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NASCAR Does the Right Thing With Penalties, but Doesn’t Go Far Enough in Leaving Jeff Gordon Out

Gordon an Innocent Bystander in Blatant Dive by Michael Waltrip Racing

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COMMENTARY | In a stunning turn of events Monday night in the Michael Waltrip Racing dive scandal, NASCAR levied a hefty fine, handed down suspensions and docked each of the three MWR teams 50 points, a move that ultimately resulted in Martin Truex Jr. being knocked out of the Chase.

Ryan Newman will take his place in the final wild-card spot.

But in this instance, the penalties handed down to Michael Waltrip Racing simply were not severe enough. In fact, by actually giving out penalties against the teams in the first place, NASCAR is openly admitting wrongdoing, but at the same time saying it is limited in what it can actually do.

NASCAR had to do something. All of the evidence pointed to blatant manipulation of the rules that knocked two deserving drivers out of the Chase and allowed two others to sneak in. The problem is, in this instance, Truex and Newman were not the only two drivers affected by this decision.

WHAT HAPPENED

To recap, with seven laps to go in the race at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night, Ryan Newman was well on his way to winning the race, in the process claiming one of two wild-card spots in the Chase. As they ran, Jeff Gordon would have claimed the final spot in question via a top 10 finish. But with seven laps to go, Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer spun, bringing out the caution and bunching up the field.

Was Bowyer's spin intentional? Even after review, NASCAR president Mike Helton admitted he still could not confirm or deny.

What proved the smoking gun in the case against the team was when both Bowyer and fellow MWR teammate Brian Vickers pitted just as the field was going back to green. That much was clear when NASCAR reviewed the audiotapes from team manager Ty Norris saying to Vickers: "You've got to pit this time. We need that one point."

With both teams taking a dive in the final three laps, it proved just enough for Joey Logano to leapfrog Jeff Gordon into the top 10 in points, while Truex would slide past Newman for the final wild-card spot.

As a result of the findings, NASCAR issued a $300,000 fine to MWR, suspended team manager Ty Norris, and Truex, Bowyer and Vickers were docked 50 pre-Chase points. Because the penalties were issued prior to the resetting of the points, Truex fell out of the final wild-card spot and Newman took his place.

NOT ALL WRONGS MADE RIGHT

In this case, putting Newman into the field and at the same time leaving Gordon out is a bit of slap in the face. Both Gordon and Logano were innocent bystanders in the drama that unfolded, and by NASCAR admitting that MWR is guilty of manipulating the rules, but not making it right, hurts its credibility.

In his statement Monday night, NASCAR president Mike Helton said, "We know from experience, if you try to look at the ripple effect, you can't cover all bases that's equitable and credible across the board."

That much may be true, but in this case there was a direct cause and effect. Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Bowyer and Vickers cheated, and Gordon and Newman were left out of the Chase. To right the wrong for one and not the other is hard to understand.

In this special case, the field should have been expanded to 13 drivers with Gordon given a spot.

Or, perhaps, Bowyer should have been made an example of. As the penalties were handed out prior to the resetting of the points, Bowyer's punishment was essentially a ghost penalty. Once the points are reset for the start of the Chase on Sunday, Bowyer will remain in exactly the same position.

GORDON, WALTRIP SPEAK OUT

While Gordon and Bowyer have a long history of disdain for one another, perhaps Gordon said it best Monday night in a tweet that read: "Feel bad for Truex. He got in under controversy now out due to it. But the guy who started all of this not effected at all??? Don't agree!"

At the same time, on the other end of the spectrum, MWR boss Michael Waltrip said via Twitter: "This wasn't a master plan or about a spin. It's about a split-second decision made by Ty to try to help a teammate. I stand by my people."

While NASCAR did the right thing in issuing penalties in a case of clear violation of the rules, it simply didn't go far enough in letting Bowyer escape penalty and keeping Gordon out of the Chase.

The issue may be resolved for now, but it is clear this controversy is far from over.

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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