COMMENTARY | After having a few days to sit on the penalties handed down by NASCAR to Michael Waltrip Racing in light of the dive scandal from Richmond this past weekend, I can't help but feel for Martin Truex Jr.
Truex was, for all intents and purposes, an innocent bystander in a last-second decision made by his teammates to attempt to throw the race in his favor. Clint Bowyer was safely in the Chase and wasn't going to advance or fall in position regardless of outcome. Brian Vickers, also seemingly a bystander in the decisions made by his team, also had nothing to lose.
In the end, the hand of NASCAR came down swiftly and harshly on the Michael Waltrip Racing team in the form of one of the largest penalties ever handed down by the sanctioning body. A total of $300,000 in fines, indefinite suspension of team director Ty Norris and 50-point penalties docked to all three teams.
Truex took the brunt of the penalties, going from safely in the Chase via a wild-card spot to, essentially, being disqualified. Ryan Newman took his place in the Chase.
In a series of Twitter posts on Wednesday, Truex called the situation "difficult for everyone involved" and indicated just how hard he pushed himself to make the Chase, saying that he "drove the hardest race of my life."
Earlier this year, following a victory at Sonoma Raceway that snapped a 218-race winless streak, the emotion in Truex's voice after years of heartbreak indicated just how much he wanted to win at NASCAR's top level. "I can't even put it into words," he said following the win. "I've got so many people to thank for sticking with me. We've had cars really fast all year long. We've had some tough luck, but that's part of racing."
That tough luck continued this past weekend, but this time it wasn't at the hands of another driver. It was his own team that essentially stole his dream of making the Chase for the second time in his career.
You can just imagine the range of emotions Truex must have felt after driving his way into the Chase and then being told that he is being excluded due to the actions of his team.
Meanwhile, the man who started the controversy, Clint Bowyer, will begin the Chase this weekend at Chicagoland seeded eighth, untouched by the penalties handed out this week. Instead, Bowyer will be considered one of the favorites to contend for the championship after finishing second in the Chase last season.
And to make matters worse, Bowyer is not denying that he spun on purpose. On Monday, Bowyer called to apologize to Ryan Newman, the man who was originally most affected by his actions, and all week Bowyer has refused to confirm -- or deny -- his actions Saturday night.
The sad part about the entire situation is that the actions of Bowyer and the entire MWR team were born out of the purest of intentions - to help a teammate make the Chase. Despite the negative light being shone on the team, the actions taken by Norris and the rest of the team were consistent with what most any team would do to help a teammate.
That fact was made obvious this week by a second report that Penske Racing struck up a deal with Front Row Motorsports that had driver David Gilliland essentially step aside to allow Joey Logano to gain the necessary positions and points to help his Chase cause. It begs the question brought up by Yahoo contributor Matt Myftiu in his latest piece: Is everyone a cheater in NASCAR?
At the moment, it is hard to argue against it. When it comes to making the Chase, anything goes. It is the unfortunate byproduct of a points system designed to reward drivers based on a series of factors -- wins, points and consistency. When drivers win and lose rides, sponsors and fans based on making the Chase, this string of "cheating" is the ultimate result.
Earlier this week, I felt that NASCAR could ultimately wrong all rights if it allowed Jeff Gordon, the ultimate victim in this mess, a spot in the Chase. I am further convinced of that fact after learning of the alleged Penske deal.
But the only true way to fix the mess that NASCAR has on its hands is to eliminate the Chase altogether or, at the very least, come up with a better system to determine its champion.
Until then, we are stuck with the most scandalous NASCAR season in years with seemingly no end in sight.
L.A. Crum is a motorsports writer from Ohio. He is an avid fan of all things racing and college athletics and has worked with many of the top teams and drivers in the racing industry during his career. He is a proud graduate of Marshall University.
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