MWR Controversy: Did The Penalties Fit The Crime?

By Nick DeGroot On Wed, Sep. 11, 2013

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports
Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

NASCAR was faced with a very tough decision this past weekend…how to deal with a team that deliberately manipulated the chase outcome to benefit themselves? Four days later and race fans are still in an uproar over the biggest controversy to rock the motorsports world since the infamous “Crashgate” incident during the 2008 Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. With the overwhelming evidence, all the publicity and the outrage from millions of disappointed fans; NASCAR had to act and act they did…with unprecedented penalties.

The Punishment

Before you continue reading, if you have yet to learn about all the evidence presented to NASCAR from the in-car video, (#15 & #55) radio communications and the suspicious post-race comments…please direct your attention here so that you may be enlightened: http://www.speedwaymedia.com/?p=67736 Now onto the record breaking penalties levied by NASCAR & the interesting reasoning behind why they did what they did…

-MWR was found to have violated Section 12-4 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing). As a result, MWR’s three teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (No. 15, 55, 56) have been penalized with the loss of 50 championship driver and 50 championship owner points, respectively.

-These point penalties are assessed following the season’s 26th regular season race and not after the seeding for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Therefore, the point total for the No. 56 car driven by Martin Truex Jr. is reduced to 691, putting him in 17th position and eliminating him from the second Wild Card berth for the Chase field. Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 car, now moves up into the Chase as the second Wild Card participant.

 -NASCAR has also fined the MWR organization $300,000 and indefinitely suspended Ty Norris, MWR Executive Vice President/General Manager and spotter for the No. 55 car, for violating Section 12-4. The three crew chiefs – Brian Pattie (No. 15), Scott Miller (No. 55) and Chad Johnston (No. 56) – have all been placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31.

 -“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.”

I want to make it clear that NASCAR didn’t just hand Newman the Wild Card that would otherwise belong to Martin Truex Jr. He got it as a result of the 50pt penalty issued to the No.56 team. The point penalties were assessed before the re-seed so that’s why Ryan was able to overtake Martin in points. That is also the reason why Clint Bowyer starts the chase off as if nothing happened to him….I don’t like that part. The 50pt penalty issued to the No.15 was before NASCAR re-racked the standings so he goes to Chicagoland 15pts behind Matt Kenseth. Not 50 or 65 behind like some have mistakenly thought.

NASCAR did not help Jeff Gordon though who was on his way to a chase berth before Bowyer’s spin. Their reasoning behind that? NASCAR felt that they couldn’t help those affected by the “ripple effect” of the Bowyer spin. They don’t know what would have unfolded in the final laps if that spin never happened and they weren’t about to make a chase altering decision based on assumption. If the spin never happened, Jeff might have fallen out on his own for all we know. That is why they couldn’t just give the Wild Card to Newman either…there’s no way of knowing with 110% certainty that he would have went on and won the race; way too many unknown variables for them to be able to make a fair decision.

Morally…we all believe Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman both deserve a chase spot but factually, you just can’t say they would have held on in those final seven laps as much as we’d like to believe they would have. Ty Norris (MWR GM & Spotter For No.55 at Richmond) was the only one suspended and that is because he is the only person they have conclusive evidence against. (Instructed Vickers On Radio To Pit Because They Needed That 1pt) How we feel about all the other shenanigans that went on are just educated opinions based on observations and personal interpretation. Without admission, there’s no way of knowing for sure.

NASCAR said they didn’t target Truex exclusively but that losing his chase spot was simply the byproduct of them penalizing MWR as a whole. That would also explain why they didn’t go and punish Bowyer enough to make sure he relinquished a top 10 spot to Jeff Gordon like so many fans wanted. As for Truex, I think Bob Pockrass put it well when he said it’s like a friend giving you a TV that they stole…you’re going to have to give it back even if you had no part in it. NASCAR actually handled this quite professionally and with leveled heads in my opinion. Doesn’t mean I completely agree with it but I’ll get to that later…now for some statements and Twitter reactions!

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 apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners and fans who were disappointed in our actions. We will learn from this & move on.” 

Interview With Fox Sports 1′s Bob Dillner: http://msn.foxsports.com/nascar/shakeandbake/race-hub-exclusive-video-waltrip-speaks-vickers-in-car-audio-091013

Ty Norris

“In the final laps I made a call to pit the 55 to benefit a teammate. It was a split second decision made in the middle of a chaotic finish bad on the circumstances. There was no time to think just act. Though it was to benefit MWR it is now clear it was to the detriment of the sport I love and have called home for the past 24 years.I apologize to all who were affected by that decision in the greatest race for the chase in its 10 yr history. I have dedicated my life to this industry and value its integrity and understand the decision.”

