Richmond, a d-shaped 3/4 mile track in Virgina, is one of NASCAR’s crown jewel short tracks and the stage for the last regular season race of the Sprint Cup season or as NASCAR fans know it “The race for the Chase.” The chase- by design is a 10 race shootout of tracks for the championship where the points are basically zeroed out- with a seeding by number of wins for the top ten drivers with the including of two non-seeded, wild card drivers. Only the top 12 drivers in the regular season have a chance at the championship as the Chase currently stands- making these last ten “chase” races the play-offs of NASCAR. One of the interesting effects since NASCAR went to a “play-offs” type championship seasons is that just making the CHASE becomes the main goal for teams. Also, as a result of this system- there is the “bubble” who is in and who is out.
This particular Richmond race- there were 11 drivers vying for the 6 remaining “non-clinched” spots in the chase (including the two wild card positions). As the race was run- those drivers that were in and those that were out changed with each lap it seemed. Ryan Newman was vying for one of those cherished wild card spots- most of the time against Martin Truex Jr. Ryan pretty much had to win the race, or Martin Truex Jr had to have a tragedy because if they tied for the wild card the only way Ryan would win the wild card spot would be with another win for the tie breaker. Conversely, driver Jeff Gordon could not hope for a wild card spot- if he was to make the chase Jeff Gordon absolutely had to finish with in the top 10 in the points standings since he has no wins yet this season.
Lap 391 on the 400 lap race at Richmond had Ryan Newman leading the race and Jeff Gordon had worked his way into the top ten in the points standing. It was the perfect storm for both these drivers. Yet what happened on lap 394 would capsize both of their efforts to get into the chase. As trends go- this Richmond race was full of long long green flag runs. There were very few cautions. Yet on lap 394 for the inevitable happened- a car- the 15 of Clint Bowyer spun in a solo car incident. This and the resulting restart dashed the 2013 chase hopes for both Gordon and Newman. Gordon’s resulting finish as well as Logano’s propelled Logano into the top ten and dropped Jeff Gordon out of the top ten. Ryan Newman tied with Martin Truex Jr for the last remaining wild card spot- and since Newman did not win the race- Truex won the tie breaker.
Normally, I would be of the opinion that this is the kind of heartbreak that the chase format breeds. I would say things like “well that sucks” but “things happen.” That is as true in racing as it is in life. However, my opinion totally changes when it is brought to light that Clint Bowyer spun out on purpose- thus bringing out the caution. By doing so, Clint Bowyer gave his teammate Martin Truex Jr the gift of the chase by robbing Ryan Newman of it. Bowyer’s spot in the chase was already secure, so by intentionally causing a caution (which I believe is against NASCAR’s rulebook and if it’s not it bloody well should be), Clint Bowyer affected the outcome of the race to the advantage of Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. How can we be sure the spin was intentional? The scanner chatter is pretty damn suspect. Add to it Dale Earnhardt Jr’s eye witness account of the spin- and it is clear what happened.
Ethics-wise I don’t see a difference between what Bowyer and MWR did is akin to what South Korea, China, and Indonesia did in the London 2012 Olympic games in badminton. For those who don’t know what I am talking about- in the London games South Korea, China and Indonesia purposely and obviously threw games in an attempt to manipulate seedings in subsequent rounds. All three teams ended up being disqualified form the 2012 Olympic games. Some might question how this is any different than a driver performing something like a bump and run during a race for the lead. Let me explain my take on how these are completely different. Giving a fellow driver the chrome horn at the end of a race is aggressive driving and something a driver can choose to employ to better his position against a given competitor. Intentionally causing a caution for the betterment of a teammate’s standings in the chase compared to someone else, which is what I believe Bowyer did, is a rules violation. Not only does this not just effect Bowyer and one other driver, it’s also attempting to manipulate seedings and standings in a playoff and can NOT be allowed. Intentionally spinning out is definitely not a simple case of “Boy’s Have At It” which has been NASCAR’s standing credo of driver self-policing to the delight of fans. What it is is a flagrant obvious violation that threatens the integrity of not just MWR but of NASCAR’s sanctioning body as a whole.
Unfortunately there is huge gap between what I think should be done and what will be done. To me- what should be done is simple. MWR should be disqualified from the chase plain and simple. This would open two chase spots- of which Newman and Gordon should be then given in the chase wild card positions and everyone should be seeded accordingly. MWR should also face heavy fines for drivers, crew chiefs, spotters and owners. Probation should not just be through the rest of the season, but well into next to stress the ethics of the sport and the authority of the sanctioning body. Because this was NOT caught before the race was resumed and the chase field was already announced, I doubt any of this will happen. I see some points being garnished, some slap-on-the-wrist fines and probation being levied. This will of course be drug out through some lengthy appeals process that ill then likely end up being partially over turned by the board as they nearly almost always are.
It really is an unfortunately position NASCAR has been placed in by MWR. However, NASCAR needs to do something or their authority as a sanctioning body is both under question and at risk. As for MWR, they have not only put their team’s morals and ethics under scrutiny, I dare say they have also painted huge bull’s eyes on the backs of all three of their drivers. If I were Ryan Newman or Jeff Gordon’s owner I would likely give them carte blanche to lean on the MWR drivers with their chrome horns no matter what lap- regardless of what happens with NASCAR.
Here is a change.org campaign to get NASCAR to Disqualify MWR from the chase for those interested.
Jeff Gordon’s tweet this morning:
— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) September 8, 2013
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