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Martin Truex has some good friends in low places

Updated on September 8, 2013
Martin Truex Jr. joined Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, and Matt Kenseth as Toyota drivers in the Chase
Martin Truex Jr. joined Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, and Matt Kenseth as Toyota drivers in the Chase
Edwards win was overshadowed by other events at the end of Saturday night's Richmond race
Edwards win was overshadowed by other events at the end of Saturday night's Richmond race

If nothing else, Saturday night's race in Richmond proved what observers have known for a long time; NASCAR is a team sport. Only one person climbs behind the wheel and that person gets much of the glory when things go well. But like a quarterback thanking his offensive line, the race-winning driver usually thanks his pit crew and team for providing him with a fast car and fast stops. The last ten laps at Richmond showed another aspect of NASCAR's teamwork. Was Bowyer's spin intentional? Did Vickers slam on the brakes that last lap? We'll never know. But even if both were on purpose, so what?

Here's how the story laid out. Clint Bowyer's spin with a handful of laps to go put the field under caution and sent all of the lead lap cars into the pits. Newman, who'd led the race at the time of the caution, fell back several spots thanks to a poor performance by his pit crew. The race to the finish was exciting- with Brian Vickers (a Michael Waltrip Racing driver, like Martin Truex Jr. and Bowyer) an exception as he ran his final lap nearly 40 miles per hour off the pace. Meanwhile, Bowyer pulled into pit road at the very end, falling further down the final standings. With Newman not winning and Joey Logano getting back on the lead lap, the wild card standings shifted once again. Gordon fell out of the top ten and Logano got in. That freed up a second wild card slot which (not coincidentally) went to Bowyer and Vickers' teammate, Truex Jr.

Suspicion immediately landed on Bowyer for the spin. The in-car communications between Bowyer and his crew chief Brian Pattie were suspicious at best. Pattie informs Bowyer that Newman is pulling away in the lead and immediately thereafter asks about Bowyer's arm. With the radio communications being available to anyone with a receiver, teams clearly have codes for some of what they say. They won't radio, “Crash the car, Truex needs the help.” Clearly, anything along those lines risks NASCAR's wrath for actions detrimental to stock car racing- and a severe point penalty. Instead, teams in that position would have a code for that kind of scenario. They'd be incredibly stupid not to.

Watch Bowyer's in-car communications before spin

A dejected Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman consider their last 10 weeks together
A dejected Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman consider their last 10 weeks together

So let's be honest with ourselves and admit that Bowyer and Vickers did what was necessary to give their teammate a chance to make NASCAR's playoffs. Having admitted that, let's also admit something else; there is nothing wrong with what either driver did.

The very presence of multi-car teams in auto racing makes incidents like these bound to happen. Two years ago, Paul Menard spun out at Richmond under similarly suspicious circumstances. The spin ended Jeff Gordon's run at the front of the race and gave Menard teammate Kevin Harvick the chance to ultimately win the race. Look at the restrictor-plate races prior to the Gen 6 car; teammates pushed each other around all day long knowing that only one car could win the race. Despite being mired in a long winless streak, Dale Earnhardt Jr. willingly pushed Jimmie Johnson to a victory in the Fall 2011 race. In both cases, drivers put their own success to the side for the betterment of the team.

Ryan Newman's post-race interview in Richmond was telling in both what he said and what he did not. Reporters asked if he was upset with Bowyer for the spin. He brushed off the question and essentially laid the blame at the foot of his team for the loss. He specifically called out his pit crew. Inwardly, it's likely Newman wished he had the kind of teammates who'd do for him what Bowyer and Vickers did for Truex. Instead, he had Danica Patrick (who finished four laps down in 30th, and thusly could do nothing to help Newman at the end) and Mark Martin. Martin, it should be noted, finished in ninth place. He made no effort to hold up Truex at the end and it was Truex that Newman was ultimately racing for that final playoff spot.

Bowyer knew what was at stake at Richmond
Bowyer knew what was at stake at Richmond

Those upset with Saturday night's events claim that Bowyer and Vickers took a dive, that they forfeited their own chances to win a race- and that doing so is contrary to the very spirit of racing. Yet is that really the case? Vickers never got into the Top 18 over the course of the race so clearly he wasn't in any position to win. Bowyer might have been at one point, but by the time of his spin he was deep in the field with too few laps and too little car to win the race. Had he finished the race where he was, Bowyer would have clinched the regular-season points lead but to what effect? The Chase-mandated points reset would render that lead irrelevant as soon as the race ended. So neither driver cost themselves the race and neither cost themselves anything in terms of points position.

