By David G. Firestone
I normally don’t do two posts in one week, but after the events of the last two weeks in NASCAR, I felt compelled to state my feelings on the matter. Obviously, what took place at and after the Federated Auto Parts 400 is shocking to say the least. As a NASCAR fan, and collector, I felt that I had to say something.
First, I’ll discuss Joey Logano and David Ragan. Obviously what happened was that Ragan allowed Logano to pass him, to get a position, to get points needed to make the chase. It does need to be noted that on a very technical basis, the two are “partners” as they are both Ford drivers. However, it is still a violation of the rules, but at the same time, I can’t really blame Ragan. Front Row Motorsports is a middle-shelf team that has flashes of success, but is not a championship team. Ragan had nothing to gain in that race at that point. Logano had everything to lose at that point. He is having a great year, with a new team, and I think he can win the Sprint Cup this year. That said, it is a violation of the rules, and the rules are the rules.
Now we turn to the Michael Waltrip situation. Michael Waltrip and his older brother Darrell are old school stock car drivers. Old school drivers are notorious for trying to and finding ways around the rules. However, unlike the old days, in this day in age, cars are very closely inspected, and radio chatter is monitored by fans and officials alike. That is why this whole situation is as important as it is.
Now clearly what took place is that with 10 laps to go, Ryan Newman was leading the race, and with the points they way they were, he would make the Chase with a win. Martin Truex Jr. who would miss the Chase with Newman’s win is trying his best to make as many positions as he can to get as many points as he can to make the Chase, and give his teammate Clint Bowyer an advantage. Bowyer is being given info on the situation via team radio, and was obviously given a very poorly coded radio message to intentionally spin out to bring out a caution, and start a round of pit stops. When all pit stops are said and done, Newman is far back in the pack, and is out of the Chase Points wise. The race restarts, and on lap 198, Brian Vickers, the third driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, was ordered by his spotter Ty Norris, who is also the general manager and vice president for Michael Waltrip Racing to make a green flag pit stop, which gives Truex another boost in the point standings.
When the checkered flag flew, both Logano and Truex were in the Chase, and Jeff Gordon, and Ryan Newman were out. Gordon and Newman were disappointed, but they handled it well. Almost instantly, the issue came to light, starting with ESPN’s coverage. The commentators knew something was up, and it was clear from the in-car camera that the spin was intentional. Between Richmond and Chicago, the investigation led to the biggest penalty in the history of NASCAR, with a $300,000 fine and 50 owner point reduction for all 3 teams, all crew chiefs, were placed on probation, and Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely. Because of this, Truex was removed from the Chase, and Ryan Newman was added. Furthermore, with the Logano/Ragan situation, a 13th driver, Jeff Gordon, was added to the Chase.
Drivers know when they have in-cars, so it makes no sense that he would intentionally spin out. If Brian Vickers, who did not have an in-car had spun out, it would have been much more difficult to make a case. Also, if Vickers had pitted under green to fix some damage, it would have been much harder to prove something would have happened.
If this was a unique incident for Michael Waltrip Racing, I think that it could be forgiven at the end of the season, but let’s take a trip back to 2007, specifically, the days leading up to the Twin 125’s before they Daytona 500. Evernham Motorsports and Roush Fenway were caught with “illegal modifications” for their cars, and fines and suspensions were levied. Michael Waltrip Racing was caught with an illegal fuel additive in his primary car, and was fined 100 points for the violation.
NAPA, who had sponsored Waltrip since his 2001 Daytona 500 win had said that they would stand by him, but if something like this happened again, that would not be guaranteed. Well something like that happened again. This morning, NAPA announced that they will not sponsor MWR anymore after this season, which is understandable. NAPA is a very loyal sponsor, so clearly what happened was that they decided that the cheating was going to continue until they said something. It is sad, but it happened.
My question is this, a very valid argument could be made that Truex himself did not do anything intentionally wrong, and that he was thrown under the bus because of the actions of his teammates. Another argument can be made that NASCAR stated when announcing the penalty, that they could not prove that Bowyer spun intentionally. Taking all the evidence into consideration, it appears that Truex had no idea what was going on around him, and that his teammates kept this information from him. I think with the penalties NASCAR levied against MWR, that Truex did in fact get thrown under the bus. At the same time, the rule comes across as a “hand of one is the hand of all” rule, which means that if your team cheats to help you, you are just as responsible for what happens.
To summarize, I think that NASCAR did what they felt was right, and I feel as though NAPA had to do what they they thought was right. Do I agree with it? Absolutely! NASCAR and its sponsors need to make it as clear as they can that cheating will not be tolerated. The rules are the rules, and even if the drivers disagree with them, they have to be followed.