JOLIET, Ill. — It took just 17 minutes for an angry NASCAR boss Brian France to lay down the law to Sprint Cup drivers, team owners and crew chiefs in a closed door meeting Saturday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway — no more team orders.
France, according to people there, read the riot act saying NASCAR would come down hard — including expulsion from the sport — for any action by teams or individuals that would alter the outcome of any race.
The NASCAR chairman also reportedly read media excerpts to the gathering that denigrated the sport in the week since Michael Waltrip Racing attempted to manipulate the order of finish at Richmond International Raceway so that its No. 56 Toyota driven by Martin Truex Jr. could make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
And subsequently that Penske Racing and Front Row Racing conspired to earn the Penske No. 22 Ford of Joey Logano a Top 10 finish in the points battle.
Specifically France cited an NBC Nightly News report that referred to the Richmond race as “rigged.”
This is the same network that only a month ago signed a $2.2 billion contract for broadcast rights for the Sprint Cup series starting in 2015.
NASCAR had already come down hard on MWR, fining it a record $300,000, suspending team executive Ty Norris and kicking Truex from the championship, adding Ryan Newman and later adding Jeff Gordon, two drivers who were the direct victims of the shenanigans at Richmond.
In a press conference Saturday after his closed door meeting France said he believes his tough love message got through to the drivers, teams and owners.
“This is what they (the drivers) want,” he said. “They don’t like team rules and they don’t like some of the things that have gone on in the past.”
What France was referring to was the practice by multiple car teams, like MWR, or teams with the same manufacturer like Ford, Chevrolet or Toyota, to help one another out on the track by making passing easier or by blocking a competitor.
He said this sort of action must stop and he laid out what he told the drivers would be the new standard for racing starting Sunday at Chicagoland in the first race of the 10-race Chase.
“At the centre of that meeting was what our expectations were going forward — and those expectations are that a driver and a team give 100 percent effort, their best effort, to complete a race and race as hard as they possibly can,” France said. “That’s what our fans expect, and that’s what the drivers want to do, as well, so that was the centrepiece.”
NASCAR will also limit the number of spotters per team to one, so as to make it harder for teams to negotiate with one another for position during a race and would limit the number of radios used to communicate with drivers.
NASCAR president Mike Helton further clarified the new rules that he said, if contravened, would result in drastic penalties.
“Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR,” he said.
Helton said that “artificially altered” was defined to mean “actions by any competitor that show or suggest that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions.”
And it appeared the message fell on receptive ears.
Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the No. 2 Penske Ford of reigning champion Brad Keselowski said France’s message made sense.
“I think it got everyone’s attention,” he said. “I think a lot of it is just common sense and it is just to go out there and run 100 percent to your best ability and everything will take care of itself.”
Canadian Bruno Spengler was stripped of his pole position for Sunday’s DTM race at Oschersleben, Germany. Spengler’s team put on a slick tire in the final session that had been used in the third session, which is against DTM rules. He penalized five sports, so he will start fifth in his Schnitzer BMW. Spengler had set a time of one minute, 20.140 seconds in wet conditions. DTM’s other Canadian driver, Robert Wickens, will start 11th in the HWA Mercedes after a qualifying time of 1:21.185. … Sprint Cup regulars Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski battled to win the EnjoyIllinois.com 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night with Busch coming out on top in the No. 51 Toyota Tundra with Keselowski second in the No. 19 Ford 150.