Opinion: The Ultimate Penalty
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on September 19, 2013 | 5:25 P.M. EST
Clint Bowyer's spin at Richmond International Raceway triggered a series of events that's led to Michael Waltrip Racing losing NAPA as a sponsor. (Photo: Getty Images)
The decision by NAPA to sever its partnership with Michael Waltrip Racing is significant for at least a couple reasons.
First, as one of the last full-season sponsors in NASCAR, the loss of an estimated $18 million in funding could literally be a crippling blow the organization may not be able to recover from.
But maybe more importantly, NAPA made the boldest statement of anyone involved in this Richmond manipulation scandal. The company’s message was clear: integrity and morals do matter even in the often-muddy waters of big-time stock car racing, and NAPA was not going to stand for being associated with it.
NAPA has been through a lot with MWR during the course of its relationship with the team, including the infamous jet fuel incident at Daytona in 2007 and Waltrip failing to qualify for more than a dozen Sprint Cup races in its first year of operation.
But what transpired in Richmond went beyond a team trying to find an edge with an illegal fuel substance or struggling to be competitive on a regular basis. Pure and simple, MWR cheated up the rules and the spirit of competition so far that the very legitimacy of the entire sport was thrown into question.
The ill-fated, clumsy orchestration that went down in the last race of the regular season tossed NASCAR into the same discussion as the 1919 Black Sox, a prize fighter taking a dive, professional wrestling and even baseball’s problems with performance enhancing drugs. The story went far beyond "MWR is a bunch of cheaters" to "Why would anyone watch a rigged sport like NASCAR racing?"
I still contend that NASCAR has to bear some culpability in what’s taken place over the last two weeks. Despite 99.999 percent of the population clearly able to declare that Clint Bower spun on purpose to bring out the late-race Richmond caution, the sanctioning body refused to make that call. Instead, it chose to single out radio communication between Ty Norris and Brian Vickers as the offense to penalize.
All that did was open up about six cans of worms that - before it was over - implicated Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports in making a deal, tainted the playoffs by changing the Chase to include 13 drivers and forcing NASCAR to make the embarrassing mandate for drivers to give 100 percent at their job.
Through it all, until Waltrip finally sent out a statement late Thursday morning, there was not a hint of an apology from anyone connected to the race team. The disingenuous reaction even went as far as Vickers telling USA Today that if given the choice, he’d do it all over again.
Sorry would have gone a long way in circumventing some of this debacle.
But sorry is the best word to sum up the entire situation.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.