Chase itself —inspired to create drama and a playoff-type atmosphere in the fall. Had this been before 2004, the race would have been over, with Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman in The Chase – and Newman with two race wins versus one.

The real reason Joey Logano is in the Chase and Jeff Gordon isn’t? Logano won a race this year; Gordon has not. A win and the resulting bonus points would have put Gordon inside the Top 10.

Another culprit? The Mario Kart points system now used, where it is one point per position, no matter where you are running. Had this been under the previous tiered systems, where the points difference per position would start at five, go to four, then three as you worked your way lower through the field. I recall Tony Stewart’s reaction to the change a few years ago, saying it would be great because it would be easy for a driver and team to calculate during a race.

Perhaps too easy?

If the championship was still a season-long cumulative contest, this would be a non-issue and never have even happened in the first place. That does not excuse the legitimacy of competition being impugned, and fans hard-earned dollars buying tickets for a tainted product. While consistency has not exactly been a hallmark of NASCAR rulings, despite the “gray area” that affects everything from car design, on-track activity, and driver conflicts, their response to this incident has been firm, fair, and unquestionably needed.

Granted, Martin Truex, Jr. probably thinks otherwise, but this is a bit of a self-policing move that sends a message for future indiscretions: it is not just going to be a driver penalty, but a total organization penalty.

As invested as he is to the success and well-being of the sport as an owner, driver, spokesman, and commentator, Michael Waltrip cannot be privy to the integrity of the sport being called into question, particularly at this critical juncture where things are starting to turn around attendance and ratings wise. This coupled with the demise of SPEED, and NBC returning as a broadcast partner in 2015, the events of Saturday night were nothing less than the old standby used for fines since 1948: Section 12-4-A – Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing. Then again, this is a sport that is rooted in the manufacture and distribution of illegal substances, tax evasion, and eluding law enforcement.

While I disagree with the tactics and the-ends-justifies-the-means mentality of this, I think by Homestead it will prove to be a moot point. Ryan Newman was 14th in points, and Martin Truex, Jr. 12th in points entering the race. There has been absolutely nothing about either of their performances this year that remotely resembles a championship contending race team. While Martin Truex’s performance the last couple of weeks has certainly been manned up driving hurt, the No. 56 team always acts like they’re playing from behind, or waiting for something awful to happen.

Newman nuking his team on TV immediately afterward the race and sub-par pit stop wasn’t exactly the mark of a champion either – or a guy who’s sticking around next year.

Trading a 12th place team for one in 14th should not put the other 11 teams better than them on notice. The only caveat to this is that in the past four years, Ryan Newman has wins at New Hampshire, Martinsville, and Phoenix – though three races do not a champion make. I will say however, it looks like Clint Bowyer got the last word in on the feud between him and Jeff Gordon that reached a garage-sprinting crescendo at Phoenix in November of 2012.

Which by the way, many seem to be glossing over with how Gordon manipulated Bowyer’s championship quest last year, intentionally wrecking him at Phoenix, as Brad Keselowski narrowly passed through. This of course after his teammate Jimmie Johnson stuck it in the wall, seriously compromising his title chances.

Gordon himself I feel has been a bit precious about things the last few days – as if there was never anything of question ever raised about the 24’s performance during the 1995-1999 seasons. He hasn’t won a race this year, and under a non-Chase scenario, he’d still be 11th in points, one point behind Logano (with Logano winning the tie-breaker too by the way – so don’t start with the Front Row Motorsports conspiracy with Gilliland pulling over), 92 points out. Besides, he caught a “timely” caution himself that prevented him from going a lap down and really being buried in the field Saturday night as well.

Jeff Gordon’s Drive for Five has been ongoing since 2001; some late race shenanigans and a rollercoaster season conspired to keep him from Chase contention in 2013.

