In an unprecedented Monday evening news conference after the wild Richmond race on Saturday night, NASCAR dropped the penalty hammer on Michael Waltrip Racing.
“Based upon our review of Saturday night’s race at Richmond, it is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects our commitment to that.”
Although NASCAR could not determine if the late race spin by MWR driver Clint Bowyer was intentional, that combined with the unusual pitting by MWR teammate Brian Vickers, which was documented on the radio transmissions between him and spotterTy Norris, added up to what the sanctioning body considered a violation of Section 12-4, Actions detrimental to stock car racing.
As a result, NASCAR levied the following penalties:
*The three MWR teams, including the No. 15 of Clint Bowyer, the No. 55 of Brian Vickers, and the No. 56 of Martin Truex Jr. were penalized with the loss of 50 championship driver and 50 championship owner points, respectively.
*NASCAR also fined MWR $300,000, the largest fine that the sanctioning body has ever levied.
*Ty Norris, the Executive Vice President & General Manager of Michael Waltrip Racing and the spotter for Brian Vickers, has been suspended indefinitely from the sport.
*The three crew chiefs, Brian Pattie on the No. 15, Scott Miller on the No. 55 and Chad Johnston on the No. 56 car have also been placed on probation until the season end.
The controversy started after in-car audio and video revealed what appeared to be some sort of exchange in code between Bowyer and his team, leading to a late race spin and caution that changed the entire complexion of the finishing order and the Chase setting.
“(Newman) is going to win the race,’’ spotter Brett Griffin told Bowyer in audio first aired by ESPN.
About 30 seconds later, crew chief Brian Pattie asked Bowyer if his arm was hurting and if it was “hot in there” and then was told to “Itch it.” Shortly after that, Bowyer seemed to have jerked the wheel, sending his No. 15 5-Hour Energy spinning and his teammate Martin Truex Jr. into Chase contention.
Even Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was right behind Bowyer, commented after the race that the spin was suspicious.
“He just spun right out,” Junior said. “That’s the craziest thing I ever saw.”
“He just came right around,” Junior continued. “We were going into (Turns) 3 and 4 … he was hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out.”
“It was crazy.”
Because of the point penalties, which were assessed following the Richmond race and not after the Chase seeding, the point total for the No. 56 car piloted by Truex Jr. was reduced to 691, eliminating him from the second Wild Card berth.
This change, which put Truex Jr. in 17th position in points, moved Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 car for Stewart-Haas Racing, up into the Chase field.
“Obviously, we’re very pleased with NASCAR’s decision to provide Ryan Newman’s rightful place in this year’s Chase,” Tony Stewart, Co-Owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, said. “NASCAR was put in a very difficult position Saturday night at Richmond and we commend the sanctioning body for taking the time to do the necessary due diligence to ensure that the right call was made.”
“I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night at Richmond,” Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet, said. “I know it was a tough decision to make.”
“With that being said, myself, Matt Borland (crew chief) and this entire No. 39 team are looking forward to competing for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.”
As with any penalty, Michael Waltrip Racing can appeal, however, that still will not re-instate Martin Truex Jr. back into Chase contention. Shortly after the penalties were announced, MWR advised that they would not be appealing the decision.
“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,” a statement from Michael Waltrip Racing read. “We regret the decision and its impact.”
“We apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners and fans who were disappointed in our actions,” the MWR statement continued. “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.”