Saturday, September 14, 2013

An unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances: changing the NASCAR paradigm

Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
"You don't go cause a caution. You don't go wreck another guy out there to win the championship for them.  There are certain lines, and I think that the lines have been, obviously, crossed in this situation." - Jeff Gordon  
For the second time in the week since the checkered flag flew at Richmond, NASCAR held a press conference that announced a change in the Sprint Cup Chase lineup.

Friday afternoon NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and NASCAR President Mike Helton addressed the media at Chicagoland Speedway to announce the outcome of the investigation into allegations that Penske Racing’s No. 22 team negotiated a deal with the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports team of David Gilliland. The so-called deal allegedly allowed Joey Logano to make up spots on the track to help him qualify for the Chase.

Audio of the radio chatter between Gilliland and his spotter implied the whole Penske management team was there brokering a deal. Gilliland’s lap times fell off dramatically. Logano made the Chase.

Mike Helton explained the situation.

“As you're well aware, we've been looking at a lot of video, audio and timing and scoring information and other data from the Richmond race. We reacted earlier this week and then based on further due diligence, what we're determined to do -- what we've decided is in addition to what other actions we've taken, we're going to put Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing both on probation for the balance of the year for actions detrimental.”

So that means Penske struck a deal with Gilliland and Front Row to help get Logano in the Chase, right? Gilliland took a fall in exchange for some future consideration, so he and Logano should be penalized in such a way that Logano was no longer eligible for the Chase, right?

Not exactly.

France said, “We did not conclusively determine that Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports actually did anything in terms of on the track that we can conclusively say there was a quid pro quo or altering of the event. As Mike said earlier, we're looking at the radio discussions, who had those discussions, the idea of a bargain that is completely off limits in our view. But that bargain never -- we don't believe that bargain ever happened, and we don't believe anything happened, other than the discussions about it, and that's why the probation is -- we're sending we think an appropriate message there.”

So, the appropriate message is what? Don't make deals? Don't talk about deals on the radio? You didn't do anything wrong but we're going to put you on probation for "actions detrimental" anyway?

"In addition, we are organizing a mandatory meeting with drivers and owners and crew chiefs for tomorrow to hopefully address and make more clear the path going forward as it applies to the rules of racing and the ethical part of it," said Helton.

Oh goody! That will help. Because NASCAR has a longstanding reputation for being clear in stating rules, then enforcing them fairly and consistently, so this meeting should be a watershed moment in NASCAR history, should it not?

But wait, there's more!

Helton: "We've had moments in the sport where NASCAR reacting to what has evolved on the racetrack and through the teams' actions, and we make a decision that shifts that paradigm, so to speak, and that's what's happened this week in part."

NASCAR shifting the paradigm. If you say so.

So, we've got that cleared up. Now on to the Chase, right?

Not so fast there, bucko. There's more.

France: “In addition to that, we've decided that due to the totality of the events that were outside of Jeff Gordon's -- his issues, we're going to add a 13th position to the field, and Jeff Gordon will qualify for the championship this year, the Sprint Cup Championship.”

Say what? You just said Penske and Front Row didn’t actually DO anything wrong, they just talked about it. What were Gordon's "issues" that warranted adding him to the Chase?

France: “We believe in looking at all of it that there were too many things that altered the event and gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team, who would have qualified, and I have the authority to do that. We are going to do that. It is an unprecedented and extraordinary thing, but it's also an unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances that unfolded in multiple different ways on Saturday night, and we believe this was the right outcome to protect the integrity, which is our number one goal of NASCAR.”

Really? Do tell. Too many things altered the event? What things would those be?

France: “Well, it wasn't one set of circumstances that led us to this decision. It's a multiple set of circumstances that any one of them could have altered and given him a disadvantage. But cumulatively they were just overwhelmingly, in our view, in such a way that that just wasn't fair. We needed to try to see if there was a way that -- we can't go back and run the event again, but we also are trying to be as fair and equitable as we can with all the teams. And this is an example of that.”

Are you serious? Let me see if I've got this straight.

At Richmond, Clint Bowyer spun out, bunching up the field, sending teams to pit road and changing the outcome of the race. On Monday NASCAR said they can’t prove he spun intentionally, so that means the caution has to be treated as any late-race caution during the season.
Verdict: Not guilty

Brian Vickers pitted because Ty Norris told him to, so Truex could get another point. That manipulated the outcome of the race, costing Newman the win and a wild-card berth.
Verdict: Guilty as charged
Sentence: Fines, suspension, points deduction for all three MWR teams resulting in Truex Jr. out of the Chase, Newman in.

