|Bowyer: Puppet on a string|
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver spun his 5 Hour Energy Toyota with 10 laps to go Saturday, dramatically altering both the outcome of the race and the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. His spin – along with some pit road gerrymandering by MWR teammate Brian Vickers -- ruined a tremendous comeback by former series champion Jeff Gordon, who had battled back valiantly from a loose wheel, only to miss the Chase by a single point. Ryan Newman lost an apparent race victory Saturday, and made the Chase only after NASCAR penalized MWR’s Martin Truex, Jr. and inserted Newman into the playoffs, two days after the fact.
The sanctions handed down by NASCAR Monday were the stiffest in the history of the sport, and included a $300,000 fine for Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex – ironically the only MWR driver to have committed no wrongdoing Saturday – was assessed the heaviest penalty; a 50-point sanction that dropped him to 17th in the championship standings and caused him to forfeit the second Wild Card berth for the Chase.
Bowyer received a token, 50-point pre-Chase penalty that has absolutely no impact on his 2013 championship hopes.
Vickers was also docked 50 points, a meaningless sanction for a driver not competing for the Sprint Cup Series title.
|Michael Waltrip has some issues...|
“I’ve got poison oak,” insists Bowyer, dropping “the check’s in the mail” to Number Two on the list of statements virtually nobody believes.
In an odd sort of way, I feel badly for Bowyer. He doesn’t call the shots at MWR, he simply follows orders. Saturday night – as is so often the case – Bowyer and his fellow foot soldiers took the bullets, while the generals watched it happen from on-high. Bowyer, Vickers and Truex were nothing more than nomex-clad puppets, dancing awkwardly on strings pulled by others.
Team owner Michael Waltrip laid blame at the feet of Vice President/General Manager Ty Norris this week, saying Norris – who doubles as Vickers’ spotter on race day -- was guilty of making “a split-second decision” that turned out badly, before adding, “We regret the decision and its impact.”
There was no real admission of wrongdoing, no apology for tossing sportsmanship and fair play out the window, no concern about trashing the integrity of the sport and no evidence of conscience after robbing Gordon (and ultimately Truex) of a chance to acquit themselves fairly on the field on battle.
It will be interesting to see how Bowyer and Waltrip are received this weekend, both in the grandstands and in the garage. Short of a complete and total “man up,” complete with admissions of guilt and sincere, specific apologies, their reception may be decidedly rocky.
Both Bowyer and Waltrip have enjoyed great popularity with NASCAR fans over the years, but now find themselves portrayed – fairly or not – as bad actors. Waltrip, one of the most sponsor-friendly owners in the history of the sport, now finds himself scrambling to placate angry executives from at least two backers; NAPA Auto Parts and 5 Hour Energy.
MWR could lose a lot of fans over this. They could lose a pair of sponsors over this.
Even worse, they could lose their team.