The race last Saturday was phenomenal drama. In fact, it may be the best race I have seen in several years. Going into the race, where five spots were available for the playoffs and about 10 people had a shot, is a great storyline. The fact that the two guys most directly battling for one spot (Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon) started together on the front row was astounding (not to mention the defending champ, who had only a “puncher’s chance” of getting in was starting third). It was, quite possibly, the most far-reaching drama in a single NASCAR race ever.
Then, the spin-out happened. My immediate reaction was that I thought it was just a little too coincidental that the person to benefit the most was the teammate of the guy who caused the caution. I also noticed (which I think was more coincidental, but still kind of ironic) that the man who was most harmed was Jeff Gordon, whom Bowyer seems to have it out for. At any rate, the thing that made this race special was not the race itself (it was exciting, but nothing ultra special), but rather the intrigue of who would make the Playoffs.
I understand that, on one hand, looking at improper action in this race, when much of it happens every race is seemingly nearsighted. On the other hand, the improper action was not based on this race. There wasn’t a concerted effort to allow someone to finish better in this race, because this race was so special. The effort was to improve the standing in this race so as to effect the entire season standings. Therefore, looking at just the results of this race is too short sighted of a view to take when establishing a punishment.
First of all, I am excited that NASCAR did something. I halfway expected them to ignore the issue, and the fact that they acted was very good, in my opinion. While I believe the 50-point penalty was good, as we sit right now, here is the situation. The penalty was given to three teams. One of the teams has a driver who isn’t even running for Sprint Cup points this year (the 55 team of Vickers). One of the teams has a driver whose points are getting reset so the negative to him is completely unfelt (the 15 team of Bowyer). The Truex penalty was huge, but, by the same token, a 1-point penalty would have been just as big to him in net effect. So it wasn’t the size of the Truex penalty that made it effective, but rather, that there was a penalty at all.
When two of the three drivers don’t even notice the penalties, are the penalties effective? This is why NASCAR needs to change the rule from a penalty-driven sentence to one of logic. If you manipulate points to get into the playoffs (it probably only matters in the last race), you aren’t in the playoffs. End of rule. No exceptions. And the punishment shouldn’t allow denials to matter. When in-car audio juxtaposed with crazy hand movement makes it obvious to an average fan with a driver’s license, then he should be punished. Parenthetically, it is crazy to me that Bowyer denies that it is on purpose, yet felt the need to call Ryan Newman to apologize.
To me, I’d rather see Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard in the Chase, then have Clint Bowyer with a shot at winning after what he did. Yet, consider this. Martin Truex, Jr got a penalty, which put Ryan Newman into the Chase Playoffs. Now, that the evidence seems to be that Joey Logano received unfair help, NASCAR could be in a weird situation. Imagine they decide to penalize Logano something between 2 and 10 points. Then, all of a sudden, Jeff Gordon would be in, but Joey Logano would be the wildcard and Ryan Newman would be out. That’s a crazy scenario. And to let Penske go when Michael Waltrip Racing was punished so severely doesn’t seem like a good idea either.
This is why NASCAR needs to look at the manipulative drivers as something to punish in a different way. They need to not try to treat the race before the Playoff cutoff (or the final race of the year) differently. You cannot treat this race as if it is another race, when the preceding 25 races are nullified in some ways because of it. There’s a reason why pass interference on the last play of a “Hail Mary” game is a different call than a ten yard out in the second quarter. An NBA Finals game has a different setup than my high school conference tournament. When eyeballs are watching, action needs to be taken in different ways! NASCAR must make a decision that doesn’t treat this like just another race or else the next time a race comes with this much intrigue, people will lose interest, and that is what happens when they become too myopic.