Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway turned into one of the most controversial races in the history of the sport. Fan response to Clint Bowyer’s well-timed and seemingly intentional spin that brought out a late race caution, coupled with an un-needed trip down pit road by Brian Vickers was unprecedented.
Many fans were screaming for NASCAR to do something about what appeared to be an engineered plan from Michael Waltrip Racing to manipulate the outcome of the race to secure a spot in the Chase for team driver, Martin Truex Jr.
Evidently, NASCAR knew their integrity was on the line as they handed down the most severe penalty ever handed out by the sanctioning body.
The penalties included -$300,000 fine levied against the team, 50 owner and driver points deduction for each of the teams three cars (No. 15, 55, 56) and an indefinite suspension for General Manager, Ty Norris, who also serves as the spotter for Brian Vickers No. 55 car.
The points deductions were assessed to the standings retroactively, before the re-seeding for the Chase. The results of those penalties were that MWR driver, Martin Truex Jr., who benefited the most from the incident, was bumped out of the Chase, and Stewart-Hass driver, Ryan Newman, was locked in to the final wildcard spot. Newman seemed to be well on his way to winning the race and securing a spot in the Chase before the caution came out.
The penalties seemed to have been well thought out by NASCAR. The sanctioning body absolutely had to come out strong on this, as the integrity of the sport was being called into questions. Media outlets that usually do not cover the sport, were focusing attention on the issue. Additionally, social media was on fire with criticism of the sports rule makers.
The team released a statement on Monday night shortly after the penalties were announced. From team owner, Michael Waltrip – “What occurred on the No. 55 radio at the end of Saturday night’s race in Richmond was a split-second decision made by team spotter Ty Norris to bring the No. 55 to pit lane and help a teammate earn a place in the Chase. We regret the decision and its impact. We apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners and fans who were disappointed in our actions. We will learn from this and move on. As general manager, Ty Norris has been an integral part of Michael Waltrip Racing since its founding and has my and (co-owner) Rob Kauffman’s full support.”
It should be noted that the statement does not address the spin by driver Clint Bowyer because NASCAR stated there was not conclusive evidence that the spin was intentional. The Bowyer spin was more publicized than the Vickers incident due to the fact that it actually brought out the caution. Listening to the radio conversation for Bowyer, he was never actually instructed to spin the car. Therefore, NASCAR could not fairly implement sanctions for that action, even though the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.
During the radio conversation between Vickers and Norris, it was actually stated that Brian needed to pit to allow Truex to gain a point. After the instruction, there was then an attempt to fabricate a cover story for the action. NASCAR was able to penalize for this because there was no question to intent.
By not appealing the penalty, MWR is taking responsibility for their actions. Hopefully, they will learn from this mistake and the severity of the penalty will send a message to other teams to not attempt such actions in the future. Only time will tell how long it will take the team to gain back the respect of the fans, fellow competitors, and the sanctioning body.