NASCAR Drops the Hammer on MWR


NASCAR announced Monday night that Ryan Newman will replace Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase because of Michael Waltrip Racing’s actions in Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway. (Photo: Getty Images)


Press Conference Audio

CONCORD, N.C. - Although NASCAR could not conclusively determine if Clint Bowyer spun on purpose at Richmond, series officials used several pieces of information - including a damning radio conversation on Brian Vickers’ channel - to penalize Michael Waltrip Racing and change the Chase lineup.

Martin Truex Jr. is out of the Chase.

Ryan Newman is in.

That was the most significant result from several penalties NASCAR levied against Michael Waltrip Racing for manipulating last weekend’s race to try to help Truex make the Chase.

Among the penalties NASCAR issued Monday:

  • Took 50 driver and car owner points from each of Michael Waltrip Racing’s three teams - Bowyer, Truex and Vickers. The points were deducted from the driver’s total after 26 races. The penalty dropped Truex to 17th in the standings and behind Newman, allowing Newman to to take the final Wild Card spot for the Chase. The penalty does not affect Bowyer’s point total after the standings were reset for the Chase.
  • Fined Michael Waltrip Racing $300,000, the largest in the sport’s history.
  • Indefinitely suspended Ty Norris, MWR general manager and spotter for Vickers.
  • Placed the crew chiefs for each of MWR’s three teams on probation until Dec. 31.

“This wasn’t a master plan or about a spin,’’ Michael Waltrip tweeted about an hour after NASCAR announced its penalties. “It’s about a split-second decision made by Ty to try to help a teammate. I stand by my people.’’

Michael Waltrip Racing announced it would not appeal the penalties.

Despite the penalties, Jeff Gordon, who also was impacted by MWR’s actions, was not added to the Chase.

“The way we go about these is we look at the incident and only the incident because we know from experience if you try to look at the ripple effect of an incident you can’t cover all those bases,’’ NASCAR President Mike Helton said, explaining why there was no relief for Gordon.

Gordon suggested on Twitter NASCAR didn’t do enough.

“Take me out of this completely,’’ Gordon tweeted. “At this point all that matters to me is if @NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely!’’

The issues began in the final laps of the Richmond race. Newman led. Had he won, he would have taken the final Wild Card spot from Truex. ESPN captured a curious radio conversation on Bowyer’s channel.

Running outside the top 10, Bowyer was informed that Newman led.

About 30 seconds later, crew chief Brian Pattie asked Bowyer: “Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it’s hot in there. Itch it.’’

Bowyer responded: “Oh yeah.’’

Seconds later, Bowyer spun, bringing out the caution with seven laps to go.

“He just spun right out,’’ said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was racing Bowyer at the time of the incident. “That’s the craziest thing I ever saw.’’

Bowyer denied afterward that he spun intentionally.

“There’s not conclusive evidence that (Bowyer’s) spin was intentional,’’ Helton said.

Bowyer then pitted and lost two laps, allowing Joey Logano to pass him for position. Truex needed Logano to clinch a top-10 spot so Truex could get the Wild Card.

Then came the radio conversation between Vickers and his team, which was first reported by The Associated Press.

‘“We’re probably going to pit here on green,’’ Norris told Vickers.

“Are you talking to me?’ Vickers said. “I don’t understand. Pit right now?’’

“You’ve got to pit this time,’’ Norris said. “We need that one point.’’

Vickers pitted as the field went green for the final restart. The move allowed Logano to pass Vickers for position. The two points Logano gained by moving past Bowyer and Vickers clinched a top-10 Chase spot. Logano finished one point ahead of Gordon for the final automatic transfer spot in the Chase.

“(Of) the preponderance of things that happened by Michael Waltrip Racing on Saturday night, the most clear was the direction that (Vickers) was given and the confusion around it,’’ Helton said. “And then the conversation following that occurrence is the most clear part ... that led us to make the conclusion.’’

Ty Norris tweeted a statement late Monday night:

"In the final laps I made a call to pit (Vickers) to benefit a teammate. It was a split-second decision made in the middle of a chaotic finish bad on the circumstances. There was no time to think just act. Though it was to benefit MWR, it is now clear it was to the detriment of the sport I love and have called home for the past 24 years. I apologize to all who were affected by that decision in the greatest race for the Chase in its 10 (year) history. I have dedicated my life to this industry and value it's integrity and understand the decision.''

Since the radio conversation on Vickers’ channel proved to be the key evidence, the question was why didn’t NASCAR hear it and react immediately?

“One day there will be a way to scan 43 teams times three or four persons per team and keep up with all that but that’s not today,’’ Helton said. “I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to assume the responsibility without getting to that level of technology that could help us do that to monitor a radio channel.

“We rely on what we see happen. We use every camera that the broadcaster has at the racetrack in our own system to go back and pull up multiple scenes or views that the TV audience may never see to help us make decisions.’’

With that and more, Helton said that series officials didn’t think anything was wrong after the race. He said it wasn’t until “deep into the night (and) early into the next morning before we began to sense that there was something more than what we saw on the racetrack.’’

Helton said conversations continued Sunday morning and an investigation began. NASCAR officials met with Michael Waltrip Racing officials, including Waltrip and Norris on Monday afternoon.

“Conversations about it were deep,’’ Helton said. “We feel like we researched it extremely well, talked at great length with the folks from Michael Waltrip Racing to try to get to the right spot and make the correct decision, and that's what we feel like we have done.’’

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