By Kelly Crandall – In a time when NASCAR starts the most important part of their season, ten weeks toward crowning the newest champions across their three national series, they showed they weren’t afraid to change the picture and storyline in one of those series.
Heavy penalties were handed down late Monday night to Michael Waltrip Racing, 48 hours after the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup field was set in which MWR seemed to have locked two of their three cars in. But immediately following the checkered flag and before the champagne had been sprayed on the Chase field stage, rumblings began that something was amiss about who was in the Chase and who had been wrongly left out.
Clint Bowyer’s lazy spin off turn four with seven laps to go changed everything. Not just who was leading, not just who would go on to win, but the entire finishing order which played a role in then determining the Chase field. Bowyer’s spin and teammate Brian Vickers pit stop and subsequent snail like lap around Richmond put Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase, at the expense of Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon.
While social media set ablaze the last two days, NASCAR quietly reviewed the evidence. Going back over video and audiotapes while MWR officials even joined them. As the discussion on the outside became more heated, as the sport became a trending topic and headline around the news world, NASCAR officials made the best and right decision. It became breaking news on FoxSports1 and ESPN, which had just gone green on a double header of Monday Night Football.
The result and statement from it were heard loud and clear. Truex has been taken out of the Chase, Newman is now in while MWR is $300,000 poorer, all three cars 50 driver / owner points lighter and Ty Norris can go on vacation for an indefinite amount of time. It’s a no-win situation for many because even as Newman now gets to compete for his first championship, the cheating label and discussion in NASCAR is not what the sport needed.
But for NASCAR officials, it is a win. They still blew the final restart of Saturday’s race by letting Carl Edwards get away with one and take the win. And they blew the one on Friday night in which Brad Keselowski took the win after jumping early as well. Those however, are thoughts long gone.
Right now, NASCAR has persevered the integrity and creditability of the sport. At least for the week because this is a sport and sanctioning body who will never please everyone. Even after the penalties were announced on Monday, some still cried foul, that it wasn’t enough, that it didn’t solve everything.
Except it does enough for right now. The message is clear: no team is bigger or better than NASCAR. And the circumstances, be it competing for a win or for the Chase, aren’t going to keep them from turning a blind eye. They acted quickly and swiftly and the racing world is now well aware that trying to manipulate the outcome of a race, as well as the Chase, is something that they take very seriously.
On the other hand, there are many who now commend NASCAR. It wasn’t an easy decision and it certainly doesn’t make everything right but for the sport it helps with the image that big name teams and money rule. The men who are constantly berated for the decisions they do and sometimes don’t make, are still the law.
This ruling is jaw dropping for many reasons. It’s the biggest monetary fine in NASCAR history and it changes the championship picture. NASCAR had long said that the reason they will never take a win away from a driver is because the fans deserve to know who won the race when they leave the track.
Monday night though, after the pictures had been taken, after the confetti flew and the champagne soaked 12 drivers, NASCAR stood up and fixed a wrong in order for the talk of the sport being fixed to quiet down. Big because of what it does, big because it shows fans, media and drivers alike that NASCAR can and will act when they find the need be.
And when they act, it’ll be big in every sense of the word. And it’ll be big because NASCAR made a big boy decision when many never expected them to.
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