By Matt Weaver – After a detailed review of Saturday night’s Sprint Cup event at Richmond, NASCAR could not find conclusive evidence that Clint Bowyer and the No. 15 team intentionally spun out in order to change the outcome of the race. They were able to find enough to penalize Michael Waltrip Racing as a whole for the actions of the No. 55 team in bringing Brian Vickers down pit road before the final restart.
The sanctions delivered by NASCAR are sizable and precedence setting but not massive enough given all the indisputable evidence.
Ultimately, team general manager Ty Norris became the fall guy (suspended indefinitely) and NASCAR has set a price tag on altering race results and the season championship. And in my estimation, it was too cheap a price tag.
The 50 points and $300,000 is largely equal to what Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 team was given in April for a too-light engine following their Kansas victory. (The penalty was later reduced on an appeal) But one could argued that NASCAR sees what happened on Saturday as the rough equivalent to a faulty part — and it just isn’t.
NASCAR should be commended for being proactive and trying to stay ahead of the issue. But if Monday’s penalty was intended to curb future occurrences of foul play leading up to the Chase, it was not nearly strong enough.
The 50 points deducted from all three MWR cars were assessed before the Chase, which explains how Martin Truex Jr. was booted from the playoff in favor of Newman but it does not negatively affect the team for the remainder of the season.
Bowyer remains locked into a Chase spot and will be within 15 points of Matt Kenseth entering this weekend. There were no additional repecussions against the No. 15, because as NASCAR executive Mike Helton explained, there wasn’t conclusive enough evidence of an intentional spin.
The court of public opinion and that in the garage is starkly different.
NASCAR has now established a precedent that the penalty for contriving a finish is 50 points, $300,000 and the suspension of an executive. When asked, Helton simply explained this would be enough deter him from making those decisions in the future. But is it really that heavy of a penalty?
If I have a car that is at least 51 points ahead of 10th place, $300,000 is a small price to pay to do whatever it takes to help a teammate battle his way into the Chase, especially given the millions of dollars at stake.
Essentially nothing has change for MWR given where they are were standing with eight laps to go in Richmond on Saturday night. They still have just one car in the Chase and they paid $300,000 for the opportunity to gamble on a chaotic scenario that could have (and briefly did) send their second car into the playoffs.
If the gamble had worked it could be seen as a price worth paying and a chance to try it again in the future.
While the wrong done to Newman was righted, it also does nothing for Jeff Gordon who was the other victim on Saturday given what the No. 55 was found guilty of doing. If the No. 15 spin eliminated the No. 39 out of position to win, it was both Vickers’ and Bowyer’s slow pace for the remainder of the race that negated all the work Gordon had done up to that point to earn his spot in the Chase.
NASCAR’s intent was never to right a wrong but it did put a glaring omission worth noting as Newman is back in the chase but Gordon remains on the outside.
The Sanctioning Body had to do something to send a message that this would no longer be tolerated but that goal was not accomplished. A team could still risk what Michael Waltrip Racing did as long as they have the cache to pay for it and what good does that do in the long term?