“I am suspended for being a spotter, not a GM, for making a call to bring teammate to pit road. NO other reason. NO other incident.”

Clint Bowyer

Tweets: “No rearview mirrors in life, just windshield ahead. It’s been a great year and is going to be a great chase. Time to move on!!!” & “I sure hope you guys are as tired of hearing about me as I am talking about me!!! #uncleJackhereicome

ESPN Interview – Drilled by Ricky Craven: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=9658424

Marty & McGee Interview: http://espn.go.com/espnradio/play?id=9658768

Brian Pattie (#15 Crew Chief)

SiriusXM NASCAR interview: https://soundcloud.com/siriusxmsports/brian-pattie-reacts-to-nascar

Brett Griffin (#15 Spotter)

“We all know the score. Its time to go do our jobs. Ill do it the same as I did last week. Love my team”

“Team orders? Really. I swear on my kids lives no one gave me team orders.”

NAPA

“The actions taken by Michael Waltrip’s Racing team this past weekend leading to the penalties assessed by NASCAR, are very concerning. We are disappointed that a partner associated with our organization would make such a significant error in judgment. In addition, we have launched our own review to determine the future of our partnership with Michael Waltrip’s Racing team. The NAPA AUTO PARTS organization is proud of its long-standing NASCAR relationship. We share a passion with our customers for high quality racing and seek to determine the best course of action for our customers, NASCAR fans, and the NAPA organization.”

5-Hour Energy

“We respect NASCAR’s penalties against MWR & are addressing our sponsorship relations internally. We appreciate your understanding & patience”

Martin Truex Jr.

“I just want to take a min to thank my fans, NAPA AUTO PARTS, Toyota, NASCAR, my fellow competitors, & MWR for their support. I was very excited for my team when I learned that we clinched a wild card spot Sat night in Richmond. I drove the hardest race of my life that night & was unaware of any other circumstances other than needing to finish as high as I could to have a chance. This has been a very difficult situation for everyone involved. I hope we can all move on. I’m looking forward to Chicago, seeing all my fans & getting back in.My #56 NAPA Toyota. Thank you for all the messages. They are much appreciated.”

Tony Stewart

“Obviously, we’re very pleased with NASCAR’s decision to provide Ryan Newman’s rightful place in this year’s Chase. 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.”

Ryan Newman

“I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night at Richmond. 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.”

Jeff Gordon

“Feel bad for Truex. He got in under controversy now out due to it. But the guy who started all of this not effected at all??? Don’t agree!” 

“Take me out of this completely. At this point all that matters to me is if @NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely!”

“Phone bat going to die. Prob a good thing b4 I say something that gets me in trouble. Lastly, someone explain the “ripple effect” to me?”

His wife Ingrid replied, @JeffGordonWeb Ripple effect is when first guy causes something and gets no penalty. Every driver effected by that first move gets Screwed!”

Ryan Truex (Martin’s Younger Brother)

“Like my dad tells me, all you can do is go out every weekend and drive the car as hard as you can. Everything else is out of your control.”

Sherry Pollex (Martin Truex Jr.’s Girlfriend)

“Our family is healthy & well. We have a warm bed to sleep in at night, many don’t. We are so blessed and have so much to be thankful for. I will stand by my man until the day I die. He is a steady rock in my life. The most honest, loyal and dedicated guy I know. We’ll be fine Thank you for all the messages, they mean a lot. Now 10 more races to go & try to win for this @napaknowhow team! Broken wrist and all!”

Larry McReynolds

“I close my night out by saying I applaud NASCAR for their decision tonight! I know many are happy and many disagree, but this type of thing that happened hurts the sport and integrity of our racing! I still feel bad for J. Gordon, but we all move on. We move onto Chicago to start our Chase and to possibly one of the most exciting Chase races in 10 year history!”

Brad Keselowski

“Don’t know how to say what I really think about Mwr penalty with out getting in a lot of trouble. Better stay off twitter for awhile…”

Do we know for sure that Pattie, Waltrip and Bowyer are lying about the spin? As much as we’d like to think so, we do not truly no for certain and that’s why NASCAR called the video and audio from Bowyer concerning but inconclusive. That statement from an upset NAPA should be a real eye opener of how serious this is. They have had a relationship with Waltrip that goes back to 2001 and for them to say all that demonstrates just how many people this has angered. There are always morality clauses in contracts with sports teams/players and should they want to; NAPA could very well end their affiliation with the team after these transgressions.

For reasons that we cannot ascertain with 100% certainty, Clint Bowyer spun out and completely changed the outcome of the race to make the chase. We all surely have our opinions on it and most, including myself, feel it was intentional although in my heart, I’d truly like to believe Clint…but I can’t. That spin seemed awkward and controlled to me; not the end result of a NASCAR superstar losing control while racing on the ragged edge.

