Saturday, November 30, 2013

NASCAR Has No Monopoly On Manipulation

The word “manipulation” got plenty of use in the NASCAR community earlier this season, in the aftermath of a race at Richmond International Raceway where Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers appeared to conspire to help teammate Martin Truex, Jr., qualify for the sport’s post-season Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Bowyer appeared to spin his car deliberately to force a late caution flag – a tactic he has steadfastly denied – while Vickers pitted his apparently undamaged machine with just a handful of laps remaining, handing Truex an additional (and undeserved) position on the race track.

Much was made of those tactics, and rightly so.

Tomlin (R) tiptoes the sideline
Audio soon surfaced of Bowyer’s crew chief, Brian Pattie, telling his driver, “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." NASCAR responded with an unprecedented series of penalties, slapping MWR with a record $300,000 fine and assessing point penalties that cost Truex his place in the Chase. Those sanctions triggered a lengthy debate about ethics, sportsmanship and fair play in NASCAR, with considerable criticism of the sport’s traditional, “if you’re not cheating, you’re not competing” attitude.

Last week, we learned that NASCAR is far from alone when it comes to lapses in sportsmanship.

On Thanksgiving Day, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin incited a storm of controversy when he stepped onto the field during a kickoff return by Baltimore Raven Jacoby Jones, forcing Jones to alter his stride and allowing him to be tackled from behind. Tomlin’s move robbed the Ravens of a potential touchdown, but he was not penalized by game officials.

"I always watch the returns on the JumboTron,” said a smirking Tomlin afterward. “It provides better perspective for me. I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play.”

While Tomlin later admitted he was wrong and accepted responsibility, the play stood as called. NFL officials are still debating whether to fine the Steelers coach for his actions.
Tomlin’s misstep was not the only recent example of a coach checking his sportsmanship at the door in an effort to win.
Kidd's "sweaty palms."
Out of time outs with just 8.3 seconds remaining in a Thanksgiving Eve loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd also stepped to the dark side, intentionally dumping a cup of Coca-Cola on the court to stop the game and give himself an opportunity to diagram a final play for his team.
Video replays appeared to show Kidd saying, "hit me" to Nets guard Tyshawn Taylor, before bumping into Taylor and dropping a nearly full cup of Coke and ice cubes on the court. "Sweaty palms,” claimed a sheepish Kidd, a 10-time NBA All Star with the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and New Jersey Nets. “I was never good with the ball.
"In the heat of the battle, you're trying to get guys in and out of the game,” said Kidd. “The cup fell out of my hand."

Taylor denied intentionally colliding with Kidd, saying, “I wasn't paying attention. I just kind of bumped into him. I didn't even know he was holding (anything).” That explanation falls short of Bowyer’s now-infamous “poison oak” excuse, but on the implausibility scale, it comes awfully close.
After a $50,000 fine assessed by the NBA, Kidd eventually elected to come clean, saying he dumped the drink in an effort to put his team in a position to win. "It's about trying to win (for) those guys in that locker room,” said Kidd via Twitter. “I tried to put those guys in position to get a basket or a good look."
Kidd has not apologized for his actions, saying instead, “The league fined me for something I probably shouldn't have done." That is preferable to NASCAR’s now-standard “I did what I had to do” excuse, which translates roughly to, “I did what I wanted to do.”
Interestingly, last week’s splashdown was not the first instance of Kidd stepping outside the rules to create an opportune stoppage in play. During his playing days with the Mavs, Kidd once made intentional contact with Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson while dribbling up the sideline, before pointing at Woodson and accusing the coach of impeding his progress.

Who does this guy think he is, Mike Tomlin?


  1. Anonymous5:53 PM

    As a steelers fan, I would like to see Tomlin fired over this. We need a whole new staff.

  2. Anonymous2:02 AM

    When it comes to shameless manipulations, no one can top NASCAR themselves.. with their endless fake cautions all coming coincidentally when the race gets boring and they want to see cars bunch up for a restart and wreck. Yeehaw!

  3. Anonymous1:55 AM

    Dave, You needed to write an entire article on NASCAR manipulation. THis practice on only sanctioned at the Richmond race? OK, if thats the race they choose to sanction the so be it. Sanction Mr "6 time" for his 36th average finish for 4 races prior to Richmond. Sanction Mr "6 time" for "wrecking at Richmond and missing pit road and gaining Gordon a lap, not just 1 position. Sanction Penske for the negotiating of a pass for Logano at Richmond. Sanction Edwards for jumping the start. Nah, we'll kick MWR's butt for "the best interest of NASCAR". Although you can't bite the hand that feeds you.. somebody should ask France and Helton tough questions.... or are NASCAR reporters afraid of being sanctioned themselves?

  4. Anonymous1:17 PM

    In my book, there is a difference between manipulation, cheating and being innovative. Teams that explore the outer limits of the rule book looking for an edge are innovative, not cheaters. Teams that break the rules for a competitive edge are cheaters that need to be punished. Manipulation is a conscious effort to disrupt the natural flow of things. Some teams are innovative, some teams cheat but it is the sanctioning body that manipulates and NASCAR is at the forefront in manipulating their sport. The examples you give in your article are people cheating. The spilled drink in basketball, the coach standing on the playing field in football are blatant examples of folks violating the rules to give their team a competitive edge. Same with what went down in Richmond, these teams were cheating. What NASCAR does is manipulation. When you have the sanctioning body also being the referees, you create a conflict of interest. They manipulate the natural flow of the event to create drama that might not otherwise be there. Mystery cautions, Lucky Dogs, Wave -Arounds all contribute to the problem. These are designed to keep cars on the lead lap that do not belong on the lead lap as well as keeping the field bunched up so the fans "get their moneys worth". Double file restarts do the same thing. A team may have established a considerable lead over the 2nd place team but a restart puts that 2nd place guy side by side with the leader without having to do anything performance wise to get there. Stock Car racing is not a scripted play and I wish NASCAR would stop treating it like that and just let the action play out. Trouble is, most NASCAR fans today want to see theater, not sport.

    1. The criticism of double-file restarts is baffling. So the second-place car starts alongside the leader after the leader had built a substantial lead before the yellow - and that is bad?


      Mystery cautions? We keep hearing criticism yet no one makes any credilble case against those particular yellows.

      You are onto something in NASCAR's ethic favoring giving the officiating tower the power it has - that ethic is indeed wrong. Not racing to the yellow is a rule NASCAR can't credibly defend because the safety argument used is a lie; there never was any safety issue with racing to the yellow. Wave-arounds do make sense when a car a lap down doesn't pit.

      As for the innovation argument, having followed the sport for decades I'm at a loss to remember an "innovation" that the sport particularly needed. Racing is about lead changes, not "innovation."

  5. My biggest problem with the Bowyer "spin" is his refusal to admit to it. You sir are a role model, like it or not! What are you teaching the young fans with this denial of an obvious "mistake" on your part? Let's see..the lesson is: We won't talk about it, confuse the issue, and just plain LIE. I have lost any respect for you as I will now put you in the same category as a (gasp!) politician.