Michael Waltrip Racing executive Ty Norris was reinstated by NASCAR on Thursday after serving a five-month suspension for his involvement in a controversial race outcome during the Sept. 7 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway. He remains on indefinite probation, however.
"I appreciate NASCAR's action today and respect their position," Norris said in a statement. "I am focused forward and dedicated to the success of Michael Waltrip Racing and the continued growth of a sport that has been my home for the past 24 years."
NASCAR suspended Norris, the executive vice president for MWR, for actions he took while serving as spotter for the No. 55 MWR Toyota driven by Brian Vickers at Richmond.
NASCAR found evidence that Norris had sacrificed the integrity of the race outcome by telling Vickers to pit unnecessarily so that driver Joey Logano would gain a position on track. The result was that Logano qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup based on points, giving MWR driver Martin Truex Jr. one of two Wild Card berths.
After reviewing in-race, in-car audio recordings and consulting with race officials and team members, NASCAR took the unprecedented action to severely penalize MWR for the incident. In addition to Norris' suspension, the team was given the largest monetary fine in NASCAR history of $300,000, all three of MWR's teams were penalized 50 driver championship points and each team was docked 50 owner's points.
Additionally, Truex was removed from the Chase and replaced with Ryan Newman, who had lost the Wild Card to Truex on a tiebreaker.
And NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France later added Jeff Gordon as a 13th member of the traditionally 12-driver field.
"This naturally is a very significant reaction from NASCAR," NASCAR President Mike Helton said Sept. 9 in announcing the disciplinary actions two days after the race. "As multiple car owners have become a very positive, integral part of our support, also comes with it, though, responsibility from NASCAR and as well the car owners, to maintain a fair and level playing field.
"It's not an easy decision to make. Conversations about it were deep. We feel like we researched it extremely well, talked at great length with the folks from Michael Waltrip Racing to try to get to the right spot and make the correct decision, and that's what we feel like we have done."
Norris has not publicly commented since the incident. But when informed of his team's penalties, Waltrip accepted responsibility on behalf of the team while expressing continued support of Norris, who has been with the team since it was founded.
"What occurred on the No. 55 radio at the end of Saturday night's race in Richmond was a split-second decision made by team spotter Ty Norris to bring the No. 55 to pit lane and help a teammate earn a place in the Chase," Waltrip said in a statement. "We regret the decision and its impact. We apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners and fans who were disappointed in our actions. We will learn from this and move on.
"As general manager, Ty Norris has been an integral part of Michael Waltrip Racing since its founding and has my and (co-owner) Rob Kauffman's full support."
Even with the points penalty, Clint Bowyer still qualified for the Chase and finished seventh in the championship. The consequences were greater for Truex. Not only was he removed from the Chase, his car's longtime sponsor NAPA Auto Parts announced it would pull its longtime sponsorship of MWR at the end of the 2013 season in light of the unfavorable publicity surrounding the incident.
With no funding for the car Waltrip was forced to downsize his team. Truex was free to look for work elsewhere and in November announced that he would race for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing in 2014, which qualified for its first Chase last season with driver Kurt Busch.
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