Moreover, the goal for any Sprint Cup team is to race for a Sprint Cup championship. Doing that requires many different things but the foremost is speed. Fast cars come from having the resources necessary both in research and in materials- and making the Chase means millions in additional dollars for a race team. Martin Truex Jr. making the Chase is good for Michael Waltrip Racing and anything good for MWR is going to be good for Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers. Bowyer will benefit directly this year and Vickers just signed a long term contract for the team so he'll have years to enjoy those extra dollars. If they're willing to do Truex the favor then what's the issue?

Taking a charge is a painful but necessary part of basketball
Taking a charge is a painful but necessary part of basketball

One school of thought is that by rolling over to help Truex, the MWR drivers are pushing NASCAR one step away from being professional wrestling. Yet there's a big difference between teammates helping each other and WWE-style predetermined outcomes. For NASCAR to become the WWE you'd need Brian France to call the drivers in from every team. They'd discuss various ways to heighten drama over the course of the race and agree on an outcome that would maximize fan interest in the product. If NASCAR predetermined the race do you think they would have scheduled 340 laps of mind-numbing racing leading into the last 60? On a smaller scale, why would Bowyer lead laps and compete during those 340 laps? No, he'd pull into the garage with a “vibration” 20 laps in and save everyone the trouble.

What they did is more akin to taking a charge in basketball. A player steps in front of an onrushing opponent and essentially allows himself to be run over, resulting in the foul call that reverses possession. Taking a charge certainly doesn't do any good for the individual player in question- particularly given the size and athleticism of many NBA players. But it's a necessary evil that benefits the team as a whole.

Was Richmond a well-orchestrated plan by these two?
Was Richmond a well-orchestrated plan by these two?
Earnhardt had zero chance to win this race but he did what was right to help his team win
Earnhardt had zero chance to win this race but he did what was right to help his team win

NASCAR fans view their sport through the prism of individual results. They hail their favorites and boo their rivals. The current NASCAR marketing campaign utilizes that very perception with several drivers talking about what having a rival means. But the drivers are merely the tip of the spear in stock car racing. Without question they are important both for performance and for being the public face of a team. But a team member they remain. They are members both of a race team (with its pit crew, chief, and shop employees) and of a race organization (the other race teams back at the shop).

So while it's easy to criticism Bowyer or Vickers for Richmond, that anger is misplaced. At the end of the race, Martin Truex Jr. had some good friends in low places and those friends helped him make the Chase. Newman and Gordon lacked the same kinds of friends and it cost them their own chance to make the playoffs. Helping out the team may not be the most popular thing but when it comes to Michael Waltrip Racing, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Read Waltrip's book on Daytona 2001 and more!

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Now it's your turn!

