The Crossroads NASCAR Faces
NASCAR’s regular season came to a close Saturday night at Richmond International Speedway, but fans don’t seem too satisfied with the way things ended. Late race cautions and pit stops mixed up orders and saw many familiar faces now looking from the outside in at the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Fans took to social media in droves following a late caution caused by a spin out by the #15 car driven by Clint Bowyer, they were outraged, and they may have good reason to be.
Ryan Newman and his #39 battled to first place with 7 laps to go in a must win situation to be included in the Chase, all while Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano continued to struggle through the field to get and keep themselves in the Chase. This is when things got strange. Clint Bowyer was told by spotter Brett Griffin that Newman and the #39 were in first and were gonna win this race, inevitably knocking out Bowyer’s Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. Bowyer’s crew chief Brian Pattie then took to the radio saying to Bowyer, “Is your arm starting to hurt,” “I bet it’s getting hot in there. Itch it.” Shortly thereafter Bowyer had a well-placed spin out which brought the caution out. During this caution cars pitted, Ryan Newman lost first and eventually did not make the Chase, losing the tiebreaker with, you guessed it, Martin Truex Jr. “He just spun right out,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said afterward of Bowyer. “That’s the craziest thing I ever saw. …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.”
Dale Jr. has been around racing his whole life, this isn’t his first big rodeo. He seemed shocked about what just occurred in front of him and appeared to not want to “dime out” Clint Bowyer. Clint Bowyer’s interview didn’t make matters any better. The usually jovial and sarcastic Bowyer was quite calm and and appeared to be the cat that ate the canary, denying any intentional spin out and suggested a flat tire may have caused the mishap. No evidence suggests this notion, and NASCAR made no official comments on the issue, leaving every analyst, whether in the box or on the couch, to come to their own conclusions. Rusty Wallace and Ray Everham came out of the box swinging, making their feelings known immediately with point blank answers. I appreciate and value their opinions and they didn’t dance around the issue at all, which I find to be rare for most analysts. As more information developed throughout the night on Twitter, more questions came to light about MWR, and why Brian Vickers was driving like my mother-in-law on the last lap. Was their team ordered to make moves to help Martin Truex Jr. get in the Chase for the Sprint Cup? The biggest question in my mind is, where do we go from here?
Cheating is certainly not a new idea to NASCAR. Since its inception teams continue to fight for the edge, seeking any gray area in the rule book to get an advantage over the other competitors. Some would say a crew chief isn’t worth his weight in salt if he wasn’t doing this. Crew Chiefs and engineers routinely test and push the envelope to get ahead. I would dare to say that this has what has advanced the sport and pushed the innovation level as far as it has. But this all happens behind the scenes and in the garage where everyone has a level playing field, where everyone can experiment if they choose to. This isn’t ripping first place from a seasoned veteran with seven laps to go in what was the hail mary of his season, albeit maybe his career.
I grew up loving sports and think there is nothing better than working with a team player. It was nice when we would let the little kid win when shooting hoops, but this isn’t shooting hoops in the mini park. People win because they deserve to win, not because the team created a win and changed the course of the game. NASCAR now faces a crossroads and has stated they are now investigating the end of the race. NASCAR continuously faces declining attendance, declining ratings, and has been fighting for its life for years. The governing body has done a great job to promote NASCAR and has taken many positive steps to elevate its game. Now the fans have spoken, and they’re angry, they want to watch a sport that cannot be changed by a team at the end of the game. This is not about cheating, it’s about the integrity of the sport. It is about being able to tamper with an entire season and losing the faith of the people whose backs you built this sport on.
What will NASCAR do if they can even prove that anything was done intentionally? What future steps will they take to ensure this does not happen again and give the fans a sense of security that this isn’t a fixed sport and has not become professional wrestling? The worst part about this is some are elated that Bowyer is such a team player, and other MWR supporters are in such denial they are making fans feel like they are ignorant and just unintelligent spectators with no knowledge of the sport they love so much. Some classified this last night like it was a conspiracy of Kennedy proportions. The more radio transmissions I hear, the less of a conspiracy theorist I become. The more quotes from MWR crew members on pit road I read, the more disappointed I become. As much as so many wanted this to go away, it’s just getting worse. It’s time for NASCAR to put an end to this conspiracy and validate the feelings of its fans. Michael Waltrip needs to take reign of this situation he has created before his career as an owner spirals out of control faster than Bowyer’s car.
Article submitted by Mike Sanford – twitter: @msanford146