|Bowyer's spin raises questions|
The answers may be more disturbing than the questions.
Bowyer’s 5-Hour Energy Toyota spun with seven laps remaining in Saturday night’s race, necessitating a final restart that dramatically altered the outcome of the event, as well as the 12-driver lineup for the championship Chase. Race leader Ryan Newman emerged from pit road fifth after a disastrous final pit stop, losing what appeared to be a certain win and a berth in the Chase. Jeff Gordon lost a Chase-clinching finish in the final laps, as well, and will not compete for a fifth championship in 2013.
NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton said immediately following the race that the sanctioning body saw no evidence of Bowyer’s spin being intentional. After the fact, an avalanche of circumstantial evidence has surfaced indicating that the crash may have been ordered by MWR officials, in an effort to get teammate Truex into the Chase.
|Truex did nothing wrong Saturday|
Moments before Bowyer’s pivotal spin, crew chief Brian Pattie was overheard on the team’s in-car radio telling him, “The 39 (Ryan Newman) is going to win the race. Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it's hot in there. Itch it."
Bowyer has denied any allegation of impropriety, saying, “"I think we had something going wrong. I spun out. I know it's a lot of fun for you (media) guys to write a lot of wacky things, so go ahead if you want to. Get creative. But don't (read) too much into it."
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – who was behind Bowyer at the time of the incident – also questioned the circumstances, saying, “That's the craziest thing I ever saw. He was hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out. I don't know what was going on.”
In-car audio also indicates that MWR’s third driver, Brian Vickers, was ordered to pit under green in the final laps of the race, despite having no apparent mechanical issues. That pit stop, which inexplicably took two full laps to complete, dropped Vickers back in the running order and allowed Truex to claim the final Wild Card position for the Chase.
After the race, Waltrip told Truex, “You've got awesome teammates."
Truex responded simply, "Yes, I know."
|Newman: "We lost it on pit road."|
While circumstantial, a preponderance of the evidence seems to indicate intentional manipulation of Saturday night’s results by MWR, a team that stands to gain millions of dollars in purse, prize money and sponsor revenue by placing both Bowyer and Truex in the 2013 Chase. After viewing that evidence, NASCAR could easily conclude that there was something rotten in Denmark… errr…Virginia on Saturday night.
The tougher question is, what do they do about it?
Clearly, the sanctioning body cannot play “revisionist history,” rewinding the tape to a point prior to Bowyer’s spin and pretending it never happened. They cannot take the win away from Carl Edwards and hand it to Newman, any more than they can boot Truex and Logano out of the Chase in favor of Newman and Gordon.
Doing so would completely disregard what happened during Saturday’s decisive final round of pit stops, and in the last laps of the race itself.
“We had an opportunity to win it on pit road, and we didn't,” admitted Newman afterward. “Carl and those guys beat us on four tires. We should have been able to come on pit road first and come off first. If we're a championship contending team, we need a championship contending pit crew, and we didn't have that tonight.
“We lost it on pit road," said Newman. "We did everything we needed to, with the exception of the pit stop."
In an effort to do something about Saturday’s night’s chicanery, NASCAR must be careful to punish only those guilty of wrongdoing.
There is already a rule in place forbidding drivers from intentionally bringing out the caution flag, either by stopping on the race track or throwing debris onto it. If it can be reasonably determined that Bowyer did so, he can (and should) be sanctioned severely by NASCAR, with enough of a points penalty to render him a non-factor in the 2013 championship chase. Michael Waltrip Racing should also lose owner points and a boatload of cash, making it abundantly clear that shady dealing of this type will never – and should never – be tolerated.
Martin Truex, Jr. did nothing wrong Saturday. Nor did Joey Logano. While they may have benefitted from the malfeasance of others, they are guilty of nothing more than driving their respective race cars to the best of their abilities. There’s no crime in that.
In the aftermath of Saturday night’s bamboozlement, NASCAR now has an opportunity to send a clear message regarding “team orders” and their place in the sport. They must be sure, however, to sanction only those guilty of breaking the rules.