The eventful NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season has finally come to a close, and we head onto the opening week of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup this week at Chicagoland Speedway. It has been a fantastic regular season, filled with parody, the broadest spectrum of winners we’ve ever seen in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and of course drama.
I’ll start this week with my thoughts on the biggest news of the week surrounding the Michael Waltrip Racing cars of Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., and Brian Vickers, the Stewart-Haas Racing car of Ryan Newman, and now the Penske Racing car of Joey Logano, the Front Row Motorsports car of David Gilliland, and Hendrick Motorsports’ Jeff Gordon. Now we’ve gotten all the names out of the way, I’ll attempt to recap what happened with each team to set the now 13-driver field for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
It was Ryan Newman in the lead late last Saturday Night at Richmond when Bowyer’s spotter, Brett Griffin, came over the radio and said “(No.) 39 is going to win the race…well that kinda sucks. Nine more (laps) right here.” Then there was an arm itching comment by Crew Chief Brian Pattie, Bowyer spun out with no cars around him sending out the Caution Flag. Bowyer spin, Check.
When it came time for the restart, Brian Vickers was called to Pit Road, and amongst the confusion associated with pitting when the field was going green, a comment came over the radio “we need that one point.” and a “I owe you a kiss” comment. When the cars went back to green, Vickers made laps at a speed that any quarter-midget driver would have beaten, raising some more red flags. Vickers pit/lap times, Check.
The result was Joey Logano gaining enough points on Jeff Gordon to knock him from the 10th spot in points, which opened a Wild Card spot for Martin Truex Jr. The result on Monday was a 50-point fine for each of the three Michael Waltrip Racing guys (pre-Chase reset), enough to knock Martin Truex Jr. out of his Wild Card spot, and inserting Ryan Newman (who should have won the race anyway) into the Chase picture. Oh and don’t forget about the $300,000 fine for Michael Waltrip Racing on top of $3-3.5 million in foregone Chase earnings for the No.56 team.
Fast forward to Friday Afternoon…
Towards the end of the race on Saturday Night, there was a “Big Dog and his cronies” atop the spotter stand in what seems like a reference towards Roger Penske who often watches the races from the Spotter’s Deck, so nothing new. The out of the ordinary part of this deal is the chatter over the No.38 (David Gilliland) team radio between Crew Chief Frank Kerr and Gilliland’s spotter requesting Gilliland to give up a spot to Chase hopeful, Joey Logano. Kerr asked who the request came from, the spotter referenced “The Big Dog”, pass happens, Logano gets in the chase, Gilliland’s Spotter says “Hopefully we’ll get something out of that” after the race. Gilliland/Logano pass, Check.
The result here was a review by NASCAR of radio chatter between the No.38 team Driver, Spotter, and Crew Chief and a determination was made that the No.38 and No.22 teams had tried to manipulate the outcome of the race at Richmond and furthermore, the 2013 Chase field. “Based on all of our findings this week, we determined both Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing organizations would be placed on probation for the remainder of the NASCAR this season.” said Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “Additionally, based on the totality of our findings, to be totally fair and equitable we decided that adding a 13th car to this year’s Chase is the appropriate action.” France went on to add, “Beginning with our decision Monday, which resulted in an unprecedented team penalty, and continuing with further examination of actions involving two other race teams, it is clear to us that attempts to manipulate the results impacted the Chase field.”
So, nobody else is out, but Jeff Gordon is now into the first 13-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field, set to begin on Sunday with the first of the 10 races which make up the NASCAR playoffs.
Now that we’ve gotten the stories straight (or as straight as they can be at this point), my stance on this week’s events is still up in the air…
Though I appreciate the team aspect this sport has to offer, I do not agree with manipulating the outcome of a race to help out a teammate. A sport that was bread in the South on integrity and downright grit has now been tainted with numerous attempts that would have some of the sports’ founders in outrage and calling for a permanent ban from the sport. If this were baseball for instance, the sport’s fans would call for the player attempting to manipulate the outcome of a game to be banned from the sport forever (Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, the list goes on).
The Michael Waltrip Racing penalty is the most severe to ever be passed down by NASCAR, but to me, the team’s greatest chance at a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion was only given a wrist slap. Clint Bowyer is still racing for a Championship even with his (inconclusive) involvement in the events at Richmond, and the guy with no known involvement (who deserves to race for a Championship) in the scheme is left out to dry. Martin Truex Jr. deserves a spot in this year’s Chase because he had earned his right to race for a Championship over the 25 races leading up to the circus in Richmond (winning one of them). Truex in, Bowyer out in my eyes -OR- a 14-team Chase field (why stop at 13?)
Now, as far as how NASCAR handled the penalties and my thoughts on how this week panned out are a different story. It is unfortunate to even have to address things like this during a time when our sport competes with the Nation’s largest viewership week in and week out, but I am guessing Sunday’s race could draw more viewers than any of the previous 9 first Chase races. The question will be if viewers will be tuning in to watch a sport, or to watch a WWF-style half sport, half drama show. Credibility is huge when talking sport vs. show and with this week’s circus, I’m afraid NASCAR may have gained some followers curious about the “Drama Show” aspect this week has been. The deal was sealed on that statement on Friday with the “re-do” on the Chase field for the third time in five days.
To me, it was an all or nothing decision for NASCAR this week, and to hand pick and choose who gets to race for a Championship and who does not has a WWF jingle to it, much like the promoters who decide who gets the title belt and who does not. For so long, NASCAR’s stance was to let the boys settle it out on the track, and to step in and hand pick the Chase field has set a precedent for the future, but still has not addressed any of the “grey area” each and every team likes to play in.
Oh, by the way, my picks for this weekend at Chicago are Kevin Harvick since he’s the only guy in the field this weekend with multiple wins at Chicagoland, and Martin Truex Jr. because he’s out for vengeance and you have to go back to last season for his last finish outside the top-10 on any of the Intermediate tracks.
So, until we put all this chaos behind us and head to the second race of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup…You Stay Classy WWF NATION!