Days of Blunder
If you or someone you know is a fan of NASCAR, you’ll likely hear the phrase conspiracy theory tossed around quite often. And why wouldn’t you; there is barely a week that goes by where NASCAR doesn’t leave at least a small portion of fans feeling like the sport is surrounded by more black helicopters than the average X-Files episode. It’s come to the point where conspiracy theories have become a part of the NASCAR lore, something that is both enticing (who doesn’t love a good conspiracy thriller?) and dangerous. While most people are smart enough to know that the majority of sports conspiracies aren’t true, NASCAR has created a perception that there may be some merit to the paranoia, thanks to the organization’s inconsistent and sometimes incompetent use of its own rulebook. More than any other sport, NASCAR has walked the fine line between the truth and perception; the only questions were when would the line be crossed, and how would NASCAR deal with it? After this past weekend, it appears we have our answer to both questions.
I’m not going to go into full detail about what occurred this past Saturday at Richmond International Raceway; we all know the story about how Michael Waltrip Racing, with driver Clint Bowyer leading the way, conspired to get their driver Martin Truex into NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup, knocking out drivers Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon in the process. What I do want to talk about is yesterday, when NASCAR shockingly delivered the hammer to Waltrip; 50 points docked from each Waltrip driver (Truex, Bowyer and Brian Vickers), a $300,000 fine, the suspension of General Manager Ty Norris, and most importantly, the removal of Truex from the Chase. Without question, it’s the biggest penalty ever handed down to a driver or team in the history of the sport; and yet, I can’t help but think that NASCAR’s ruling didn’t destroy the perception of conspiracies within the sport, but instead reinforced it. If anything, last night’s penalties on MWR wasn’t NASCAR getting it right, but instead just them having their cake and eating it once more.
Now with that said let me be clear; the ruling to put Newman back into the chase is the correct one. The man earned the right, not just this past Saturday, but during the whole second half of the season, where you could make the argument he was one of the five best drivers in the sport. The problem isn’t that he’s in; it’s who was taken out in his place. Through all the evidence we have been presented thus far, from the audio and video from inside Bowyer’s car during his fateful spin to the reported conversations between Norris and Vickers over the radio during the final laps, there is none that indicates that Martin Truex was involved outside of benefiting from the result. Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t see any reason why a man who had nothing to do with the actions of others deserves to be punished. Hell, the same can be said for Vickers as well, as all evidence indicates that he was used by his own team against his knowledge. And yet, both of them are punished severely, while Bowyer, who appears to have been very complicit in this whole scheme, manages to pretty much get off as his 50 point penalty doesn’t affect his positioning in the chase. That’s right, the man who was heavily involved in the biggest controversy NASCAR has ever seen gets off with pretty much no punishment, while his innocent teammate (as far as we know of it’s worth pointing out) gets the brunt of it all. I ask you NASCAR, how on earth is that fair?
In my opinion, the right decision would’ve either been to include Newman and Gordon in the Chase along with Truex and Bowyer (while also taking away Bowyer’s points and putting him at the back of the field), or removing Bowyer for Newman while keeping Truex in. Yes, Bowyer earned his way into the Chase over the course of the whole season, but to include someone into a playoff after his actions this past Saturday is beyond sickening, especially when someone who raced the right way is taken out instead. That’s how one put’s their foot down, but apparently NASCAR doesn’t understand that. Instead, because Bowyer was so high up in points (he was in the top three at the time of his spin) and because NASCAR believes it’s not 100% conclusive that Bowyer spun intentionally (a statement that would’ve been funny if it wasn’t so sad), Bowyer can remain in the Chase and still have a realistic chance of even winning it. How exactly is that putting your foot down? If anything, last night’s penalties were another example of NASCAR being indecisive and scared when they needed to be the opposite.
In the end, I suppose I should just be happy something was done. I’m sure that’s how NASCAR feels, and by Friday this will be a thing of the past for them as they move onto the excitement of the Chase. For some fans, it will be the same way too, and by next week there will be a new conspiracy theory for everyone to jump all over. That’s fine, but I’m not ready to let go of this yet. I can’t imagine how the rest of the drivers feel about this, or how Jeff Gordon feels after being screwed out of a chance for a 5th championship. I’ll be wanting to know how Clint Bowyer, a guy who I never thought would be a part of something like this, can look in the mirror right now after this last Saturday. The same goes for Ty Norris and the rest of the Waltrip higher ups. I’ll feel bad for Joey Logano, Brian Vickers, and Martin Truex, who were either used or ultimately greatly affected by actions not of their own. And most of all, I’ll be shaking my head again at the France Family, Mike Helton, and the rest of the NASCAR brass, who when weighing the truth against a perception of falsehoods, once again chose perception. Only they could try to make a statement and only muster a sentence.
Yesterday was a massive turning point in the history of NASCAR. Forgive me if I don’t believe it was a positive one.