Controversy In Richmond: Did MWR Deliberately Manipulate Chase Outcome?By Nick DeGroot
There was a lot on the line at Richmond Saturday night but was it so much so that it would actually push a team to deliberately alter the outcome in order to benefit themselves? When you’re talking about a shot at the Sprint Cup championship; I’d say so. The awkward spin by Clint Bowyer and the suspicious Brian Vickers radio communication in the closing laps raised a lot of eyebrows and accusations started flying before the checkered flag even flew.
Team orders. It’s a phrase that makes all race fans cringe and a policy that has been unfortunately showcased at one point or another in every major motorsport and has most recently found its way into the world of NASCAR. Team orders drastically affected the outcome of the race to make the chase Saturday night leaving millions of fans outraged. The evidence against culprits aka Michael Waltrip Racing…well, it’s substantial. The orchestration of this shady move to get Truex Jr. into the chase looked pretty blatant and has NASCAR nation infuriated. Before we dive any deeper into this volatile controversy; here is the overwhelming evidence against Michael Waltrip Racing…
In-Car Camera & Audio of Clint Bowyer Leading Up To & During Spin
Very odd and conspicuous dialogue there….did you notice how awkward and controlled that spin looked? It did not appear to be an expert racecar driver getting loose while driving on the ragged edge. This caution gave Martin Truex Jr. another shot at making the chase with a late restart and he did just that. Newman went from on his way to victory and ensuring a chase berth to enduring the bitter feeling of defeat when he lost the WC in a tie with Truex. Ryan came within a few feet of making the chase One more corner and he would have taken 2nd position from Kurt Busch which would have given him the edge over Martin for the final Wild Card. Defending champion Brad Keselowski’s thoughts on the Clint’s spin…“Quite honestly, I don’t know what to think…” Race winner Carl Edwards saw this Bowyer clip in the media center and simply said, “that’s going to be a popular video.”
Brian Vickers Radio Communication With Five Laps Remaining
Team “We’re probably going to pit here on green” Brian: “Are you talking to me?” Team: “Yeah, we’re going to pit.” Brian: “What? I’ve got to pit? I don’t understand. Pit right now?” Team: “You’ve got to pit this time by. We need that 1 point.” Brian: “10-4. Do I got a tire going down?” Team: “Yeah”
I was giving MWR the benefit of the doubt until I heard this exchange. The “point” the team was referring to was for Joey Logano; not Martin Truex Jr…let me explain. Vickers was a full lap ahead of Joey before the green flag pit stop but finished a lap down and behind the No.22. There were no issues with the car that would explain the lost lap but this radio communication gives us the reason we feared. They wanted Joey to get that point because it would help him stay inside the top 10 in points. Why is that important? Because if Joey was outside the top 10 in points when the race ended; he would need to take Wild Card in order to make the chase…the Wild Card that would otherwise belong to Martin Truex Jr.
NASCAR.com’s Alan Cavanna tweeted that Michael Waltrip walked up to Truex on pit road following the race and said, “You’ve got awesome teammates.” In a post-race interview, Michael had this to say…
“I don’t know…I didn’t hear any…I was busy monitoring who was doing what. I mean, I don’t think Bowyer spun on purpose. But I don’t know.” (He was then asked if it would be okay if Bowyer’s spin was intentional) “I don’t like to do what ifs. We’re just really grateful that we got two of our cars in the Chase. It would be a real bummer if our young organization only got one in and not the other.”
His older brother and 3-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Darrell Waltrip tweeted, “Watched on TV just like most of you, looked like typical #Nascar race at #Richmond, cars spinning, tires blowing, cautions, restarts, etc.” DW later tweeted, “Wasn’t at the race. I don’t have a radio so I don’t know what was said. If something inappropriate happened, I trust #NASCAR to handle it.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Was In Proximity Of Bowyer During Spin)
“He just spun right out. That’s the craziest thing I ever saw. He just came right around. He got…we were going into, through 3 and 4, and I don’t know if they can put up his brakes and his gas. We got all the technology. But he was hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out. It was crazy. I don’t know what was going on. It was right there, I almost run into it, so I’m glad we were able to get out of there without any trouble.”
“My car was tight as hell. (Jimmie Johnson) blew a tire and hit the wall. I’m telling you, I was the next one. That thing slid, what, maybe less than 10 feet and blew out, you know what I mean? Something was going on there. I’ve been doing this a long time. It is what it is. It’s unfortunate. I know it’s a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot of whacky things. Go ahead if you want to, get creative. But don’t look too much into it.”