After all of this drama has blown over and the green flag falls in Chicago on Sunday (which it will…some MLBer will get popped for steroids, or some NFL player will get caught with weed on a traffic stop), and everybody has things turned up to 11, the teams to beat are still going to be the 48, 20, 18, and 5 – in that order. They’ve shown the most consistent speed this year, and their teams don’t wilt under pressure or make excuses. The 78 and 22 will make things interesting early on, but I’m not convinced they’re ready to make that step yet to a true title contending team.

As long as the true championship contending teams show up and are ready to focus on the task at hand in Chicago, I don’t see this lasting much longer. As much time and energy that has been expended over this the past few days will be exhausted by the time that the casual fan is setting their fantasy football line up.

That is of course unless Jeff Gordon or Martin Truex, Jr. win, at which point I think they’ll just start rioting.

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kb
09/12/2013 03:11 AM
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Thank you for you viewpoint which I share. Logano has been much better than Gordon all year, had a race or two to win, besides the one he did win. This would not be an issue if that 25 point dock stuck. But it did, and sadly if it was a Bowtie it would have been overturned. Nascar needs to tread lightly, but they won’t. They will appeal to the mob mentality, which of course is vested in the moment and their favorite driver, most of these morally indigant fans, I doubt truly know Nascar the way they think the might. This instance has been going on forever. Pull out the secret rule book and show us its wrong..black and white please.

Ken
09/12/2013 07:42 AM
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It’s Thursday morning at 7:30. I fully expect by noon that NASCAR will announce a penalty against Penske team #22 and Joey logano, thus removing Joey from the Chase and admitting NASCAR’s biggest crybaby into the Chase. You can bet The Felon will see to it! He knows how to get his way, legally or illegally. If there is anyone who lacks morals and ethics, the owners of Michael Waltrip Racing or Penske Racing don’t hold a candle to Rick Hendrick. And if that happens, I hope Logano “slips” when Jeffy tries to go by him, and “accidentally” takes Jeff out. If anything, it would be a little payback for Jeff’s stupidity he displayed last November at Phoenix.

Fed Up
09/12/2013 10:04 AM
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Maybe while NA$CAR is reviewing the prima facie evidence against Gilleland/Front Row, they could look at the tape of Edwards restart. Helton and Pemberton have no morals when it comes to manipulating the outcome of a race.

Josie
09/12/2013 10:05 AM
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What a tangled mess we weave when first we practice to deceive …and man ain’t this a big ball of crappola! Ha! I don’t see much happening with the 22/38 mess..NASCAR will put out a press release “not enough evidence” (come on now folks its I fired the druggie driver Penske not I used rocket fuel Waltrip). So on we go! I just wonder (over/under) how many of the next 10 races Bowyer will actually see the finish line…and how many 3rd tier teams are..as we speak..being approached by the big dog teams with a promise of big payoffs if their drivers accidentally spin, crash, blow a tire, or “itch their arms” in the direct path of the 15!!!

Ken
09/12/2013 10:14 AM
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The one point about the latest restart controversy is that it involved the most hated driver in NASCAR. Had it involved say Junior, this would not be an issue. With that, it is a wonder that NASCAR hasn’t changed the restart rules by now, given that the second biggest crybaby in NASCAR (teammate to the biggest crybaby, and owned by a convicted Felon)has been whining about this since he got beat at Phoenix back in March and again in Dover in June. After all, His car owner has the most influence in NASCAR.

And don’t worry. If NASCAR does not issue a penalty to Logano and his team, you can bet a certain Chevrolet driver will have a scope mounted on his car, and Logan will be put into the wall. He might even pay Logan’s former teammate to do it!

Old Fan Bill
09/12/2013 10:44 AM
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Where in the world is DW in all this mess? Its like he has vanished from the face of the earth. If it wasn’t for Mikey being involved,I bet he would on Race Hub with a mic. in each hand and his mouth running 100 mile per hour.

Robert
09/12/2013 10:48 AM
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The only way to once and for all clean up all the smell from this is to ban everyone employed by MWR, Penske and Front Row from all levels of Nascar for life. Period.

