Saturday Night NASCAR was at Richmond International Raceway for the last race in the regular season, the Federated Auto Parts 400. This race was the last race to set the standings and the drivers who would be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
The race itself was pretty benign and typical except at the end. Ryan Newman was leading the race and appeared to be on his way to winning and putting himself into the Chase when Clint Bowyer spun all by himself to cause a caution.
When Bowyer spun, it and of itself immediately didn’t look suspect with the exception that he didn’t appear to have a flat tire or a tire going down. When the restart came and the new running order was apparent, it started to look funny. Before the spin, Martin Truex Jr. was out of the running for the Wild Card since Joey Logano was in via the wild card but after the spin, Logano was in the top ten and Truex was in the Wild Card. This even got the attention of the ESPN Analysts covering the race.
Sunday, it comes out that in addition to the “Spin” Brian Vickers was asked by his team to pit during green flag conditions, further helping the effort to get Truex Jr. in. Read all about the facts at the USA Today.
Throughout the week there were discussions in just about every media outlet about team orders and what would be or would not be acceptable in order to help a teammate get into the Chase. At no time did anyone suggest a multi-car team using a multi-car effort to help a teammate. It wasn’t imaginable. If this had not happened Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon would be in the Chase instead of Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.
NASCAR issued the following: “NASCAR is reviewing Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway per protocol and has no plans for further statement until that process is complete.” With that statement this story has legs.
What is NASCAR going to do? Clearly Michael Waltrip Racing had some team orders that affected the outcome of the race and contenders for the Chase. NASCAR has historically fined but not changed the finishing order of a race when something improper happens. Their hands are tied. They can’t change the race results. They could add Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman to the Chase but then there would be 14 drivers in. Martin Truex Jr. and his team didn’t really do anything wrong so they can’t remove him from the Chase.
Make no doubt about it, NASCAR is in a no win situation, they can’t ignore it nor can they fix it. The only option available is some middle ground to penalize those teams. They should remove six points from Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. after the reset for the Chase. They would start the Chase 11th and 12th with 1994 points. This is our only hope that no multi-car team ever does this again.