In the media center, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon refused to speculate but Ryan angrily acknowledged that an intentional spin would obviously upset him. Jeff tweeted Sunday morning saying, “Was feeling pretty bad about missing the #Chase but after seeing all the details coming out now I feel even worse for @RyanNewman39.” Country music superstar Blake Shelton who is a friend of Clint tweeted, “Y’all should follow @ClintBowyer!!! The definition of team player!!! #hero“ I interpreted that as him implying Clint’s spin was intentional in his eyes. A less than thrilled Tony Stewart was asked if he believes someone would spin out in order to help a teammate and he immediately said. “Yep. There’s a lotta money involved in making the Chase.” The feeling about the spin was unanimous among the ESPN commentators who cried foul and called out Clint which only fueled the fire as fans took to social media to voice their displeasure and argue their points. NASCAR was a trending topic on Twitter for nearly three hours following the race.
After seeing, hearing and reading all this; there is little doubt that Michael Waltrip Racing played the system in a blatant attempt to help Martin Truex Jr. procure a chase spot. There is conclusive audio evidence and numbers that prove MWR’s chicanery. Brian Vickers ran 40mph off the pace on the final lap for a reason we have yet to ascertain while Clint Bowyer was able to lose two laps as he appeared to dawdle in the pits after receiving very little damage in the now infamous spin.
MWR successfully coordinated their cars in what looked to be a well thought out and masterful plan to ensure a chase berth for Martin with the only flaw being that they failed miserably at making it look inconspicuous. But If NASCAR is going to let something like this slide with such overwhelming evidence out there, then why not take what you can and not care who sees? With everything at stake, if you leave the teams any wiggle room whatsoever; they will most certainly take it. That’s why it is crucial that NASCAR react and drop the hammer on this team. It’s not like MWR would be the only team to stoop to this level if necessary; they just happened to be the ones tempted by circumstance to take fate into their own hands. If NASCAR turns a blind eye to it, they definitely won’t be the last to give into that temptation.
NASCAR did say Sunday afternoon that they are taking some time to review the audio and video while they look for evidence of wrongdoing. It is standard protocol for NASCAR to review all races before they make them official but they will certainly pay extra attention to the area in question. Regardless of their decision; the damage has already been done. Should they do nothing though; they will basically be tacitly approving of teams making a mockery of the system. All drivers were warned in the drivers meeting to keep it “fair and square” but that apparently fell on deaf ears in the MWR camp. I will say this though…don’t attack Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers for simply doing what they’re told. The team should have never handed down these orders in the first place but if you know NASCAR won’t punish you for it; then why not? It’s like saying that if you rob a bank, it’s illegal but we won’t punish you for it.
In the end, it’s a shame that such a spectacular night of racing action was overshadowed by this unfortunate situation and no matter what NASCAR does; the bitter taste left in the mouths of fans, drivers and teams won’t rescind anytime soon. Oh…and the sponsors are fired up too. Quicken Loans (Newman sponsor) posted this on their Facebook page; “We were so close last night and that last caution hurt us. Something didn’t look right about it but you be the judge.” Then PEAK (Bowyer sponsor) posted on their Facebook these two words that shows their feelings about the whole deal pretty plainly; “Phoenix. 2012.”
The integrity of NASCAR is at stake here in the midst of one of the most profound controversies in recent memory and it occurred on one of the biggest nights on the schedule. You know that infamous part of the rule book so commonly quoted by NASCAR – “Actions Detrimental To Stock Car Racing?” That’s basically what Michael Waltrip Racing is guilty of. Something needs to be done about this because nothing will drive fans away quicker than team orders being tolerated. I’ve always been one to say that controversy and the free publicity that comes out of it is never a bad thing but this is one of those rare circumstances when I feel the complete opposite…it’s borderline embarrassing for the NASCAR community.
Disdain for Michael Waltrip Racing won’t cease anytime soon for thousands of incensed and unforgiving NASCAR fans and I’m sure a seething Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman won’t soon forget this either. I like Clint Bowyer, I like Brian Vickers and I like Michael Waltrip but what they did at Richmond is incredibly unsportsmanlike. I hate writing negative stories but this is one issue that just can’t be ignored. We now head to the first race of the chase on the heels of a huge controversy that is far from over. I wouldn’t be surprised if lingering anger and frustration from the drivers done wrong may lead to some on track retaliation as they seek racing justice the old fashioned way.