Josie
09/12/2013 10:59 AM
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@robert…understand your frustration but be careful what you wish for! Don’t know who your fav driver is but it’s only a matter of time and the media will have dug out every word said on a radio within 10 miles of Richmond track to dig for more dirt… Who’s to say your driver won’t be “outted”!

Babydufus
09/12/2013 11:24 AM
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To whom it may concern at NASCAR headquarters;

Due to your latest actions which I find detrimental to the type of stock car racing that I enjoy, I find myself in a position that I can won longer support your organization at previous levels. I will no longer go out of my way to support your sponsors because of you, if I choose to use their service or product it is because of them and not their affiliation with you.. I also find that your race day “product” is no longer worth such a heavy investment of my most valuable commodity, my time and i am seriously scaling that back as you have failed to meet certain obligations. Ffinally, I am officially putting you on probation until december 31 2013. From this point on my exposure to you through race attendence and tv viewing will be cut back by approximately 80% but I will be monitoring your actions and a final decision will be made in the future. Should continue to limit the creativity and inginuity of the teams, manipulate the outcome of races and make business decision at the cost of the sport I will be forced to terminate our relationship in whole. I am open to discussion of reconciliatory terms as time is of the essence.

Regards,
Babydufus

janice
09/12/2013 12:04 PM
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babydufus – LOVE IT!!!

ROFLMA!!!!

janice
09/12/2013 12:06 PM
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nothing against vito…..

but i would really love to hear/read matt mclaughlin’s thoughts on the richmond race and the post-race antics.

Upstate24fan
09/12/2013 12:57 PM
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I enjoyed the article. I agree NASCAR won’t do anything to the 22 and they shouldn’t. However, NASCAR invited a wider ‘witch hunt’ after they struck a plea bargain with MWR that left the 15’s point position unscathed for the Chase. They used the 55’s actions as the “smoking gun” when none of this happens without the 15’s intentional spin. That just invited any press member or random observer to bring up any questionable radio traffic during the race.

As a fan, I am upset Jeff Gordon isn’t in the Chase, but they shouldn’t give him special dispensation. The 24 had ample opportunity to be safely in the top-10 before last Saturday. At this point lets just go racing again, and let on track justice take care of the 15.

kb
09/12/2013 01:53 PM
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Nascar has opened Pandora’s box with the poor handling of things this week. What the team 22 did this week is SOP in every race by every team. Somebody is on a witch hunt (hhmm, who can that be) sarcasm. The way these things have been worded has already branded the 22 team, and without any real understanding of the sport, the uneducated mob is screaming again for perceived injustices. Nascar needs to show where this action violated the rulebook, word for word. Not the usual we are going to do what we feel like, code for “actions detrimental to stock car racing” bull. And then if they did violate, go back decades and right this wrong. As for the people gathering the pitchforks, warning..unless your driver is HMS or employed by one of their many satellite offices, this can happen to your driver and your team, without cause.

BabyD..agree again. My family last night said if they punish this kid no more watching, and I tend to agree, on the other hand if the wrong ruling goes down I wanna watch every strategy and scream foul right up to Daytona office, if a penalty comes down.
Another thing, Nascar now is going to have to interpret every scanner conversation, etc. This whole thing is just insane. These men call themselves professionals? and all this access to scanners and the like. What other sport does this? We are invited into their work area every week, they have mothers writing to drivers asking them to tone down the swearing their children are listening, for the love of Mary they are working!!!! Ah the whole thing is sad..

Ken
09/12/2013 02:44 PM
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One last point about team orders and doing things to effect the final outcome of a race/season. At Atlanta in 1993, Richard Childress entered a car for the late Neil Bonnet. Bonnet Started (which, sadly, turned out to be his last race) then he parked, thus solidifying Earnhardt’s 6th title. In Atlanta (again) in 1995, Rick Hendrick entered an extra car that started and then parked, thus solidifying Jeff Gordon’s 1st title. And Jeffy-poo-poo is whining about Logano and Bowyer? Who said it a while back, “Pot, meet Kettle”! Ah, Jeffy! Jeffy! Jeffy! What is it they say about karma? Oh yes, like you, it’s a bi**h!

