NASCAR levied penalties on Monday against Michael Waltrip Racing for alleged race-rigging during Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway.
The alleged rigging included an unscheduled pit stop by Brian Vickers and a spin by Clint Bowyer with seven laps to go. With the new penalties in place, Martin Truex Jr. is out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He is replaced by Ryan Newman, who likely would have won the race, and a spot in the Chase, if Bowyer had not have spun.
NASCAR’s vice president for competition, Robin Pemberton, announced the penalties on Monday, according to NASCAR.com. Pemberton explained:
“It is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race. 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.”
All three MWR teams were docked 50 owner and driver points each. The team was also fined $300,000 and Ty Norris, MWR’s executive vice president and Vickers’ spotter, was suspended indefinitely. The team’s three crew chiefs are on probation until December 31.
While the penalties were stiff, not everyone was pleased to see Clint Bowyer still in the Chase. ESPN’s Ed Hinton suggested that it would have been better to remove Bowyer from the Chase as well and put Jeff Gordon in his place.
Gordon was also stiffed by the alleged race-rigging, as Vickers’ pit stop allowed Joey Logano to edge ahead of him by one point. Hinton explained, “In retrospect, it appears Gordon earned a berth as Newman did, and then was robbed as Newman was.”
While the team will likely never admit responsibility for apparently rigging the Richmond race, Michael Waltrip announced that he will not appeal the ruling. In making their ruling against MWR, NASCAR reviewed video of the incidents and in-car audio of the drivers. In-car audio of Bowyer’s team revealed that the driver may have intentionally spun to bring out a caution, because Newman was leading.
While Bowyer later stated that his car was tight and there was something wrong with it, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was running behind the MWR driver, told his crew chief over the radio, “Looked a little intentional to me there, bud… He was on the brakes in the middle of the corner trying to spin it out, trying to slow down.”
While NASCAR President Mike Helton stated on Saturday that the organization didn’t have evidence of race-rigging, it appears that changed.