NASCAR officials made it abundantly clear Monday afternoon that they were not okay with the way Michael Waltrip Racing and its drivers manipulated the end of the Richmond race on Saturday night in order to guarantee teammate Martin Truex, Jr. a spot in the Chase, as it was announced that NASCAR had taken away 50 points from Truex—bumping him out of the Chase in favor of Ryan Newman—as well as fellow MWR drivers Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers (Bowyer’s loss does not affect his spot in the Chase). MWR was also fined $300,000 and has had general manager Ty Norris suspended indefinitely.
NASCAR president Mike Helton, who many fans felt owed those who just missed the Chase an explanation or consolation regarding MWR’s tactics, was quite blunt on the situation, simply saying “We penalize to not have this happen again. It’s a message from the league saying, ‘You can’t do this.’”
For those who missed it, here’s a quick rundown of what occurred in the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday night: Ryan Newman, who was on the bubble as far as getting into the Chase, led with just seven laps to go when Bowyer’s car mysteriously spun with no one else around. This opened the door for Truex, who was set to finish outside of the Chase due to Newman’s imposing win. When it was all said and done, Newman was shuffled back to third, which took the Wild Card away from the #39 driver.
As if sending Bowyer for a joy ride wasn’t bad enough, the team also requested Brian Vickers, who is not running full-time in Cup this season, to come into the pits in the waning laps for a “flat tire”. Here’s the manuscript of the discussion that took place between Vickers and his crew:
Crew: “We’re probably going to pit here on green.”
Vickers: “Are you talking to me?
Crew: “Yeah, we’re going to pit.”
Vickers: “What? I’ve got to pit? … I don’t understand. Pit right now?”
Crew: “You’ve got to pit this time. We need that one point.”
Vickers: “10-4. Do I got a tire going down?”
Crew: “Yeah. … Come down pit road right now, get a good look at it.”
Vickers: “Did you find anything?”
Crew: “I’ll see you after the race, Brian. I owe you a kiss.”
As far as I’m concerned, NASCAR’s punishment definitely fit the crime, and honestly I think that MWR should consider themselves lucky that Bowyer was not hit harder. As several commentators and writers have said, the Richmond race was essentially a Game 7 for the Cup Series, a race that would draw tons of attention and be full of excitement prior to the start of the Chase; however, MWR decided to take away from the moment and instead work to undermine racing the way it was meant to be, which has obviously taken all the headlines.
Luckily, NASCAR felt it necessary to place the Ryan “Rocket Man” Newman in the Chase, which was definitely deserving considering the fact that he was poised to get the win Saturday night; however, it is still unfortunate to look at the other drivers, most notably Jeff Gordon, who had a shot at making it in but now can only wonder what might have been.
Although I truly believe that the penalties will be end of this saga, Michael Waltrip Racing could potentially have placed a huge bull’s eye on their back. Consider this situation: it’s the Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, and Clint Bowyer is in a position to jump out to the lead in the closing laps, which could give the Emporia, Kansas native the points lead. The only problem is that in order for this move to happen, Bowyer needs some drafting help from Danica Patrick (it’s a wild scenario, so just go with it), who is a teammate to none other than Ryan Newman. Instead of pushing Bowyer, Patrick sends Bowyer to the middle of the pack, leaving the #15 Toyota scrambling for a spot to file back in. Bowyer and Company not getting drafting help may be the least of their worries, because it is entirely possible that someone comes out on the track intent on punting Bowyer or one of his teammates into the wall.
Did Saturday night’s scandal change your opinion on Michael Waltrip Racing and its drivers? Leave a comment and let your opinion be heard