The No. 38 team was heard discussing a deal for driver Gilliland to help the No. 22 team get in the Chase, but NASCAR couldn’t determine that really happened so there were no accompanying points penalties, therefore no drivers should have been impacted.
Verdict: Not guilty
Restitution: Gordon is added as a 13th car in the Chase rather than Truex, who did nothing wrong and was the next eligible driver for the Chase because he was not only in the top 20, but had a win.

That makes perfect sense. And by perfect sense, I mean very little sense at all.

In the Monday press conference, Helton said: “We don't react to the ripple effect of an occurrence because I don't think there's any way we can reasonably do that.”

By Friday afternoon, that statement morphed to France’s assertion “that there were just too many things that went on Saturday night that gave a clear disadvantage and we deemed unfair to the 24 that we needed to address that.”

What things? How did the "deal or no deal" between Penske and Front Row change anything involving Gordon?

France: "Well, in respect to Gordon, Jeff Gordon being -- that wasn't a result of just our findings with the Michael Waltrip incident, or rather the 38 and the 22; it was a cumulative set of circumstances that we determined the right thing to do would be to put him into the Chase."

Out of that "set of circumstances," the ONLY action for which there was enough evidence to issue a penalty was the pit stop by the No. 55 team.

It would have made sense if NASCAR said: "You remember we said we can't respond to the ripple effects from actions detrimental? We were wrong. We think that the whole confluence of events stank to high heaven and it cost Jeff Gordon his last chance to earn a berth in the Chase so we're going to let him in anyway."

But instead NASCAR determined that "circumstances" put Gordon at a "disadvantage" so the "right thing to do" would be to let him in the Chase.

This is the same NASCAR that suspended team owner Joe Gibbs for six races for having an underweight part in an engine supplied by an outside entity, an engine neither he nor any member of his team was allowed to open to even check to see if there were underweight parts. How was that not a "disadvantage?"

Since France has executive privilege and can mitigate situations, you'd think he'd have done so in that situation where clearly the No. 20 team had no control over the infraction. But he didn't.

Why change now?

Only now, when one of the sport's superstars didn't make the "playoffs" amid a cloud of controversy, when one of the largest fan bases in NASCAR loudly voices displeasure on social media and generates petitions on behalf of their driver, does France exercise that ability.

In one way, this really isn't about Jeff Gordon. It could be any driver in the same situation and I'd feel the same way.

Yet in another way, it is about Gordon.

What if that driver had been someone other than Jeff Gordon? Someone other than a Hendrick driver?

Would Brian France have bent the rules for say...Greg Biffle? (The Biff earned his way into the Chase, in case you didn't hear.)

What about David Gilliland?

I hate to say this but I seriously doubt that if Gilliland, or David Reutimann or even David Ragan, were in same position as Jeff Gordon was following the race at Richmond, that NASCAR would have shown the same consideration about the "totality of the events."

That's my opinion. What's yours?

16 comments :

I agree with you 100%!!! You can't tell me that it was perceived any other way than the way you're describing it! Thank you for the having the nerve to stand up to what is right and what is wrong. I am not a Gordon fan, but I would feel this way had it been anyone else...but wait, there is no one else but Hendrick's right? Your article is spot on!!!

If the driver in question had been named Kurt Busch, there's no way NASCAR would have altered the results. Truex should be angered beyond words, because in all of these circumstances, he appears to be the only true victim. Gordon had 26 races to put himself in a position where he didn't need only a single point to get in the Chase, and he failed, plain and simple.

I fancy myself to be a history buff when it comes to NASCAR, and I find it to be a huge paradox that a sport birthed from bootleggers suddenly finds itself all up in arms about ethics. I think Brian France and a few other people "in charge" should go chat with Cale, and Junior Johnson and the Wood Brothers and gain some perspective. And, by the way, newer fans should do the same.

Thank you both for reading and commenting. And Jean, I agree. Some people seem to view the history of the sport through soft-filtered, rose-colored glasses. Ask DW about NoS, and I don't mean the drink. Look into why Bobby Allison left Penske racing. Rich, vibrant history - but not squeaky-clean by any means.

I didn't like all the cheating going on in this race. I take my grandson to these races and I don't want him to feel it is ok to cheat and nothing will happen. I don't think Bowyer should even be in the chase and the others should have been fined and docked points. I believe Nascar did what they had to do because there was so much cheating going on that day.

Excellent article, and I agree with you 100%. I'm beyond disgusted with Helton's continual and blatant favoritism of Hendrick drivers.

