by Ryan Isley
What a week this has been for NASCAR as they have tried to put themselves on par with the NCAA when it comes to scandals.
In the Federated Auto Parts 400 last Saturday at Richmond International Raceway, three teams in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series crossed the line when it comes to trying to manipulate the outcome of the race to benefit their drivers.
First, Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing spun out to bring a caution flag out with Ryan Newman leading the race and headed towards putting himself in the Chase for the Sprint Cup over Bowyer’s Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex, Jr. The spin allowed the rest of their field to catch up to Newman and cost Newman the race, allowing Truex, Jr. to get the second wild card for the Chase and keeping Newman out.
Also, Michael Waltrip Racing had Bowyer and Brian Vickers take green lap cautions late in the race to help Joey Logano get into the Chase without using a wild card, freeing up that wild card for Truex, Jr.
Speaking of Logano, his Penske Racing team had communications with the Front Row Motorsports No.38 team of David Gilliland to have Gilliland give Logano an extra spot on the final lap to ensure Logano’s spot in the Chase ahead of Jeff Gordon.
NASCAR was not happy with what has happened and has levied some pretty harsh penalties this week.
NASCAR has suspended Michael Waltrip Racing general manager Ty Norris indefinitely. They also fined Michael Waltrip Racing $300,000 and docked each of their three cars – driven by Bowyer, Vickers and Truex, Jr. – 50 owner points and 50 driver points for the team’s actions at Richmond International Raceway this past Saturday night.
The points penalties are docked prior to the rest of points for the Chase, meaning Truex, Jr. falls out of the Chase, giving that second wild card to Newman. It also means that Bowyer starts in the Chase exactly where he would have before the penalties were handed down.
As of this writing on Thursday night, there have not been any penalties given to Penske Racing, Logano, Front Row Motorsports or Gilliland.
While NASCAR tried to throw the hammer down, I think they may have accidentally hit their thumb instead of the nail. If NASCAR really wanted to send a message, they could have done so. And this is how:
They should have kept the fine for Michael Waltrip Racing and also the suspension of Ty Norris.
Along with the point deductions for Vickers, Bowyer and Truex, Jr., NASCAR should have added Logano and Gilliland into the mix and docked them each 50 points as well. Instead of taking away the points prior to the Chase reset, it should have been enforced after the points had been reset for the Chase. In addition, they should have stripped Bowyer of the three bonus points he earned for the win earlier this season.
By enforcing the point deductions prior to the Chase standings being reset, it would mean Logano and Truex, Jr. would get to keep their spots in the Chase. But it would also mean that all three of these drivers would start 65 points out of the top spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. By allowing Bowyer to take his penalty before the points reset, there really isn’t a punishment at all. That isn’t fair since he is the one who was really at fault more than any other driver in Chase contention.
However, NASCAR should have made two more spots available – one for Newman and one for Gordon, the two drivers who originally were on the wrong end of the situation. Yes, I know that this would have made the Chase 14 drivers deep, but why is it a bad thing to have more drivers with a chance to win the championship?
If you want to argue that there isn’t a precedent for NASCAR to levy these punishments, NASCAR has shown the consistency of the NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA when it comes to penalties, which is to say that they haven’t shown any.
The drivers and teams could always appeal these penalties, but besides being judge, jury and executioner, NASCAR is also their own appeals board, meaning that getting a penalty overturned in nearly impossible.
NASCAR had a chance to lay down the law and teach teams that by cheating to get into the Chase, your chance to actually win the championship will be extremely small unless you run a perfect 10 races. Otherwise, teams will continue to manipulate the system until something is done to prevent them from doing so. Just ask the NCAA, NFL and MLB.
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