Monday night NASCAR penalized Michael Waltrip Racing for manipulating the outcome of this past weekend’s race at Richmond International on Saturday night.
MWP was fined $300,000 and Executive Vice President/General Manager and spotter for the #55 car Ty Norris received an indefinite suspension. MWR teammates Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers were each docked 50 driver points as well as 50 championship owner points. Bowyer’s deduction in points does not affect his position in the Chase, but Truex Jr. will no longer be a Chase contender as the championship chase begins at Chicagoland on Sunday.
“We penalize to not have this happen again,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “It’s a message from the league saying ‘You can’t do this.’”
Ryan Newman was leading with seven laps to go at Richmond on Saturday night; a victory would have secured Newman a berth in the 12 driver Chase line-up. Bowyer spun to bring out a caution, setting in motion a chain of events that in the end led to Newman losing the race, and thus fellow MWR driver Truex Jr. earning the final Chase spot.
Bowyer vehemently denied Saturday night after the race, that he intentionally spun and ultimately Truex Jr. was an unwitting participant.
NASCAR reviewed all communications between Bowyer and his MWR crew that seemed to indicate the spin was deliberate, as well as the supplementary evidence that suggested MWR had Bowyer and Vickers take a dive over the final three laps so Joey Logano would subsequently remove Jeff Gordon out of contention for the Chase as another attempt to help Truex Jr.
Michael Waltrip addressed the situation on Twitter after the penalties were handed down saying, “This wasn’t a master plan or about a spin. It’s about a split-second decision made by Ty to try to help a teammate. I stand by my people.”
MWR can appeal the penalties which included placing the crew chiefs Brian Pattie for Bowyer’s #15, Scott Miller with #55 of Vickers and Chad Johnston with the #56 Truex Jr. on probation through December 31. If MWR chooses to appeal, Norris will be able to work through the appeal process, but the appeal will not change Truex Jr.’s status in the Chase.
What this means is, Ryan Newman, who is in his final 10 races with Stewart-Haas Racing, will get the chance to compete for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Newman won the Brickyard 400 in July.
“Obviously, we’re pleased with NASCAR’s decision to provide Ryan Newman’s rightful place in this year’s Chase,” SHR co-owner Tony Stewart said in a statement. “NASCAR was put in a very difficult position Saturday night at Richmond and we commend the sanctioning body for taking the time to do the necessary due diligence to ensure that the right call was made.”
The audio from Saturday night’s race brought the light the situation as Bowyer’s crew is prodding him to spin his car to prevent Newman from winning.
“Thirty-nine is going to win the race,” Bowyer was told over his in car radio.
“Is your arm starting to hurt?” Pattie asked Bowyer. Pausing Pattie then said, “I bet it’s hot in there. Itch it.” And Bowyer’s car spun to bring out the caution.
NASCAR did not have full access to video footage until much after the race then it was among the videos that were reviewed before the punishment was announced this evening.
Early Sunday morning it became obvious the Bowyer and Vickers aided Truex Jr. by taking a dive over the final three laps.
Gordon was in position to claim the 10th spot in the Chase, leaving Logano to claim the second wild card slot ahead of Truex Jr.
Bowyer and Vickers strike again with three laps remaining both made multiple pit stops that allowed Logano to improve his position and moving ahead of Gordon. With Logano in the tenth position in the chase, Gordon was left in the cold without a victory this season leaving him ineligible for the wild card, and Truex Jr. claiming the last wild card position.
Bowyer's radio communication was not as involved as Vickers’, but he had already pitted twice after his spin, once to change the tire and once for Pattie to double-check for any damage. The #15 team then called him down pit road a third time with no explanation just as the field went green.
A red flag was raised when the AP review team communications for Bowyer and Vickers on Sunday, and Vickers was told by Norris to pit because, “We need that one point.” And therefore resulting in taking a closer listen to the subsequent communications between Norris and Vickers during the race at Richmond.
“We’re probably going to pit here on green,” said Norris to Vickers.
Vickers replies, “Are you talking to me?” Vickers questioned the call asking, “I don’t understand, pit right now?”
“You’ve got to pit this time. We need that one point.” Norris replies.
“10-4. Do I got a tire going down?” Vickers asked.
Vickers then pitted as the field went green. Vickers asked after if his crew found anything with the tire, Norris replied, “I’ll see you after the race, Brian, I owe you a kiss.”
Helton indicated Monday that the conversation between Norris and Vickers, adding Vickers’ confusion over the command he was given, was the smoking gun against MWR.
''Ty Norris confirmed the conversation most everyone has heard with the 55 driver,'' Helton said.
"Based upon our review of Saturday night’s race at Richmond, it is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. "As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects our commitment to that."