JOLIET, Ill. —
It’s doubtful, though, the two MWR teams were ever working in concert. Nothing has indicated the players involved were smart enough to successfully execute any level of this conspiracy. And the entire organization went into lockdown for almost 48 hours, with team owner Waltrip carrying on with his duties as analyst for a Truck Series race with no mention of the controversy, even as rage was clearly building among race fans.
NASCAR also said little beyond confirming it was investigating the two incidents. So by the time NASCAR did act, critics were in full voice, demanding stern punishment for MWR.
—The wrong penalty was issued: NASCAR wanted to send a message in issuing serious sanctions against MWR, and it did with a $300,000 fine, the indefinite suspension of Norris and kicking Truex out of the Chase in favor of Ryan Newman, the driver who would have made it before Bowyer’s spin.
But Bowyer got off virtually unscathed because NASCAR said it couldn’t prove the spin was deliberate.
That incensed Jeff Gordon, who wanted Bowyer punished for starting the mess. When Bowyer got off with his title hopes intact, it created two problems NASCAR never saw coming:
—It forced Bowyer and MWR to continue to lie about deliberately spinning because admitting guilt now would earn a retroactive penalty. So Bowyer must continue to deny culpability or risk kissing his championship goodbye. Had NASCAR just docked him six points — the equivalent of the 25-point penalty Dale Earnhardt Jr. received for admitting to intentionally causing a caution in 2004 — he’d be in a deep hole but could try to climb out with a clear conscience.
—In citing Vickers’ late trip down pit road as the smoking gun, NASCAR singled out one of many wink-and-nod practices that goes on all the time between multicar teams. It opened a Pandora’s box and made teams wonder what exactly is legal? NASCAR should have penalized Bowyer and fined MWR at least $1 million — a sum likely close to the bonus sponsor NAPA Auto Parts would have owed the team for Truex making the Chase.