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September 17, 2013

SpinGate spun out of control early

JOLIET, Ill. — Everything could have been handled better from the moment Clint Bowyer spun at Richmond to trigger the biggest credibility crisis in NASCAR history.

That spin started as the well-intentioned desire to help a teammate earn a valuable spot in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, and with a little honesty, a few deep breaths and some clear thinking, it might have ended there.

Instead, the situation snowballed, and NASCAR quickly had a full-blown scandal on its hands.

So on the eve of the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, chairman Brian France gathered all the competitors of his family-built series and tersely ordered them to give 100 percent at all times going forward.

That’s right, the lasting slogan of this dark chapter for NASCAR will forever be “give 100 percent.”

Where did things go so wrong?:

—There was no spin on the spin: Bowyer’s attempt to bring out a caution was at minimum poor sportsmanship, but not uncommon in NASCAR. It just happened to be a big race with high stakes and a lot of people watching. His Michael Waltrip Racing crew chief had the bright idea to help Martin Truex Jr. stave off elimination from the Chase, and instructed Bowyer over his radio to “itch” his arm.

Bowyer did have poison oak, but the command was so bizarre it was immediately recognized as an obvious code word. Bowyer also did himself no favors after the race, denying intent during a deer-in-headlights interview on live TV.

NASCAR, apparently unaware of the in-car audio conversation, dismissed as implausible the notion Bowyer might have intentionally spun. That only fueled conspiracy theorists.

When audio the next day revealed MWR general manager Ty Norris ordered a confused Brian Vickers to pit late in the race in an attempt to help Truex, NASCAR suddenly had a serious problem.

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