CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR has dropped the hammer on Michael Waltrip Racing following the controversial finish to Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Int’l Raceway.
Ryan Newman appeared on his way to victory and a spot in the Chase while leading the race when MWR’s Clint Bowyer spun with eight laps remaining. Newman lost the lead during a round of pit stops and Carl Edwards won the race with MWR’s Martin Truex Jr. racing his way into the Chase via the second wild card position into NASCAR’s annual 10-race playoff for the championship.
At the same time, radio traffic from the No. 55 Toyota of Brian Vickers indicated that he had been ordered to pit.
When Vickers asked why he needed to pit, MWR’s Vice President/General Manager Ty Norris responded by saying, “We need the point.” All of these actions allowed Truex to tie with Newman on points. Based on a tiebreaker, Truex was given the spot in the Chase over Newman.
However, after an investigation by NASCAR, things have changed.
MWR was found to have violated Section 12-4 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing). As a result, MWR’s three teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (No. 15, 55, 56) have been penalized with the loss of 50 championship driver and 50 championship owner points, respectively.
Those point penalties were assessed following the season’s 26th regular season race and not after the seeding for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Therefore, the point total for the No. 56 car driven by Martin Truex Jr. is reduced to 691, putting him in 17th position and eliminating him from the second wild card berth for the Chase field.
Newman, who earlier today announced he would be joining Richard Childress Racing in 2014, now moves into the Chase as the second wild card participant. During a conference call following that announcement, Newman discussed what happened at Richmond.
“To me, what happened to me Saturday night is the toughest thing that I’ve ever gone through in any kind of racing in my 30 years of driving because of the way everything went down and, in hindsight, how it hurt that much more,” Newman said.
A few hours later, Newman learned he would be in the Chase.
“I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night at Richmond,” said Newman in a statement. “I know it was a tough decision to make. With that being said, myself, Matt Borland (crew chief) and this entire No. 39 team are looking forward to competing for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.”
NASCAR has also fined the MWR organization $300,000 and indefinitely suspended MWR Executive Vice President/General Manager Ty Norris, who is also the spotter for the No. 55 car, for violating Section 12-4. The three crew chiefs — Brian Pattie (No. 15), Scott Miller (No. 55) and Chad Johnston (No. 56) — have all been placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31.
“Based upon our review of Saturday night’s race at Richmond, it is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects our commitment to that.”
Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart applauded NASCAR for taking action.
“Obviously, we’re very pleased with NASCAR’s decision to provide Ryan Newman’s rightful place in this year’s Chase,” said Stewart in a statement. “NASCAR was put in a very difficult position Saturday night at Richmond and we commend the sanctioning body for taking the time to do the necessary due diligence to ensure that the right call was made.”
Michael Waltrip Racing does not plan to appeal the penalties.
“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,” said team owner Michael Waltrip 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.”
While the penalties issued by NASCAR allow Newman to make the Chase, it does nothing to help four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon. At the time of Bowyer’s spin, Gordon was in the Chase. This penalty does nothing to help Gordon and he will still miss the Chase and a shot at his fifth Sprint Cup title.
Gordon later expressed his frustration with the penalties, specifically that Bowyer was not really penalized by NASCAR.
“Feel bad for Truex,” Gordon said on Twitter Monday evening. “He got in under controversy now out due to it. But the guy who started all of this (Clint Bowyer) not effected at all??? Don’t agree! Take me out of this completely. At this point all that matters to me is if NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely!”