The September 25th publication of the Frontstretch newsletter broke a story of race “fixing” that occurred September 23rd at Dover International Speedway. The publication provided incontrovertible evidence that Hendrick Motorsports driver Casey Mears, along with crew chief Darian Grubb and spotter Chuck Joyce, conspired to alter the finishing order of the race to allow fellow teammate Kyle Busch to gain valuable driver points in his quest for the 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup championship title. Frontstretch obtained radio transmissions from the Hendrick teams’ race frequency that clearly indicated Mears, who is not eligible for the Chase for the Nextel Cup, was instructed to relinquish his position on the track to Busch.
Excerpts of radio communications as previously reported between Mears, Grubb and Joyce are as follows:
Darian Grubb: “Alright (Casey), we’re going to be sitting in fifth here… and the No. 5 came in and pitted, he’s got some damage. If he gets to us, we’ll probably let him go on the last lap, let him get in front of us for that position. But if you can pass cars, pass cars.”
Casey Mears: “10-4. Why is that? Just because of the points deal?”
Grubb: “Yeah, 10-4. It’s only for one position there. We’re racing the No. 16… so if you can pass the No. 8 and the No. 16 and go get that, we’re all for it, but if we’re not going anywhere and the No. 5 is still behind us, we’ll give him that position.”
Mears: “10-4. We’ve got pretty good tires here, so we should be able to go.”
Fast forward to green-flag conditions:
Chuck Joyce: “Lead him around you, buddy. Lead him around you. Help the No. 5 out. Help the No. 5 out. Inside with the No. 31.”
After the race:
Grubb: “Good job, buddy, good job. Hate having to do that, but it’s going to be good for everybody. Appreciate it, man. Sixth place.”
Mears: “Yeah, if he didn’t (expletive) dive-bombed me so hard I could have raced those other guys. I let him go early.”
After a pause – Mears: “I hate that now that I did that. I guess that’s a team deal, but I don’t like that. At all.”
Grubb: “10-4 man, 10-4. We know that, but they’re all coming and thanking us already. So we gotta do what we gotta do here.”
Mears: “10-4. I understand it. I just…”
Grubb: “10-4, man. Just when you think about it, remember who’s going to be here next year.”
Give credit to Mears, a driver whose family’s contributions to the American racing scene are legendary, for at least not feeling comfortable with his participation in the deception. Because what transpired was nothing short of fraudulent, unethical and counter to the standards of conduct that professional athletes are expected to uphold. In legitimate sporting events, whether it be track and field, hockey, horse racing, football, baseball or motorsports; there is an expectation that the participants will perform to the best of their ability and that the outcome of an event is legitimate. Clearly, the final results in Delaware were not. By Mears’s own account his cooperation with Busch may have cost him a chance at bettering his own position further and certainly allowed Busch to improve undeservedly his standing in the final race results. Mears’ took what is known in professional boxing as a “dive,” an act that even in a sport notorious for its corruption is unacceptable.
And what is NASCAR’s response in addressing and correcting this situation to insure the creditability of the sport that they govern? The answer to that question, at least to date is… no response! And they cannot claim ignorance or lack of evidence that “team orders” are being issued to drivers; orders that are altering race results and the Nextel Cup drivers point standings. In the week prior to the running of the Dodge Dealers 400 at Dover, Delaware, Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle nonchalantly admitted to allowing teammate Carl Edwards to pass him for position and additional points during the closing laps of the Sylvania 300, September 16th at Loudon, N.H. Biffle, who like Mears is not eligible for the Nextel Cup championship, stated that he relinquished his 12th position to Edwards (a championship contender) at the team’s request. This admission was carried on SPEED, and delivered in such a matter-of-fact manner, that the driver of the No. 16 Ford could just as well have been commenting on the weather.
Surprising to me is not so much NASCAR’s desire to ignore, if allow, this very thorny issue, but that there has been virtually no reaction from fans and media concerning this topic. Perhaps this matter is of no real surprise to fans or the media and is simply seen as a natural progression of Cup racing that has historically accepted accommodating competitors on the track, from the days of allowing lap-down drivers to pass the leader under caution to regain a lap, to the present day practice of leaders slowing for fellow competitors to lead a lap to receive five bonus points. Though these practices may generally be considered “gentlemanly,” they have always been questionable. But no one should be accepting of “team orders,” wherein one driver in a stable is designated by an owner as the “chosen” driver and a teammate is ordered to give way to that driver in an attempt to control the championship results.
In 2002, “team orders” were outlawed in Formula 1 racing and strict penalties put in place for any infractions of the banned practice, but only after many years of tacit acceptance by the governing body of owners manipulating the race results. The decision to implement harsh penalties for the issuance of such orders to drivers occurred due to public outcry after Ferrari team driver Michael Schumacher won the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix after teammate Rubens Barrichello was ordered by Ferrari to “give” the win to Schumacher. The scandalous win aside, Schumacher went on to “win” the 2002 F1 championship.
With a larger percentage of Nextel Cup fields now being controlled by fewer owners, coupled with the public’s present apathy towards the issuance of “team orders,” the sanctioning body is ripe for a scandal on at least par, if not greater than the one that befell F1. An incident that caused immeasurable harm to their credibility; damage that they have still yet to fully recover from. And really, how far away are they? They have turned a blind eye to a 12th-place finish and a fifth-place finish both undeserved and orders to aid a teammate in attempting to win the 2007 Nextel Cup championship. Just how long will it be before a driver is ordered in a similar fashion as Barrichello was to “gift” a race win and championship to a teammate?
NASCAR will have to take a stance on this issue. They can either put team owners, drivers and crews on notice now that “team orders” will not be tolerated, as they are committed to providing legitimate and honest sporting event to the viewing public, or procrastinate until irreparable damage to the sport takes place. The choice is theirs!