By now everyone has obviously heard that NASCAR lowered the boom on Michael Waltrip Racing for what happened at Richmond last Saturday night. I really have mixed emotions about all of it.
I mean, it really broke my heart that after one of the most exciting Richmond races we’ve ever had, that we weren’t event talking about Carl Edwards winning the race, the upcoming Chase and who the favorites were. Instead, everyone was focused on what’s been coined “Spin-Gate.”
I was very proud that our sanctioning body took this head-on. I felt pretty confident that unless there was over-riding evidence to the contrary, that NASCAR would be handing down some heavy penalties. This was just too big of an issue to be ignored.
NASCAR is a team sport. The reason a car owner has multiple cars in his stable is they can share information back and forth to help each other. I think the clear message that came out of Monday night’s penalties was a clear line in the sand of: you cannot manipulate the outcome of a race, and where the line is about helping a teammate.
NASCAR naturally looked at all the evidence in making their decision. That included the radio transmissions between the Michael Waltrip Racing cars, the race video and even sitting down with the folks at MWR to ask some very hard questions.
Our sport is not Formula One. We are not IndyCar. We are NASCAR and our sport is about beating each other on the racetrack. I am very proud that the NASCAR officials have stood behind that. What I did pick up on from their announcement is this isn’t necessarily a penalty against a specific driver. This is a penalty against an organization as a whole. That’s very unusual in our sport.
NASCAR took 50 points from each of the MWR drivers. They put all three crew chiefs on probation. The $300,000 fine is against Michael Waltrip Racing. Ty Norris, who is a big part of the MWR management group and a spotter on race day, has also been suspended indefinitely. Obviously, the other big hit was the No. 56 car driven by Martin Truex Jr. has been bounced from the Chase, and Ryan Newman has taken his place.
So they really penalized an organization for purposely manipulating the end of a race. That truly was going against the integrity of NASCAR racing. They came up with a sweeping penalty and issued it Monday night.
The one thing I question is that the driver who was holding the steering wheel and using the gas pedal in that race car — regardless of who was in his ear telling him to do what — truly on his own spun his car out and started this whole chain of events, but really is receiving no penalty. Sure, he got hit with 50 driver points taken away, but that penalty was assessed BEFORE the Chase points were reset. It doesn’t affect his position in the Chase one bit.
Trust me, I don’t envy NASCAR’s position. They’ve been through the mill this year with everything they’ve had to deal with from the various teams. Personally, I would have preferred to see a points penalty that would have affected both Clint Bowyer, who caused the caution, and teammate Martin Truex, who benefitted from the caution, enough to take them both out of the Chase.
I also would have liked to see the two drivers who were taken out of the Chase by the Bowyer caution – Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman – both in the Chase. Obviously, after the penalty was assessed, Ryan was in and Martin was out. However, Jeff Gordon is the guy I truly feel bad for because he did everything right at Richmond to put himself in the Chase, but then it was snatched away from him by MWR manipulation.
You might find it strange, but I also feel bad for Martin Truex Jr. In my heart of hearts I simply don’t think he knew anything was about to happen or why it happened. He’s out there driving his guts out with a cast on his arm trying to figure out who he needs to get by on the racetrack to make the Chase. He celebrated making the Chase for the second consecutive year Saturday night, but then come Monday night at 8:15 pm eastern he was notified he would not be a participant.
It’s not unprecedented for NASCAR to penalize a driver for purposely causing a caution. If you go back a few years ago to the spring Bristol race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. caused a caution to save him from going a lap down. Once it was determined the spin was deliberate, he was penalized. Again, the difference between that and what happened at Richmond is that this time an organization as a whole attempted to manipulate a race, affecting the drivers who would be in the Chase and making a mockery of our sport.