NASCAR hits MWR with heavy penalty

Martin Truex Jr. is out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup and Ryan Newman is in following a decision by NASCAR to penalize Michael Waltrip Racing for late-race actions the team to took to alter the outcome of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. NASCAR also hit the team with a $300,000 fine, the largest monetary penalty in the sanctioning body’s 65-year history.

In the Richmond race, MWR driver Clint Bowyer spun with seven laps to go to bring out a caution flag that cost Newman what appeared to be a sure victory. In the closing laps, MWR Executive Vice President/General Manager Ty Norris ordered team driver Brian Vickers to pit, so Joey Logano could advance a position in the final standings.

The move by Norris, who is also Vickers’ spotter, allowed Logano to pick up two positions in the race and end NASCAR’s regular season 10th in points, instead of 11th. And by finishing 10th, that temporarily allowed Truex to get the second wild card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But all that went out the window Monday night at 8 p.m. ET, when NASCAR issued its penalties, which were wide-ranging.

MWR was found to have violated Section 12-4 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing). Each of the three MWR team cars was penalized with the loss of 50 championship driver and 50 championship owner points, respectively.

Those point penalties only count toward the regular-season point totals. Thus, Bowyer in effect will start the Chase with no points disadvantage. But the point total for the No. 56 car driven by Truex was reduced to 691, putting him in 17th position and eliminating him from the second wild card spot, which now goes to Newman.

NASCAR indefinitely suspended Norris and put the three crew chiefs – Brian Pattie (No. 15), Scott Miller (No. 55) and Chad Johnston (No. 56) – all on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31.

“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,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “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.”

NASCAR President Mike Helton stressed that the penalties were assessed on the team as a whole and that NASCAR was unable to prove that Bowyer’s spin was deliberate.

“There’s not conclusive evidence that the 15 (Bowyer) spin was intentional,” said Helton. “There’s a lot of chatter, there’s the video that shows a car spinning, but we didn’t see anything conclusive that that was intentional.

“Cars spin out. We have cautions,” Helton said. “There’s a lot of things that happen on the racetrack that people speculate about why it happened or how it happened. Sometimes there’s conclusive evidence. More often than not, though, you don’t know exactly what happened. But the collection of all the information we collected from Saturday night led us to the team wide reaction as opposed to an individual car.”

Helton also said that NASCAR officials spent much of the day debating the penalties.

“It’s difficult. It’s not an easy decision to make,” said Helton. “Conversations about it were deep. 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.”

Team founder and co-owner Michael Waltrip defended Norris.

“What occurred on the No. 55 radio at the end of Saturday night’s race in Richmond was a split-second decision made by team spotter Ty Norris to bring the No. 55 to pit lane and help a teammate earn a place in the Chase,” said Waltrip in a statement released late Monday night. “We regret the decision and its impact. We apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners and fans who were disappointed in our actions. We will learn from this and move on. As general manager, Ty Norris has been an integral part of Michael Waltrip Racing since its founding and has my and (co-owner) Rob Kauffman’s full support.”

“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,” Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart said in a statement released by his team.

For Jeff Gordon, who missed the Chase by a single point when Logano made up the two positions at the end of the race, there’s no relief. Gordon will not be in the Chase. And he was not happy about it.

“Take me out of this completely,” Gordon Tweeted. “At this point all that matters to me is if @NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely!”

Helton said putting Gordon into the Chase, as well, was not something NASCAR was prepared to do.

“The way we go about these is we look at the incident and only the incident, because we know from experience that if you try to look at the ripple effect of an incident, you can’t cover all those bases,” said Helton. “You can’t ever come up with a conclusion that is equitable and credible across the board. So we simply look at the incident and react to the incident, and whatever our reaction may create that has a ripple effect to it, as well, is what it is. But our focus is around the incident and what we were going to do to react around it; not the ripple effect of the incident or the ripple effect of our reaction.”