NASCAR should have come down harder on Michael Waltrip Racing

Sam Greenwood

In a situation that called for heavy-handedness, NASCAR didn’t drop the hammer as it should have on Michael Waltrip Racing.

When NASCAR uncharacteristically called a news conference Monday evening the thought was that something big was afoot.

Surely, after reviewing the overwhelming evidence which included audio and video documenting Michael Waltrip Racing conspiring to manipulate the regular season finale at Richmond, NASCAR was going to mete out justice.

Well, think again.

While on some level justice was served with Ryan Newman receiving the second wild card slot that he otherwise would have secured before MWR's shenanigans, the pervasive feeling is that NASCAR could have and should have done more.

Although Martin Truex Jr. losing 50 points and therefore his Chase eligibility is significant, something is still amiss. Clint Bowyer, the MWR driver who initiated Saturday's proceedings with a self-induced spin, astonishingly is among the 12 drivers competing for the championship.

Even more confounding, Bowyer will start the Chase with no fewer points than he would have had otherwise and is seeded eighth overall, a mere 15 markers in arrears of championship leader Matt Kenseth. Essentially, Bowyer received nothing more than a slap on the wrist despite being the most culpable figure at MWR.

"There's not conclusive evidence that the 15 spin was intentional," NASCAR President Mike Helton said. "There's a lot of chatter, there's the video that shows a car spinning, but we didn't see anything conclusive that that was intentional."

Apparently audio and video of MWR officials informing Bowyer that Newman was leading followed by the overt use of team orders faintly disguised as code telling Bowyer to spin his car isn't enough.

"There's not conclusive evidence that the 15 spin was intentional."-NASCAR President, Mike Helton

The message sent is that anything less than a signed confession falls short of being "conclusive evidence" in the eyes of NASCAR; otherwise it's viewed as circumstantial.

How else can you explain NASCAR's failure to enforce some kind of substantial penalty on Bowyer? Be it taking away Chase points or even sitting Bowyer for a race, there were no shortage of options NASCAR could has used to send a resounding message.

If there is good news to be had in Monday's ruling it's that Newman can race for the title in what is his final season with Stewart-Haas Racing. Instead of being a Chase bystander with a lame duck team, he now is a title contender.

The same fortune, however, didn't smile on Jeff Gordon, the other party who had a Chase spot ripped away by the duplicity of MWR.

"We know from experience that if you try to look at the ripple effect of an incident, you can't cover all those bases," Helton said. "You can't ever come up with a conclusion that is equitable and credible across the board. So we simply look at the incident and react to the incident."

Without the maneuvering in final laps by MWR that included Bowyer's spin and excessively slow lap times turned in by Brian Vickers, Gordon would have finished the regular season ranked 10th overall. Instead, he was on the wrong side of the Chase cutoff -- a place he still finds himself.

"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!" Gordon posted on Twitter.

The frustration expressed by Gordon seems to be common. For an offense that was calculated the severity of the punishment doled out to MWR was absent.

This was the chance to set precedence and stamp out any vague notion that rigging the Chase is acceptable. With the facts as they are, if there was ever a situation where NASCAR needed to assert itself and be forceful, maybe even to excess, this was it.

Yet for whatever reason officials chose a different tact. And for the second time in less than a week it feels like MWR has gamed the system; justice be damned.

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