NASCAR handed down one of the most severe penalties in its history to Michael Waltrip Racing, but many are wondering if enough justice was served to the team, particularly with driver Clint Bowyer.
After thoroughly reviewing the closing laps of last Saturday night's event at Richmond International Raceway, NASCAR officials determined on Monday that MWR "attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race." MWR received a $300,000 fine, which is the largest in NASCAR history. Bowyer as well as his teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers were each penalized with a loss of 50 points. The sanctioning body also placed Ty Norris, who is the vice president/general manager of MWR and the spotter for Vickers, on indefinite suspension.
The point penalties for all three MWR drivers were assessed following the Richmond race and not after the seeding for the Chase. Truex's points loss bumped him out of the playoffs as a wild card, as he finished the regular season 17th in the standings. Ryan Newman is now in the Chase after taking over the final wild card spot.
Bowyer created this whole ruckus when he spun out with seven laps remaining in the race. Newman, who held the lead at the time of the incident, was attempting to win his second race of the season, which would have given him a Chase berth. Newman ended up finishing third after he lost the lead during the caution due to a slow pit stop.
Bowyer's spin created a whirlwind of speculation that he did it on purpose to help Truex get into the Chase. It prompted NASCAR to investigate the matter.
During a press conference to announce the penalties, NASCAR president Mike Helton said there was no conclusive evidence that Bowyer's spin was intentional. But Helton noted the radio communications between Norris and Vickers just prior to the final restart with three laps to go was "the most clear piece of evidence" that led NASCAR to make its conclusion and therefore penalize MWR. Norris told Vickers to pit right before the last restart so he would purposely give up his running position. It helped Truex get a seventh- place finish, which was good enough for him to clinch a spot in the Chase.
"We penalize to ask for it to not happen again," Helton said. "It's not necessarily a penalty to take it out on somebody, as it's been presented in the past. It's a message from the league or the sanctioning body saying you can't do this and expect us not to react to it."
While NASCAR seems to believe Bowyer did not spin intentionally, many have a different opinion of what happened. And some think that NASCAR should have taken further action against Bowyer.
Having clinched his spot in the Chase at Bristol, which was two weeks prior to Richmond, Bowyer's 50-point loss had no effect on his adjusted point total for the playoffs, which is 2,000. He did not win a race during the regular season and therefore wasn't awarded any bonus points.
"No rearview mirrors in life, just windshield ahead. It's been a great year and is going to be a great chase. Time to move on!!!" Bowyer posted on his Twitter account Monday night.
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon finished eighth at Richmond but failed to make it into the Chase by only one point. Joey Logano's 22nd-place run there was good enough for him to earn the final top-10 points spot for the playoffs.
Gordon wondered why Truex, who had no involvement in the shenanigans at Richmond, was taken out of the Chase and Bowyer remained in it with the same points total (2,000) he had before the penalties were issued.
"Feel bad for Truex. He got in under controversy now out due to it. But the guy who started all of this not effected at all??? Don't agree!" Gordon tweeted.
Facing a credibility issue over the Richmond incident, NASCAR had to give MWR a harsh punishment for its actions, but did the penalties make a strong enough statement since Bowyer suffered no real consequences from it?
"As far as the credibility of the sport, NASCAR has always taken very serious its responsibility to maintain for the most part its credibility," Helton said. "And I say maintain for the most part, because we get the fact that that's subjective to fans and others in the industry. But that's why we're sitting here to explain why we made the decisions we made, in hopes to explain why we did that and to offer up some reasonableness to our credibility.
"I think the biggest thing is to remember it's a sport, and it's got a lot of fun attached to it. Every now and then, it gets out of bounds, and we have to bring it back in order to maintain credibility."
The controversy surrounding Bowyer will be with him throughout the 10-race Chase, which begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. He finished a career-best second in points last year.