Dustin takes a look at the latest controversy surrounding NASCAR, Michael Waltrip Racing and drivers Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.
It’s no secret that I’m a NASCAR fan, growing up with my family watching the races every weekend all but ensured I’d at least have a passing interest in the sport.
My dad is the serious fan in the family having watched NASCAR from its’ humble beginnings on TV with his own dad and seeing it become one of the biggest sports in the country. Ever since I’ve started watching and learning more and more about the sport, I always liked to try and tease him by telling him it could all be fixed, something he does to me endlessly with the NBA (but hey, the Heat have won the last 2 NBA Titles with countless questionable calls along the way so there may be some things to delve into on that one).
Unfortunately last Saturday, the thought that it could all be fixed with ease went from a funny joke to a shockingly reality that’s shaken the sport at a time they should be getting ready for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, or, the NASCAR equivalent of the playoffs.
Here’s the scene in case you missed it:
After the first 26 races, the top 12 drivers in the points standings spend the next 10 races competing to win the championship. The top 10 is determined by points with the last two spots acting as wild cards for drivers with the most consistency and wins just outside the top 12.
Last Saturday, the cutoff point, with seven laps remaining, Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer, who is in the Chase, spun out which brought out a caution and also erased the lead that Stewart-Haas Racing driver Ryan Newman, in contention for a wild card spot, and erased the almost certainty that Newman would win and clinch a spot in the Chase.
What this video doesn’t show (and I apologize but it’s hard to find a quality enough video as most of them have been removed) is before the spin, Bowyer’s crew chief is heard telling him to “itch it” and using other similar words that seem to be code for “Hey Clint, spin out. Your Chase spot is secure but your less successful teammate needs you to cheat the system and hope that no one notices one of the premiere drivers in the sport somehow just Mr. Magoo’d himself into spinning out without A) contact or B) a flat tire.”
That’s Stewart-Haas Racing owner/driver Tony Stewart (who’s sidelined with a broken foot) looking on in what can only be described as skepticism.
Following that spin, Bowyer’s teammate Martin Truex Jr was able to gain a few spots, maintaining his points lead over Newman.
It didn’t stop there though; with three laps left another of Truex Jr’s teammates made a questionable decision that helped cement his Chase spot when Brian Vickers pitted randomly, moving Truex Jr up a few positions to maintain his advantage over Newman, who ended up losing the race to Carl Edwards.
Ever since then, fans, analysts and other drivers have been up in arms about the tactics used by MWR and on Monday NASCAR responded with some heavy penalties that bring huge changes to the Chase.
Bowyer and Truex Jr were docked 50 points each, dropping Bowyer from 3 to 8 in the standings and removing Truex from the Chase entirely, with Ryan Newman taking the 12 spot that would’ve likely been his initially. Brian Vickers’ spotter Ty Norris has been suspended indefinitely and MWR has been fined $300,000.
The moves are harsh but it seems like someone is getting off a little easy in all of this.
Clint Bowyer maintains that the spin was unintentional and that he just lost control. It’s also been reported that Bowyer called Newman and apologized after the race. If Bowyer was trying to maintain his innocence, likely the worst possible thing you could do is call Ryan Newman and apologize for spinning, that’s like Dwayne Wade flopping, getting the call and then going and apologizing to Tim Duncan.
Clint Bowyer is still in the Chase. Clint Bowyer could still win the Sprint Cup. If the 2013 Championship goes to Clint Bowyer, expect NASCAR to have a massive controversy on their hands as they try to justify the sports’ champion being involved in a scandal regarding fixing the field for the biggest stretch of races the sport has.
For Bowyer though the hardest part is going to be regaining the trust of the fans. When I asked my dad what he thought of this whole situation he didn’t really mince words about it.
“It’s awful, they all should have been suspended for it and Bowyer doesn’t deserve to be in the Chase.”
And when I asked what if he won it all this year?
“I’ll stop watching.”
NASCAR and Bowyer still have a lot to do if Bowyer is ever going to lift a Sprint Cup.