Max
09/12/2013 03:01 PM
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It is with much amusement that I watch all this angst over the MWR ploy.
Nascar has only themselves (France in particular) to blame for this most recent attempt of collusion of various race teams.

When the multi-car teams were sanctioned by Nascar, it resulted in a ripple effect through the garage, the sponsors, the drivers and the technology to the point where the line has become very cloudy when it comes to cheating and unethical race activity.
What did Nascar really think was going to happen?
Of course we all know what it does to sponsorship dollars and lack of same. but we also know that it causes the on-the-track product to suffer because one can never be so sure to what depths the “team orders” can really sink to.
Nascar seriously wounded the business model by allowing multi-car teams, and downright killed it by manufacturing a “Chase” that was basically already there to begin with.
Be careful Nascar, you might get what you wish for, haha!

Bud Sudz
09/12/2013 06:17 PM
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Spot on Ken. And, has anyone reviewed the previous 25 races to see if Gordon was helped to gain a point in any way. Also, what about Hamlin slowing down on pit road a Bristol in order to attempt to gain a restart position in the faster lane? Is that any different than Vickers or Gilleland? And what about JJ tanking for 4 consecutive weeks. Any coincidence that the 24 needed points?

JD in NC
09/12/2013 08:34 PM
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I’ve never really cared one way or the other in regards to Logano, but I’d hate to see him lose his chance for a championship run this season. I’ve been impressed with how much he has improved away from JGR. To me, a great finish to the season would be for the 78 and 22 to come into Homestead tied for first in the points and then come off of turn four on the final lap beating the crap outta each other for the win/championship (i.e. KuBu vs Craven at Darlington in 2003). Unfortunately, I also think the reason Hamlin has stupidly been refusing to go ahead and get his back fixed before the end of the season is that he plans on being around to make sure Logano doesn’t win the championship this year.

Ken
09/12/2013 08:35 PM
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Bud Sudz, I honestly am not 100% sure about Johnson’s run since Michigan being done to help Jeffy-poo. I got the impression that, since the 48 team had already clinched their berth in the chase that at Michigan, they began experimenting with different things, and that they had two test cars fully ready to go. On the Saturday, we were in the stands watching the final practise session when Jimmie spun and backed his qualified car into the wall. As his car was sliding down into the grass, my buddy tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the pits. Where we sat, you could see the garage area and the 48 hauler. The 48 team was unloading their back-up car before Johnson’s car had come to a rest in the grass. And Chadikins didn’t seem all that upset when the engine blew on Sunday. It was just a series of events that made you go Hmmm. At least when Bowyer blew up at Atlanta, he admitted that they had an experimental engine. I really don’t think Johnson was tanking as much as Chad and Jimmie were trying different things. After all, they had that cushion to do so. Helping Jeff move up in the points was a coincidence. Then again, who knows. You may be right. I’m only basing my opinion on what I saw on Saturday in August at Michigan.

Birdboy48
09/12/2013 08:46 PM
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It’s not too hard to imagine the underfunded #38 team asking Penske exactly what it’s worth to them for Gilliland to take a fall. Plenty, I bet, if it means Joey making the Chase. For that reason alone, NASCAR needs to take action on this matter,

Dodger
09/12/2013 09:22 PM
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I’m sick of hearing Dave Moody and others say how they feel bad for Boyer. No one made him do a thing, he’s their flagship driver, he did it, why people feel sorry for him because he was told to “Itch” is really dumb, what would they do to him if he hadn’t? He would have been the only MWR car in the chase…..

kb
09/12/2013 10:58 PM
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Jd, I agree with you. Joey has a relationship with The Coach, so I hope he has a little one on one with the wounded walking ego so that doesn’t happen.

Curt
09/13/2013 10:41 PM
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So will Nascar fine itself for throwing fictitious cautions… does that not affect the outcome of many races during the season?

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