Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Unintentionally Intentional

Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
There are 26 races that determine the Chase to the Sprint Cup. That means that there are 26 times for a race team to go out and prove that they are of the caliber to race with the best, to prove that they can rise above the bad luck, the nay-sayers, the media, the goliaths, everyone. 26 races.

It all comes down to one night. 

This year the night will live in infamy... but not for reasons true fans will love. 

No, it wasn't a heart-stopping finish. No, the underdog didn't win the race. Controversy took the checkered flag, not Carl Edwards. Immediately after the race social media lit up, crying foul. 

A late-race pit stop from Brian Vickers in the No. 55 first raised eyebrows and then, with just seven laps remaining in Saturday night's Chase determining race, Clint Bowyer spun... alone. Coincidentally, this happened as the No. 39 of Ryan Newman was looking like a sure thing to win the race, which would have knocked fellow MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr. out of the chase. 

After the spinning and the pit stops, it just so happened that Truex Jr. found himself in the Chase, Newman found himself in fifth place for the night and in 13th place in the standings - out of the Chase. Fans demanded answers. In-car audio provided the evidence. A confused Vickers was advised to pit by spotter Ty Norris. He responded by asking if they were speaking to him, then by asking if he had a tire going down. He was told they needed the point, then that he was owed a kiss.

Before Bowyer spun, he was told the No. 39 of Newman was going to win the race. His response? "Well, that sucks." A few seconds later he was asked if his arm was starting to hurt/itch. He was told to itch it. A moment later, the car went around. 

Now, I've not heard communication like that between drivers/crews... 

And apparently neither has NASCAR. 

On Monday evening, Mike Helton stood in front of a room of reporters and announced that he had handed down the largest fine ever levied to Michael Waltrip Racing for "Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing." The organization was fined $300,000. The 15, 55 and 56 were each docked 50 driver and owner points. The crew chiefs for all three cars were placed on probation until December 31. Vice President/GM of MWR and spotter for the No. 55, Ty Norris, was suspended indefinitely.

The way the points fell meant that Martin Truex Jr. was now 17th in the points and outside of the Chase. Ryan Newman would take his place. Clint Bowyer, the spinner, was left virtually unscathed. NASCAR was very clear to point out that the penalties were based on the communication between the No. 55 and his crew. They could not determine that Bowyer's spin was intentional. 

How anyone could not determine that Bowyer's spin was not meant to be is beyond me. 

After the race, Jamie Little interviewed Bowyer. He wouldn't look at the camera when asked if the spin was intentional. The next person on camera? Dale Jr., with whom Bowyer was said to have contact when he spun. Junior denied any contact, and stated he saw Bowyer "messing around with the brakes, then the car just went around." Between Saturday night and Monday, when the penalties were levied, no one from MWR made a statement to the media defending Clint, or Brian Vickers. If you're not guilty of something, say it. 

After the penalties were handed down, MWR went on damage control. Clint Bowyer even went so far as to call Ryan Newman and apologize. When asked what he apologized for in an ESPN interview, he danced around the answer. He continued to dance around the subject all day on future interviews. He kept defending "it," but never told anyone what "it" was. He was borderline angry. 

In an interview on NASCAR Race Hub, a red-eyed, unshaven Michael Waltrip stated that, for him, "the last 24 hours have been challenging." He did his best to provide honest answers, although some people are starting to doubt his credibility after this, his second accusation of cheating. When asked if he would have made the same pit call Norris made, he answered, "If I would have been standing beside Ty at that moment (when the No. 55 was called to pit road), I don’t know if I would have done it any differently… I’m afraid I wouldn't have, because we've seen people give up positions all the time in this sport to give a teammate a point. It happens, you know?” 

He's right, it does. 

Let your teammate pass you to lead a lap. 

Maybe it's not the same level, but it is manipulation of the sport.

Waltrip told reporters that there was no discussed plan to try and get Truex Jr. in the Chase. He says it was a spur-of-the-moment decision that was made by Norris, and that he stands by him. He also says that Norris will continue to be an integral part of MWR, even though as part of the indefinite suspension,  he will not be attending races.

If you feel bad for anyone in this situation, feel for Truex Jr. He raced hard to get into the Chase, and now has nothing to show for it. He honestly had no clue what was going on behind him. He was not happy when he found out. He was given those same spinning orders last year, to get someone into the Chase, but he ignored them. Because he has integrity. He remains committed to winning, he says, because that's who he is and what he does.

Whether intentional or unintentionally intentional, the ramifications of Saturday night will be felt by many for the rest of this season and quite possibly for the next few seasons. I applaud NASCAR for acting swiftly to bring punishment to the organization that tried to bend the rules, but I wish the driver that knew nothing of the situation was not affected.

The Chase is on!


3 comments :

Nice commentary Stephanie. Whether the call for the spin was a split second decision made by Ty Norris or not is inconsequential to me. The expectation of integrity is something that comes from the top. Maybe it is too lofty of a goal to expect folks to compete for the win honestly, but I sure hope not.

I still feel Bowyer was not punished enough. He should not be in the chase. If he hadn't taken that spin Jeff Gordon would be in the chase. I don't like cheaters. What does this show our young children? That it is OK to cheat you can still be in the chase. Shame on Nascar. I will not be buying anymore tickets to races I don't want my young grandchildren to think it is OK to cheat.

Yours is one of the most honest articles on the subject of Richmond. The only other person I've seen respond with honesty is Bob Dillner. It is an indisputable fact that teammates have been giving positions to teammates for years. It's nothing new, it's nothing out of the ordinary, and for all the ignoramuses out there, it is NOT only Toyota teams who do it. The differences this time are A) the effect was more immediately known, and B) it was a bit more blatant.
I wonder if even half of the fans who are crying foul do the same thing every time the #48 team is caught cheating ~again~? Do they flood Lowes' phone lines and facebook page to demand they drop their sponsorship of said team? Cheating is ugly... hypocrisy is ugly too.

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