Michael Waltrip Racing claims the spin was accidental but is taking responsibility for the No.55 radio communication. They say it was a split second and on the spot decision by Ty though; not a well thought out plan that was waiting in the wings ready to be implemented at any moment if necessary. Personally, a teammate giving a fellow teammate a point happens all the time and isn’t that big of a deal to me but purposely causing a caution that changes almost every position on the race track does bother me. To NASCAR, the Vickers radio was the smoking gun needed to convict MWR. That alone wouldn’t have barred this massive penalty though.

Seeing a lot of veterans of NASCAR say the spin was intentional is enough for me to stand by what I believe, despite MWR’s claims. NASCAR couldn’t entirely fix what MWR broke but they repaired it to the best of their ability in my eyes. If they started looking into what could have been, then we’d be opening Pandora’s Box. I feel they should have included a point penalty for Clint that would impede his chase hopes though; not take him completely out of the running but at least put him in a hole to start the 10 race stretch.

This penalty assessed to MWR will certainly be a deterrent to any teams who are tempted by circumstance to determine their own fate in the future but it’s definitely not going to eradicate team orders by any stretch of the imagination. Teams will be hesitant to go as far as MWR did but there will always be that guy who “gets loose” in turn one while his teammate passes him or that one that “can’t get the throttle down off the corner” well enough to beat his teammate to the line for that bonus point. In the end, Truex Jr. didn’t get the Wild Card so I am content with the ruling for the most part. MWR’s efforts to get both cars in the chase were effectively thwarted in the end but now they must deal with the unanticipated repercussions of their imprudent actions.

Racing has an uncanny way of policing itself when someone does wrong. Clint and his teammates will go to court when they take the green flag Sunday and it’s up to their fellow racers to determine their fate. Clint may get blatantly wrecked by someone and if so; it would most likely be by the hand of a disgruntled Jeff Gordon. Jeff says the anger and disappointment from all this is unlike any he’s ever felt before. The punishment may be much more subtle though. Holding him up on the track or blocking him in on pit road are two very effective ways of getting back at a fellow racer. Then there’s the old Alllison/Yarborough way where you break out the right hook and let the impact do the talking…I doubt it comes to that but you never know!

I hate dwelling on such an unfortunate and uncalled for situation but you can’t ignore a story that has gained so much national attention. The guys over at MWR are not bad people…they are humans and humans screw up. There is no excuse for it but I don’t wish for their lives to be ruined because of it. The damage is done, the humiliation is ongoing and the black eye that has been cast over that organization won’t rescind anytime soon. NASCAR has made their point and this team must now deal with the consequences…now we wait to see how NASCAR handles the Logano/Gilliland controversy.

 

Nick DeGroot (88 Posts)

Nick has left Speedway Media and joined Motorsport.com as a manager, content editor, and reporter. His passion for motorsports dates all the way back to his childhood. He's a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association, & before joining Motorsport.com, he worked with National Speed Sport News, Pole Position Magazine, and of course, Speedway Media. You can also hear him on "That Dang 'Ol Racing Show" every Monday night. Nick was born & raised in Syracuse, NY before recently moving to Miami. His entire life revolves around racing and it should, because it's in his blood. His father is a former tire changer/mechanic at the Sprint Cup level and his older brother spent a short tenure with RCR. Another interesting fact about Nick is that although he was raised in Yankee territory, his cousin is the former catcher/captain and current special assistant to the general manager of the Boston Red Sox....Jason Varitek.


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Displaying 3 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. jj says:

    Rave on Brian, sound just like a politician. I love it when out-of-balance people can’t stand Hendrick Motorsports. Sour grapes for winning over half the championships since Jeff Gordon came in. I’ll call him wonderboy just for your benefit.

  2. Brian says:

    Now if only NASCAR would penalitze themselves for action detrimential to stock car racing we would be all set. How many times have they themselves manipulated the outcome of a race over a scrape of the wall, barely a spin, or a spin out of the way and the car gets going again on short order. Notice the glaring omission of the phantom debris cautions as well. Oops just put it on the list.
    Case in point, 24 car is 2 laps down. some how reaces forward through all the traffic to pass the leader to gain one lap back all well and good but then shortly after becoming the 1st car one lap down gets a needed caution for debris. Really, and people wonder why people think NASCAR is in Hendrick’s back pocket all the time. Logano did not get the same treatment from NASCAR when he was down a lap.
    Who truly is manipulating the results?

  3. jj says:

    Jeff Gordon won’t have to do anything to Bowyer. I think the creep Bowyer will run so bad, he might as well stay in the garage.

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