First a confession: I like NASCAR.
I know there are readers out there who are thinking, ‘Oh yeah, and the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.’
But today I am more than somewhat embarrassed by a racing series that I have spent the better part of the last 15 years defending as a legitimate member of the professional sporting fraternity.
When series president Mike Helton stood up before the Charlotte-based NASCAR media Monday night to announce that Michael Waltrip Racing would be fined a historic $300,000, its competition director Ty Norris suspended indefinitely and each of its three drivers — Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer — be docked 50 pre-Chase championship points, my immediate reaction was “Is that all?”
This, after MWR conspired to fix the final race of the regular NASCAR Sprint Cup season at Richmond International Raceway Saturday by staging a deliberate spin to bring out a caution flag that would give Truex a spot in the post-season and deny Ryan Newman a legitimate place in the 12-team Chase for the Championship and compound that by ordering Vickers to pit so Joey Logano could gain a position and therefore oust Jeff Gordon from the post season.
That latter matter was viewed as pay back for Gordon wrecking Bowyer last season at Phoenix.
The effect of the whole thing was to discredit NASCAR and MWR has done it in spades.
Michael Waltrip, the once journeyman driver and ever present television pitchman, has left a stain on a sport he purports to love that may take years to wash out.
It is the same Michael Waltrip, who in his very first Sprint Cup race as a team owner back in 2007 was caught cheating by using a jet fuel additive to increase horsepower in one of his Toyotas.
To make matters worse — if that is even possible — there was Waltrip issuing a media release saying it was all the fault of Norris, that Norris engineered the whole thing with “a split second decision.”
It was enough to make me gag.
Here is a partial transcript of the radio communication between the MWR team and drivers Bowyer and Vickers with nine laps left in Saturday’s Chase deciding race:
Bowyer Spotter Brett Griffin: “(No.) 39 (Ryan Newman) is going to win the race. … Well, that kinda sucks.”
Bowyer crew chief Brian Pattie: “Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it’s hot in there. Itch it.”
Clint Bowyer: “Oh yeah.”
(At that point Bowyer spins out.)
Crew to Vickers: “Yeah, we’re going to pit.”
Vickers: “What? I’ve got to pit? … I don’t understand. Pit right now?”
Crew: “You’ve got to pit this time. We need that one point.”
Crew: “I’ll see you after the race, Brian. I owe you a kiss.”
Does anybody with a single brain cell think this was a “split second decision.”
Helton and NASCAR, based on those two conversations alone should have suspended the entire MWR organization from racing for the rest of the season.
And Michael Waltrip should have been banned for life from NASCAR.
Stock car racing has had to fight the perception that it is the WWE of pro sports for decades and it has withstood all of the criticism of its over the top marketing.
Heck it has thrived because of the intense competition and the real talents of its athletes the likes of the incomparable Jimmie Johnson, the fiery Tony Stewart and the spark plug Brad Keselowski.
In one foul — and I mean stinking foul — swoop, Michael Waltrip has obliterated all of that with his and his team’s shameful antics.
The sorriest thing about this whole disgusting mess is that Truex, who had no hand in any of this, suffers the worst penalty, being denied a Chase position.
But I am also proud of many of the NASCAR media members, huddled under the Charlotte bubble as they are, for the not accepting Helton and NASCAR’s penalty as right and just.
Nate Ryan, USA Today Sports NASCAR beat reporter, said it best:
“As (Jeff) Gordon, a four-time champion with a lot of clout, tweeted after the decision, ‘At this point all that matters to me is if NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely!’
“The fix wasn’t enough Monday.
“Which means the fix will be in again in the future.”
That is what the sad, sorry legacy of MWR’s cheating will be.