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NASCAR makes the big move

September 10, 2013

NASCAR acted.

It may not please everyone, but at least the sanction reviewed the tapes, the video and audio from Saturday night’s final race in the Sprint Cup Series 26-conttest regular season at Richmond International Raceway that decided entries and seedings for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

It wasn’t a pretty finish. with seven to go Clint Bowyer spun, forcing all front-runners to the pits with Ryan Newman the leader going in. Newman needed to win to get into the Chase. He didn’t make it out in first place and that cost him a spot in the Chase – by a tie with Michael Waltrip Racing’s Martin Truex Jr.

While NASCAR president Mike Helton said there was no conclusive evidence that Bowyer spun on purpose, radio chatter between his No. 15 team and the No. 55 of Brian Vickers after being called to the pits, convinced Helton, vice president of competition Robin Pemberton and the balance of NASCAR’s hierarchy that this was no happenstance.

NASCAR’s investigation, which began after the race was run, brought it to the conclusion that this was collusion, plain and simple.

The sanction’s decision was to blame and punish Michael Waltrip Racing in its entirety, levying a fine of $300,000 to the three-car team (figure $100 grand per squad), penalizing all three drivers and entrants 50 points each and suspending Ty Norris, the team’s executive vice president/general manager (and spotter for Vickers) indefinitely. The three crew chiefs – Brian Pattie (Bowyer’s No. 15), Scott Miller (No. 55 of Vickers) and Chad Johnston (No. 56 with Truex Jr) are on probation until the end of the calendar year.

In his initial comment Pemberton said, “Based upon our review of Saturday night’s race at Richmond, it is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race. As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects our commitment to that.”

Later, in a hastily called night-time press conference at NASCAR’s R&D facility near Charlotte, NC, Pemberton and Helton explained their rationale for inflicting these penalties for the infractions. “We feel like we researched it extremely well, talked at great length with the folks from Michael Waltrip Racing to try to get to the right spot and make the correct decision, and that’s what we feel like we have done,” Helton said.

The blame, he said, went to the entire organization at MWR, not to Bowyer or Vickers or Truex Jr. It was Michael Waltrip Racing at fault for the full range of infractions. “Cars spin out. We have cautions. There’s a lot of things that happen on the racetrack,” Helton acknowledged, “but the collection of all the information we collected form Saturday night led us to the team-wide reaction as opposed to an individual car.”

Hence the lack of a huge penalty to Bowyer, who is in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Truex Jr, who got in through all of these manipulations, is out, thanks to the loss of 50 points. He’s now in 17th place. Ryan Newman is in after winning this year’s Brickyard 400 race for Stewart-Haas Racing. Not coincidentally, Richard Childress Racing announced this morning that in 2014 Newman will take over the No. 31 driven through this year by Jeff Burton.

Even with the 50-point penalty, Bowyer remains in the Chase, albeit in eighth position. Michael Waltrip Racing is not appealing the fines, point deductions, suspensions and probations, it said. Stewart-Haas Racing’s co-owner Tony Stewart immediately weighed in: “Obviously, we’re very pleased with NASCAR’s decision to provide Ryan Newman’s rightful place in this year’s Chase. NASCAR was put in a very difficult position Saturday night at Richmond and we commend the sanctioning body for taking the time to do the necessary due diligence to ensure that the right call was made.”
 
Ty Norris began a series of tweets admitting he “made a call to pit the 55 to benefit a teammate. It was a split second decision made in the middle of a chaotic finish. Though it was to benefit MWR it is now clear it was to the detriment of the sport I love and have called home for the past 24 years.”

This sets precedence; cheating of this nature will not be condoned by NASCAR. In levying the harshest penalty the series has ever inflicted on any participant, Helton reasoned, “We penalize to ask for it to not happen again.”

By Anne Proffit  

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