Just a few opinion points on the issue surrounding the intentional spin by one car from Michael Waltrip Racing and the unnecessary pit stops by another all in an effort to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Keep in mind as you read my opinion that I am trying to stay relatively objective but I am also a lifelong Jeff Gordon fan.
For anyone unaware of the penalties I’m about to comment on, each MWR car (15, 55, 56) was penalized 50 driver points and 50 owner points in the standings after the Richmond race (not the reset Chase standings). This penalty pushed Martin Truex Jr. from 12th in points (in position for the second wild card) to 17th, moving Ryan Newman, who was leading the race at the time of Bowyer’s spin, and in position “as they ran” to claim the wild card spot, into the chase. The organization was also fined $300,000 and Executive VP/GM Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely (the pit stops issue was directed by him on the 55 radio).
1. Clint Bowyer started this whole thing with the intentional spin. Mike Helton said there was not conclusive evidence that the spin was intentional, but if you watch the in-car feed, listen to the audio, and watch the interviews with both Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who was directly behind the 15 car at the time of the spin), there’s plenty of evidence. I won’t call it conclusive, but I’m pretty convinced something suspicious happened to that racecar.
Yet, Clint Bowyer is the driver among the MWR camp least penalized by these sanctions. His spot in the chase was not in doubt all summer, and he had finished the regular season in 3rd. The 50 points hurt his regular season standing, but that placement has absolutely no effect on the points reset that starts the Chase. The seeding is determined by bonus points accumulated from wins, not from points position. How is this fair to the field, to the sport, and its fans that the catalyst for one of the biggest scandals the sport has ever seen is still in a pretty good spot to potentially win the championship.
A few minutes ago, ESPN accidentally showed a graphic which had the 50-point penalty included in the Chase seeding, which put him 65 points behind Matt Kenseth. Although the graphic was incorrect, I didn’t see it as such a bad idea.
2. Martin Truex Jr. was totally innocent. Did he benefit from the actions of his teammates? Absolutely. Was he involved in the manipulation by MWR? No. After the race, he told multiple reporters he had no clue whether or not Bowyer’s spin was intentional. And, at that time, no one had yet connected the dots on the Vickers pit stops during the final 3 laps. He was simply the beneficiary of the actions of MWR. I certainly understand handing down organizational punishment, but it’s not fair to penalize Truex (and NAPA) for the actions of others. He should’ve been left in the Chase, and Newman should’ve been added in addition to Truex. That would’ve made the most since to me.
Then again, Doug Rice said at one point during PRN’s coverage of the announcement that (I’m paraphrasing) there was no possible way for NASCAR to make everybody happy here. True.
Jeff Gordon, who should be the most disappointed with the announcement (keep reading) tweeted “Feel bad for Truex. He got in under controversy now out due to it.” He goes on to say “But the guy who started all of this not effected at all??? Don’t agree!” Well said, Jeff, referencing both Bowyer’s lack of penalty and Truex’s over-penalization.
3. That being said, Jeff Gordon is still not in the Chase. That one point he lost at, well, any of the 26 races cost him what would’ve been his ninth Chase berth in the ten years of the Chase era. Actually, he really lost by two because in the event of a tie, Joey Logano would still be in because of his win at Michigan, whereas Gordon is winless this year.
When asked tonight about why Newman got in the Chase, but Gordon did not, Mike Helton said that (again, paraphrasing) NASCAR could react to what occurred, not to the ripple affect of what occurred.
Here’s what occurred: Brian Vickers pitted as the field took the green on the final restart with 3 laps to go, after being directed to do so by the aforementioned Ty Norris. Vickers was surprised he was being called in to pit, even saying “Are you talking to me?” and “I don’t understand, pit right now?” Norris responded, saying “You’ve got to pit this time, we need that one point.” After the stop, Norris told Vickers “Brian, I owe you a kiss.” Helton said that Vickers’ confusion (and Norris’ response) was the smoking gun. (Not his words, credit to Jenna Fryer of the AP on Twitter). Bowyer was also reported to have stopped after the final restart.
The direct result, not the ripple effect, was Joey Logano passing Vickers and Bowyer as they pitted, and gaining 2 positions on the racetrack and 2 corresponding points in the standings. Two paragraphs ago, I referenced how Gordon needed 2 points at any point in the season. There they are; those 2 points Logano gained got him in.
That was the direct result to what occurred, as Helton put it. I don’t know what on earth the “ripple effect” was. Jeff Gordon isn’t sure either, as he tweeted “Someone explain the “ripple effect” to me?” Gordon’s wife, Ingrid, seemed more upset Ripple effect is when first guy causes something and gets no penalty. Every driver effected by that first move gets screwed!”
I am in no way, form, or fashion upset with Joey Logano. It wouldn’t be fair to penalize him for the actions of another team. I’m frustrated, as a Jeff Gordon fan, and as a fan of the sport in general, that one of its greatest champions was cheated out of a chance at his 5th championship.
38% of readers of a Bleacher Report article I will reference momentarily said the best option was to have a 14-driver Chase, given the special circumstances, adding Gordon and Newman, as the best compromise. Just a thought. Another thought: did Mike Helton think that it would severely damage the integrity of the Chase to have 13 or 14 drivers? I don’t know, but it certainly damages the integrity of the Chase to have this situation resolved like this.
NASCAR surely doesn’t want a black eye over its sport going into its championship run. Unfortunately, due to the actions of an organization, I don’t think that’s possible. As I mentioned earlier, nothing could have made everybody happy.
For complete details of the all-out manipulation of the Richmond race, here is an article published by Bleacher Report before the penalties came out that called my attention to how severe this manipulation was by MWR:
As a fan, not as a blogger, I earlier tweeted the following: “If NASCAR forgets about my driver (Gordon), maybe I’ll forget about them 4 a while. Sorry ESPN 4 my NFL viewership this Sunday.” I don’t know yet if I’ll take my displeasure with NASCAR to that extent yet; I’ll decide that on Sunday. There’s some NFL games that my catch my attention, or perhaps the Braves will be in a position to clinch (the magic number is 8).
One final thought: when I learned NASCAR was calling a news conference for 8:15 tonight, I knew it was something big. NASCAR usually waits until Tuesdays to announce penalties but they were making their announcement right in the middle of a pretty big football game, 12 hours early. In the end, however, I’m not sure it was big enough.
Stay tuned later in the week for my Chase prediction rankings, drivers 1-12.