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From the Marbles

Happy Hour: Penske, MWR and that about covers it

Nick Bromberg
From The Marbles

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Throughout the week you can send us your best questions, jokes, rants and just plain miscellaneous thoughts to happyhourmailbag@yahoo.com or @NickBromberg. We'll post them here, have a good time and everyone's happy. Right? Oh who are we kidding, this is NASCAR. No one is ever happy.

Oh boy, there was no shortage of letters this week. Sorry for all of you that didn't make the cut. I would have loved to have publish every letter, but then this column would have gone on forever. Let's start with Penske, and then we'll go to MWR and that'll cover all of it. Let's get rollin'.

I was all set to come talk about the impressive bit of rule-bending Michael Waltrip has done in his short time as an owner - the rocket fuel in Daytona 500 qualifying; the spoiler on his truck conveniently falling off on the last lap; now Clint Bowyer's "itchy-arm" spin and Vicker's "flat" tire at Richmond. But before I could get to that now they're reporting there was improper communication between Penske & Front Row to get Logano into the Chase. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? And you wonder why no one takes your sport seriously. Look, I've never been one to play the "kill the Chase, go back to the old scoring" card but come on folks. There are limits and you're seriously starting to push them.
- Sam

I'm not sure how angry I can get over Logano's pass of Gilliland. Yes, I can get on board with the idea that chatter about it isn't the most ethical thing in the world, but given how cheap talk is, I'm more worried about the execution.

And in this case, the execution happened already after Logano would have been in the Chase. I think it's imperative that we separate the actions of MWR and Logano/Gilliland here, something that may be hard to do for a lot of people. They're independent of each other, despite the fact that the MWR manipulation made Logano's pass of Gilliland ultimately irrelevant.

That's a different train of thought from me -- I'm a guy who values the process of decision making over trumping the outcome of flawed choices -- but I feel the timing is imperative here. Also, NASCAR fans and NASCAR itself have never had a problem with teammates moving over to let another team lead a lap. That's for a single point -- the same margin we're talking about here.
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Wanted to share this thought with you. As I see it, there were two separate events that happened during the closing laps of the Richmond race– 1. Clint Bowyers spin, and 2. Vickers and Bowyer sandbagging at the end of the race. Incident #1 occurred after Bowyer was told that the 39 car was leading, and it resulted in Newman losing the race. Incident #2 occurred after Vickers was told that they (Truex) needed another spot on the track. This move was targeted at getting no-win driver Gordon out of the top ten so that one-win driver Logano could get in, giving Truex the best possible chance of getting in.

When NASCAR handed out the penalties, they said that there was no proof that Bowyer spun on purpose. However, there was proof that Vickers sandbagged at the end of the race.

Why, then, was there the overlap in causes, effects, and penalties? If result of the 55 car sandbagging was Gordon getting knocked out, why was Gordon not put back in the chase?

Bowyer's spin, which could not be proven to be done on purpose, resulted in Newman dropping out of the chase. Why does Newman get in, as it seems NASCAR is considering Bowyers spin to be accidental and not punishable?

The crime, effect, and penalty should line up. Vickers' sandbagging, that resulted in Gordon dropping out of the chase, should result in a penalty that gets Gordon back in the chase.
- Matthew S.

Matthew, you bring up one of the main points that I don't understand from the NASCAR ruling -- Gordon was not the "ripple effect" of what happened with MWR. He was the focus. Therefore I'm not sure how he's not affected by the penalties.

Had Newman not been affected (say Truex's penalty would have been post-reset and he'd still be in the Chase) I'd probably view this a little differently. But if Newman is going to benefit from Truex and MWR's penalty misfortune, so does Gordon.
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I get it, they cheated. It was unethical. It didn't pass the smell test. But can we stop reacting like a felony was committed. We see what happened, in one form or another, all across the sporting world. NFL playoff teams will rest their starters the final week of the season, and give away a game possibly to a potential contender. MLB will shuffle their rotation to get ready for their playoffs and throw some Double-A prospect to the mound. We've seen numerous times, bad teams not putting their best foot forward to get a better draft slot the following year. In Nascar, we've seen the leader give up a spot to a teammate so they can grab a point for leading a lap. Are we going to cry foul if a crew member from the 14 hops over to the 39 now that Newman's in the chase? Do we care if Hendrick shares a motor or a secret with another Chevy team? Mark Martin has been in the 55, 11, and 14...This isn't exactly a sport of my driver, one team. But it is a sport that will let a driver run one lap and get credit for the entire race. Again, I'm not defending MWR's actions, but penalties have been issued, apologies have been made. Do we really need to drag it out with the online petitions and the Napa/Aaron's boycotts?
- Joel

Joel raises some very good points. And I think what he brings up is also important to note: what Michael Waltrip Racing did was not cheating, it was manipulation. I've seen a lot of NASCAR fans on my Twitter timeline especially seem to use the terms interchangeably, and no, that's not possible in this instance.

The only rule that you can say that MWR broke was intentionally spinning to bring out a caution, but NASCAR has also said that the spin wasn't what was penalized, but rather all of the events post-spin.

What MWR did was game the system. Plain and simple. And every system is there to be gamed. This isn't a fault of the Chase -- calling for the Chase to be eliminated because of this is absurd and shortsighted. You don't think a team would consider something in the last race of the season to make sure its driver won a championship?
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Under the circumstances, I think NASCAR was fair in the penalties they handed out in the MWR/Richmond "follies." What MWR did would have been the equivalent of "point shaving" in ball-and-stick sports. What was NOT equitable was the OUTCOME of the penalty phase. I understand why Logano wasn't penalized; he was just an additional beneficiary of the MWR scheme, so it made no sense to penalize Logano.

But the fact that Bowyer will, effectively, lose NO points when the Chase begins only means that he, for all intents and purposes, got away with his part in the shenanigans. And the fact that Gordon was denied a spot in the Chase, NOT because of Bowyer's spin, but because of the sandbagging once the green fell, seems to be an injustice to Gordon. BUT...with the course that NASCAR took in determining the penalties, I'm not sure how one could legitimately throw Logano out and put Gordon into the Chase.

NASCAR has a long-standing policy of letting race results stand, and their penalties were consistent with that policy. But to allow Gordon to remain a victim of the dirty deeds of MWR leaves a bad taste also. Should Gordon be added to the Chase as a 13th car? There's no precedent for that, and I'm sure that would open a can of worms that NASCAR would rather not deal with in the future.

NO, I don't have a better solution, either; I'm just glad that NASCAR took "my" advice, and rolled the penalties back to the end of the race, but before the Chase reset. That policy is consistent with the way penalties are normally handed down from NASCAR; the fact that this was the final race before the Chase shouldn't change that policy.

I guess we simply have to accept that we live in an imperfect world, and sometimes have to accept imperfect solutions. But we don't always have to LIKE those imperfect solutions, as I'm sure Gordon doesn't.
- Buzz

Buzz hits on what my biggest problem with the MWR penalties is. How does Bowyer get off with the same Chase chances that he had previously while Truex is eliminated from the Chase?

Yes, yes, yes, they were pre-Chase points penalties, which was the reason for Truex to be shoved out, but there would have been a way to cripple both Bowyer and Truex's Chase chances and take away some money, right? Or honestly, I would have been good with a simple monetary fine that was massive. We've got Waltrip on record saying that his business model is based on two cars making the Chase. Well, let's hammer home a huge monetary penalty that makes something like this not even on the radar screen.

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