Maybe NASCAR should punish the right teams. The ones that cuased this mess MWR, they got caught and should consider themselves lucky that Bowyer is still in the chase. All this junk about Hendrick getting away cheating should check the record books. They have been caught and took the punishment. If NASCAR punished MWR driver Bowyer with an appropriate fine for the spin then he would have been out of the chase and gordon would be in. I know teams make deals but to alter the race that much is not fair to anyone Gordon or Truex, but everyone seems to loss sight that if Bowyer doesn't spin, Gilliand doesnt slow neither Lagon or Truex are in. So the only real change to they way they were running is Lagono is in.

I am curious. How come NASCAR is the only voice that thinks Bowyer's spin was possibly unintentional? It's one thing to cut a deal with a teammate or manufacturer (a questionable practice), but that spin crossed the line. Never mind the point standings, the spin could have caused damaged to other cars, not to mention injuries. IMHO, if anyone were to be pulled from the Chase, it should have been Bowyer.

Another observation: The "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" scenario has been a part of racing for a long time. What has changed is that with technology, everyone can hear the deals being made. When are the teams going to figure out that they are being overheard? Sheesh! If you are going to use a tech tool, make certain that you understand how it works.

Geri, you're right. Those deals have been made since forever. But more fans and spectators (not everyone that watches a race is a fan) use the internet and social media as a way of connecting to the sport and to each other. Not only can people hear the deals, but they share them as soon as possible. It's a far cry from digging up the story on the back page of the sports section.

This incident has brought out the bottom rung of human decency in regards to how fans are acting towards the accused but not guilty, if you know what I mean. Teams/Drivers helping Teams/Drivers has been going on for longer than the pious one's screaming foul know.

These methods of race strategy were known by Nascar brass, accepted and nothing in the rulebook says foul. Nothing happened, but now Logano is getting everything from insanely nasty stuff written about him to death threats from idiots. Do these people not know what they are watching every week. I ask this all the time. You see TV personalities all the time talking of teams helping one another out. Oh the outrage and brimstone for the sheep. This has been blown up because of a HMS driver, I have no doubt this smear tactic is to insite outrage to the masses and make their case in the court of public opinion. Clearly they won. Nascar admitted no wrong doing but they put both teams on probation anyways..why..because they can. I think they needed another reason to bolster their claim that Jeff Gordon got robbed. They made a decision on a what if, as the race did not hit checkers nobody will ever know that outcome of which they based pandora's box on. It is irresponsible as well for the media to smell blood and deemed the innocent "cheater". The stigma sits with Nascar admitting, they got nothing, but yet they are on probation???? A big mind bender...Oh to try and figure out this governing body and a major team owner dragging this sport into the gutter makes a person who just lovers racing period..get a headache.

I have a question. After these two bozo's looked like the just had a big steak lunch and a couple of Manhattan's do they realize how they made no sense? Does this mean if Chadly doesn't feel his pit crew is up to par he cannot pilfer them from Jeffery? And is Jeffery has some bad parts he blew thru he cannon't run over to the 48 hauler and grab what he needs? From what I kinda got from this conference, they are telling the teams "dance with what ya brought", or is their an exception for all Hms/Satellite teams? Just asking.

Hats off to the Three Stooges of NASCAR - France, Helton and Pemberton - for getting it wrong again. The Chase is a made for TV farce that obviously had an impact on how drivers race each other, just as long time fans said it would. The empty seats at the various venues have little to do with the economy, and a lot more to do with the "quality" of the product. The newer yuppy fans - with very short attention spans - deserted NASCAR when the next new fad came along. The long time fans saw themselves shoved out of the picture. The Three Stooges invented the Chase because that's what the yuppies were used to - everybody gets a trophy, but here there are only 12 trophies and then one really big trophy at the end. NASCAR, even if had a modicum of integrity entering this year, now has none.

Why aren't all you idiot conspiracy theorist complaining about the deep pockets of Penske. How in the hell did Logano keep his spot in the chase. Oh, that's got to be Penske paying off Nascar!!! Stop watching Nascar and go back to spending your weekends looking for Elvis !! IDIOTS !!

I think you are confused, the guy with deep pockets..Mr. HMSNASCAR.
And what don't you understand about Mike Helton saying about 22/38?
Oh yea you must have missed it, or at least misunderstand the spirit of racing and accepted practices that have been deemed o.k. for decades, but because it effected one of Mr. Deep pockets driver, the only one not to make the Chase..on must go hhhhmmm. To Anonymous above.

Please keep your comments respectful to other posters, even if you disagree. Especially if you're hiding behind anonymity.

Anonimity? What does it matter. Do you actually think any of the names posted are real? Oh yeah, you do, cause you actually believe HMS controls Nascar!!! My Bad!!

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