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NASCAR hammers Waltrip team for cheating

by Pete McCole
Tuesday, September 10, 2013

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Bowyer's fake spin to help his teammate could not be verified by NASCAR
Getty Images for NASCAR
NASCAR lowered the boom on Michael Waltrip Racing Monday night, booting MWR driver Martin Truex, Jr. from the Chase for the Sprint Cup field and replacing him with Ryan Newman as a result of penalties handed down to the team for deliberately manipulating the outcome of Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond Int’l Raceway.

In the harshest penalty ever handed out by the sanctioning body, NASCAR announced they have fined the team a record $300,000 and penalized the MWR teams of Truex, Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers 50 drivers & owner points, which effectively eliminates Truex from the Chase field and allows Newman – who was one of the victims of MWR’s scheme – to make it into the Chase.

“Based upon our review of Saturday night’s race at Richmond, it is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. "As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects our commitment to that.”

NASCAR also suspended Ty Norris - MWR’s Executive Vice President and General Manager – indefinitely, while crew chiefs Brian Pattie (no. 15 car - Bowyer), Scott Miller (no. 55 car - Vickers) and Chad Johnson (no. 56 car - Truex) were placed on probation until Dec. 31.

The penalties handed out only effect the points following the race and have no bearing on Bowyer’s standing in the Chase, where he is seeded eighth for the first race at Chicagoland Speedway this Sunday.

Questions were raised about the outcome of Saturday night’s race as soon as the checkered flag waved, as a late-race caution brought out for a spin by MWR driver Clint Bowyer changed the entire complexion of the final laps.

The ensuing caution brought the field to pit road with seven laps remaining. Newman, who was leading at the time of the caution and would have clinched the final wild-card spot in the Chase with a victory, stopped for four tires and ended up coming out fifth for the restart with three laps to go.

Newman rallied to finish third behind race winner Carl Edwards and second-place Kurt Busch, but wound up tied with Truex for the wild-card spot, which went to Truex on a tie-breaker.

Audio recordings and on-board camera replays seen during ESPN’s broadcast of the race seemed to indicate Bowyer spun on purposed to bring out the caution, with Bowyer’s crew chief Brian Pattie telling Bowyer that Newman was on the verge of winning the race moments before Bowyer spun.

Following Bowyer’s spin, Norris – acting as Vickers spotter – ordered Vickers to pit road to make a green flag stop, which allowed Joey Logano to move up in the field and clinch the 10th spot in the Chase, knocking Jeff Gordon out of the Chase field and helping Truex lock up the remaining wild card spot.

Following the race, Bowyer denied the accusation that he deliberately spun.

“I know it’s a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot of wacky things,” said Bowyer. “Go ahead, if you want to. Get creative. But don’t look too much into it.”

But NASCAR did look into it.

NASCAR President Mike Helton said a review of data from Saturday nights race as well as audio and video recordings was conducted at NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. on Monday and that officials from MWR were invited to attend to “talk about from their perspective what unfolded at Richmond Saturday night.”

“From all of that, the conclusion is in front of you,” said Helton. “We penalize to not have this happen again. It's a message from the league saying, 'You can't do this.'"

In discussing the reasons for the penalties assessed to Michael Waltrip Racing, Helton said it was the actions the Vickers team, and not Bowyer’s spin, that prompted NASCAR to take action.

“There's not conclusive evidence that the 15 spin was intentional,” said Helton. “There's a lot of chatter, there's the video that shows a car spinning, but we didn't see anything conclusive that that was intentional.

“The preponderance of things that happened by Michael Waltrip Racing Saturday night, the most clear was the direction that the 55 driver was given and the confusion around it, and then the conversation following that occurrence….that's the most clear piece of evidence.”

MWR does not plan to appeal the ruling, and later released a statement from team co-owner Michael Waltrip following NASCAR’s announcement.

“What occurred on the No. 55 radio at the end of Saturday night’s race in Richmond was a split-second decision made by team spotter Ty Norris to bring the No. 55 to pit lane and help a teammate earn a place in the Chase,” said Waltrip in the statement. “We regret the decision and its impact.

“We apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners and fans who were disappointed in our actions. We will learn from this and move on. As general manager, Ty Norris has been an integral part of Michael Waltrip Racing since its founding and has my and (co-owner) Rob Kauffman’s full support.”

Newman, who announced today he had signed with Richard Childress Racing to drive the no. 31 Chevrolet for the 2014 season, applauded NASCAR’s decision in a statement released by Stewart-Haas Racing.

“I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night at Richmond,” said Newman. “I know it was a tough decision to make. With that being said, myself, Matt Borland (crew chief) and this entire No. 39 team are looking forward to competing for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.”

Newman making the Chase would be a strong shot in the arm for Stewart-Haas Racing, who lost a chance to put team co-owner Tony Stewart in the Chase after Stewart broke his right leg in a sprint car crash last month, ending his season.

“Obviously, we’re very pleased with NASCAR’s decision to provide Ryan Newman’s rightful place in this year’s Chase,” Stewart said in a statement from SHR. “NASCAR was put in a very difficult position Saturday night at Richmond and we commend the sanctioning body for taking the time to do the necessary due diligence to ensure that the right call was made.”

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