12 September 2013
Reverberations from MWR penalties continue to rock NASCAR
Aftershocks following NASCAR's decision to penalise Michael Waltrip Racing for attempting to manipulate the outcome of last weekend's race in their favour continue to reverberate through the sport.
If NASCAR was hoping that its swift, decisive and heavily punitive response to the allegations that Michael Waltrip Racing had manipulated the outcome of last weekend's Chase decider at Richmond International Raceway had put the matter to rest, then the events of the last 48 hours won't have made comfortable reading.
MWR was given a record fine, and all three of their NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars handed 50-point penalties and the crew chiefs put on probation, with the team's general manager Ty Norris suspended from competition indefinitely. The penalties came after the sanctioning body determined that under the final caution of the night the team had called two of their cars onto pit road unnecessarily, simply to ensure that the third remaining car, that of Martin Truex Jr., finished in a Chase position at the end. As a result of the points penalties, Truex lost his Chase spot which went instead to Ryan Newman.
But while NASCAR's clear action on the allegations of race manipulations were broadly welcomed by fans, the way that the penalties left Clint Bowyer - the MWR driver who caused the original caution with a curious spin seven laps from the finish - unaffected going into his own Chase campaign, while also leaving Jeff Gordon out of the Chase despite having been one of those affected by MWR's actions has led to ongoing simmering resent.
NASCAR said that it had not been able to prove a case against Bowyer for causing a deliberate spin, and that it could not legislate for all the 'ripple effects' of MWR's subsequent pitstops, which helped Penske Racing's Joey Logano into the Chase ahead of Gordon. However, now the flood doors have been opened, it was perhaps only a matter of time before reporters uncovered further evidence of other possible attempts at race manipulation at Richmond.
Radio transcripts from Front Row Racing reviewed by The Associated Press show that David Gilliland was instructed to allow Logano past in the final laps. When Gilliland asks where the request came from, a voice - believed to be that of his crew chief Frank Kerr - replies: "We've got the big dog and all his cronies," adding: "Travis knows what I've been asking for," in an apparent reference to Penske Racing competition director Travis Geisler.
Gilliland did indeed let Logano past at the restart and his lap times dropped off by a second after the exchange as the Penske car went on to finish in 22nd to clinch a Chase spot after which the transcript of the radio comms adds: "Good job, good job, man," and further remarking: "Hopefully we'll get something out of that."
NASCAR issued a statement on Wednesday noting that it was "aware of reports about the #22 and #38 radio communications at Richmond International Raceway and is looking into it, but has yet to see anything in full context that requires any action."
Logano and Gilliland are not the only ones feeling the heat, as even Jimmie Johnson has been sucked into the continuing controversy after Bowyer compared his own controversial spin near the end of the race with an earlier one by the #48 that also helped Johnson's Hendrick Motorsport team mate Jeff Gordon.
"Clint brought it up from what I've been able to see and read," said Johnson on Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, part way through a week of media activities for the dozen drivers who made the 2013 Chase. "I think he was just having a bad day. And as things kept piling on, he just tried to suck someone else into the mix with him.
Michael Waltrip Racing
Martin Truex Jr.
Front Row Racing
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