The final race before the Chase is set has always been an exciting one but never has a race produced so much controversy and social media carnage. Now, originally, this post was supposed to be about the happenings surrounding Michael Waltrip Racing and what fans thought about it and what should be done. Instead, NASCAR had to ruin that plan by announcing the penalties and fines last night, at a very odd time. But hey, just means I can add more, right?
I took to Facebook and Twitter to see what my followers and friends thought about all of the questionable moves made during the end of the Federated Auto Parts 400 and they didn't disappoint. Below are just some of the responses I received:
Shane Fuller: Edwards got away with one, maybe Bowyer did also?
Mike Hill: While we all pull for our favorite driver, I think most of us would like clear cut, understandable rules which are fairly enforced.
Riley Reinke: NASCAR needs more clear cut rules, and I think Bowyer's spin was on purpose and there should be some penalty, just my opinion.
Ryan Ostrander: The only thing that would support Bowyer's claim of Junior getting into the back of him would be an on-board camera on both cars.
Michael: First of all, I believe the spin was deliberate and a direct order from the team to disrupt the race and keep Newman from winning the race. It is unfortunate that money and sponsorship has become more important than anything else in our sport. Michael Waltrip was only thinking about money and getting NAPA in the chase. Competition and sportsmanship come second. I am not surprised at all.
Stephen Conley: Richmond was full of controversy, and controversy that will have an adverse affect on NASCAR. Missing two restarts on Saturday in the final few laps was bad, but it could be overlooked as a "close call" until they told Brian Scott they missed it. Then it gets worse as they go into Saturday and tell the drivers to play "fair and Square" and don't put us in a situation that we need to make it call as it will not benefit you. That right there says they are going to make the calls and gives fans hope the rules WILL be enforced. A completely blown restart that violated the rules they said would be enforced 6 hours prior puts NASCAR in a box of controversy and negative credibility. Then when they have a situation like Bowyer and they stand up and say he wouldn't do that because he wouldn't want to lose the points lead. A points lead that he would hold for 10 minutes until the checkered flag flew, then he would be 8th in points. Could that spin have backfired. Sure, Newman could have taken 2 tires and won, but it put everything in perfect line for MWR to put both cars in the chase as it was close enough at that time. Then NASCAR not saying ANYTHING to Brian Vickers running 70 mph over the final couple%
Kev O: It's teams being teams as Michael Waltrip says, is racing!
RD Fowler: I understand giving a teammate a position to gain points but the intentional spin-out to cause a caution was just plain wrong especially since it cost my driver a spot in the chase.
Mike Rector: Carl Edwards clearly beat Paul Menard to the start/finish line. To me this is a black & white rule. NASCAR should of pulled the green flag & attempted the restart again. NASCAR should of warned Edwards of same. Do I think anything should happen to Edwards and my answer is NO!! I would like NASCAR to admit they made a mistake and that's it. Did Clint Bowyer spin on purpose to get Martin Truex into the chase? Heck yes I believe he did on team orders. Did Brian Vickers also pit unnecessarily? I don't know. Radio transmissions from both Bowyer & Vickers were suspicious to me. Both these events did help Truex into the chase. Should NASCAR do anything with MWR? My answer is NO but it is very shady on MWR's part. NASCAR should have a talk with MWR. and I don't think NASCAR could prove any of it any ways. Very grey area here.
Adam Johnson: Folks, it ain't a conspiracy. There's plenty of evidence that condemns MWR, whole Twitter feeds of respected sports journalists (Geoffrey Miller, Jenna Fryer to name but two) who present clear as day evidence for what happened. So we can't just ignore it as angry Gordon/Newman fans or whatever (which as you know I'm not - my favorite drivers are Jeff Burton and Marcos Ambrose, who weren't even in Chase contention!).
I am not naive, I am aware team orders happen and don't have a problem with them to a point (I've seen drivers help their teammate by letting them by or whatever in BTCC and other sports for years). However, trying to manipulate an entire race result so a rival beats another rival is a step too far, and effectively cons teams out of several million dollars of being in the Chase and the coverage that brings.
I don't blame MWR. What they did was disgusting, but it's a product of NASCAR making the Chase everything. Everything is about the Chase now, if you're out of the Chase you effectively loose 10 races of coverage because no-one cares about you because you're not in the Chase. So NASCAR and TV have made the Chase the most important thing in the world - therefore, they can't be surprised when teams start pulling tricks like this. This is the endpoint.
On an aside...Edwards did jump the final restart. The end.
~MWR did cheat, the evidence is there, but don't hate the players, hate the game.
The opinions varied but the consensus is clear, MWR and their "team orders" directly affected the outcome of the Chase and who made it in. The media world exploded as soon as the first incident happened and hasn't slowed down since, which prompted NASCAR to review the race and in turn, issue some heavy penalties to MWR.
In a press conference at 7:15pm EST Monday night, an unusual time for an announcement by NASCAR, NASCAR President Mike Helton and Vice-President Robin Pemberton handed down the following penalties to the organization.
Michael Waltrip Racing was found to have violated Section 12-4 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing). The penalties handed down were as follows:
The penalties and fines, especially the $300,000, is one of the biggest NASCAR has ever given. The points penalties given to the three cars dropped Truex to 17th in points and thus, out of the Wild Card spot. Stewart-Haas Racing driver Ryan Newman, who originally lost the final WC spot to Truex in a tie-breaker, is now in the Chase.
With the "ripple effect" in full force, Jeff Gordon seemed to get the short end of the stick in all of this. Missing the Chase by a single point to Joey Logano, none of the penalties affected the outcome of Gordon's status. Should he be added to the Chase? In my opinion, no. Gordon was in a slump this season and his results prove that. While the late race pit-stop by Vickers allowed Joey Logano to jump back in to the top-10 in points, his win would have qualified him for the Chase regardless.
NASCAR fans were outraged that Gordon is still excluded from Chase and think that he should replace Bowyer, who also is winless this season. The only issue with that is, Bowyer locked himself in the Chase by running consistently throughout the entire season. He was high enough in the points going into Richmond that even if he would have crashed and finished dead least, he still would have been in the Chase. Although his actions on the track were frowned upon, he earned his place in the Chase and shouldn't lose that.
In my opinion, NASCAR got the repercussions of the events half right. I agree with the penalties and fines, but kicking Truex out of the Chase purely because he benefited from his teammates actions doesn't seem fair. In all honesty, I don't think Truex knew about Bowyer's or Vickers' actions until after they were done, after he had made the Chase. He shouldn't have to pay for their mistakes.
Likewise, leaving him in means Newman would still be out. Why not just extend the Chase to 14 drivers? Include four wild card spots and let Gordon and Newman in, and leave Truex in as well. Do we really know what the outcome would have been if Bowyer and Vickers wouldn't have gotten involved? We can assume and speculate all we want but if Bowyer hadn't of spun, who says someone else wouldn't have? Or who is saying a wreck wouldn't have happened before the checkered flag?
Thinking about all of this, NASCAR did the best they could with the circumstances that they given. I for one wouldn't want to be in their shoes in making these decisions. With everything that happened in Richmond, we can only hope that something like this doesn't happen again. Team Orders have tarnished the reputations of multiple teams and organizations all across the motorsports industry. We don't need to have that reputation in NASCAR.
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Aspiring NASCAR broadcaster and journalist.