Should Michael Waltrip Racing be punished for what happened at Richmond?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Nascar is so one sided it is not funny. All this talk about team members helping teamates is wrong, what a load of crap. Everybody forgets when Kyle Busch was driving the #5 car. #24 Gordon was leading the race and #5 Busch was on Gordons outside under caution and Mr. Hendricks himself came across #5 Busch's radio telling him to backoff on the restart going into the turn and not wreck Gordon and let him go and Gordon won the race. We all know Busch would have other wise run his tail off to win but it was team orders. How about when Martin was driving the #5 car and Gustasin came across Martins radio telling him Mr. H wanted him to let #48 lead a lap to get the extra points. Every team out there looks out for they're own team but it Nascar only over looks it when it's done by a certain team. How about when Knause told Johnson if he wins to smash the bak of the car during the victory lap and it was caught on camara. Did Nascar fine the #48 team for being detrimental to Nascar? Nooo !!! I have been following Nascar for over 35 years and I use to love Nascar but people can admit it or not but Nascar is becoming more and more like WWF and it's becoming more of a joke than real racing. I know for a fact how much money that big box home improvement store spent in Nascar and the 5 time champions car and Nascar will look the other way for the Mr. H team than it will for any other team and it has been shown so don't call me a hater or say I don't know what I'm talking about. One of my best friends works for one of the biggest teams in Nascar and sometime I can't believe what I hear. If any of you believe that Nascar could not play favoritism then you are walking around in a fog of stupidity. The only problem with sayurdays race was Nascars big money making team got out smarted. Look at it another way, next year team Hendrick will have 8 cars on the track and I don't care if 4 of them are called Stewart/Haus or not, Mr. H still has control over them. Look what he did for Kayne the one year he needed a place for him to be before he could be placed in the #5 car. MWR did not do anything this year that the other team has been doing for years and getting away with it because of the money that team brings into Nascar. Tell me I don't know what I'm talking about all you want to but I know the facts and not just an opinion. If I were MWR I was appeal Nascars bs ruling.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Nascar has allowed extra points by letting teammates lead a lap, once that was allowed where do you stop helping a teammate? Johnson should have let Jeff lead more laps during the year, why ok during the year but not the last race?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Let's see... Last year at Phoenix, Gordon intentionally crashed Bowyer and caused him to lose massive points in the 2nd to last race of the season. Bowyer was second in the standings to who at that time... Jimmie Johnson. So Gordon helped his teammate maintain the Championship lead with one race to go. Without that crash it's very possible Bowyer wins the Championship last year since he ended up passing Johnson the next race for second place and would have been in all likelihood leading the points. So Gordon cost Bowyer a chance at a championship and now Bowyer gets his revenge (allegedly) on Gordon. Why is there a problem here?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I’d say what MWR did is more like point shaving—and I don’t know many people that look favorable on that.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Really? The two-car tandem is the same thing as intentionally wrecking? If you can't tell the difference between pushing the car in front of you to the win and spinning out, bringing out a caution and directly impacting no less than 4 drivers' seasons, you have serious problems. By the way, if you ever actually watched the finish of one of those "pushing another car to victory" races, you'd know that's a gross mischaracterization if not a flat-out lie. When they take the final turn, all bets are off and no one is pushing anyone else, they're all in it to win it, and in fact it's pretty commonly accepted that 2nd place into the final turn is the best spot to be to try and win the race. Even if we accepted your warped sense of reality, trying to equate 2 teams arbitrarily determining who would come in first and second to purposely crapping out and taking the checkered flag right out of someone's hands who by all accounts would have won that race as well as made the Chase if it stayed green is childish. That's not being a teammate, that's being a prick.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      In my opinion a lot of folks are not putting the blame where it really belongs. There was only one person that could issue those team orders, Mikey Waltrip. Neither Bowyer nor Vickers had much choice except to do what the team owner told them to do. From the video it's plain that Clint wasn't at all happy with what he was told to do. Vickers had no idea why he was held, by the team, for two laps then told to stroke. Then there was the comment from Mikey to Truex about how awesome his two teammates were and Truex replying, I know.

      Just by what I saw and heard it's my own opinion that there were team orders and they were given by Mikey and discussed prior to the race. To place the blame on either driver is unfair at best. Micheal Waltrip holds the blame for the entire incident and should be severely punished by NASCAR. He alone holds the responsibility for tarnishing NASCAR, his teams, the reputations of his drivers, the trust of his sponsors. He has once again proven himself to be a self centered clown.

      I would dearly love to see someone from MWR stand up and say, yes there were team orders and if he had the internal fortitude himself it should come from Mikey himself. With MWR having the problems they've been having hanging on to their sponsors maybe, just maybe, the sponsors will have the final say on punishment.

      Actions detrimental NASCAR, you have to act on this one Mike Helton, to save Some of the character of NASCAR. This was far too blatant and the evidence is there. Just put the repercussions on Mikey, not the drivers, they weren't given much choice.

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      6 years ago

      i hope Jeffey puts Bowyer in the garage first and every chance he gets.

      "Hey, just helping my 3 teammates in the Chase, it's a necessary evil that benefits the team as a whole. "

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      With writers like you and drivers like Bow Wow boy it is no wonder why there is no one in the stands Moron

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am glad to know that you are just another citizen that has decided that life is all about achievement, and honesty and integrity don't really matter when it comes to money.

      It sucks to be you Mike

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      By this logic, a driver whose teammate is in second place could fall back in the field to block the leader and hold him up long enough to let his teammate catch up to him would also be considered a "necessary evil for the benefit of the team". That kind of blatant manipulation of the outcome if the race might be acceptable in F1, but I hope this sort of thing will never become commonplace in NASCAR as it is against the spirit of the sport.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You can't justify this as just normal "helping out a teammate" behavior. Letting them go by or racing their direct competitor hard for position is fine, but spinning out to cause a caution is both unethical and against the rules. Nascar should HAMMER all three MWR teams and make everyone in the garage think really hard about the consequences if they are caught trying to manipulate the race.

      Instead of having two chances to win the championship with Bowyer and Truex, they should have ZERO chance to win. I bet they wouldn't screw around next year.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      why didn't jeff stay out or Junior stay out to stop the wave around? Hendrick got out smarted.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      One more advantage to the multi-car teams. I can just imagine next time when you have the stars of the sport racing to be the first car out of the race to help their teammates make the chase


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