News came out earlier this week Tony Stewart was involved in a “non-racing” accident (because that makes it better for us to take? Weird emphasis on “non-racing” on nearly every press release) and will miss significant time after sustaining a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra. This will take a substantial amount of time to heal, thus opening the door for a replacement driver in the #14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). Continue reading “Who Will NOT Be Filling In For Tony Stewart”
It was one year ago that Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) went from euphoria of having two of their three cars in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to feeling the wrath of NASCAR for potentially fixing the outcome of the race. That snowball led to the shutdown of one of their teams, leaving the two cars of Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers. This leaner, and potentially meaner, MWR had their sights on getting both cars into the Chase this season to make up for last season’s misfortune.
Instead neither Vickers nor Bowyer were able to get their Toyotas into the Chase field of 16 this season. While Vickers had a shot if he won Richmond, it was Bowyer who was mathematically still in the hunt. Even though Greg Biffle did all he could to give the spot to Bowyer, Bowyer came up short finishing third on the night.
After the race, Bowyer alluded to changes coming to his team and I suspect all of the MWR organization. They were embarrassed last season with what happened at Richmond and now they’re embarrassed that they couldn’t get one car into the Chase.
After the race when Bowyer was asked about changes, he seemed distant in his response. This was maybe because of knowing how hard he fought and coming up short, or maybe he’s realizing they’re not as close to a championship as they were just a few seasons ago.
“Well, they say they are (on changes coming soon for the team). We’ll just have to see. Everybody is working hard, everybody at TRD (Toyota Racing Development), everybody at MWR,” commented Bowyer.
Even if he made the Chase, it would have been coming into it with a whimper and not a bang.
“When you make that Chase you want to be able to compete for a championship and I’m an optimist but I’m a realist and right now realistically we don’t have a shot at winning that championship against the competition we’re running against. We’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of racing left to build on and win some races and piss them guys off running for a championship,” Bowyer continued.
You could just chalk up the season to bad luck for him and his team, as Bowyer explained. “This is the way our season has been all year is we’ll have a strong run like this and then something stupid will happen like the damn transmission breaking in half and it forces you back in a hole and you spend the next month digging yourself out of that hole. We just never could race like we did tonight all season long. We never could just let it all hang out and go for it because of that situation. We would get a step ahead and have a good run and the very next week we’d get our wings clipped out from underneath us.”
Bowyer’s comments were echoed by Vickers, who summed up his season so far very similarly.
“We’ve had some really bad luck this year. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, we made our own mistakes and every team is going to make mistakes throughout the year — we just had too much go wrong out of our control to make up for our turn in the barrel,” said Vickers after the race.
With ten races to go and nothing much to lose, could changes come in the form of personnel within the organization or will they use these races as test sessions working towards 2015? It is too early to tell, but they will be one wildcard team for the remaining races as they sort out their situation and try to play spoiler to those running for the title.
Michael Waltrip Racing was founded in dreams and good intentions when they decided to be the flagship for Toyota and enter the 2007 season full-time. When pressures came to them they panicked and made some poor choices, like the ones they made in Richmond two weeks ago.
Right from their first race there were bad decisions made. Michael Waltrip, driving for himself, was the driver busted for one of the biggest cheating scandal in Daytona 500 history. NASCAR found a fuel additive in his car which prompted them to suspend his crew chief David Hyder, fine Hyder $100,000 and suspended team direct Bobby Kennedy. Waltrip placed blame on unidentified individual or individuals whom he did not fire after it was all said and done. He went on to apologize and life continued in NASCAR.
Flash forward to six years to the situation in Richmond. With their backs against the wall again to get driver Martin Truex, Jr. in the Chase, a few bad eggs spoiled it all for everyone. Driver Clint Bowyer, who was locked into the Chase, mysteriously spun near the end of the race to bring out the caution. That caution helped close up the field so that race leader Ryan Newman, whom Truex was battling for the last wildcard spot, might not win the race. That worked as Newman lost spots on pit road and Carl Edwards won the race.
They also wanted to make sure Joey Logano would not drop out of the top-10 in points, thus being the last wildcard over Truex. So drivers Bowyer and Brian Vickers were ordered to slow on the track and pit multiple times so Logano could gain positions on the track.
General Manager Ty Norris was caught on the radio pleading with Vickers to pit, even though nothing was needed to be done to car. There was no way that this was Norris’ decision alone and there’s no way that Bowyer spun accidently. Once again the pressure was on to perform and MWR went the path of quick success with hopes of not being caught.
Now these actions have finally hit them where it really hurts, sponsorship. Truex’s sponsor NAPA, who was on Waltrip’s car in 2007, decided enough was enough and announced they would not be back with the team. This cuts short their contract with the team by two years and puts the team in an unenviable position of needing to do damage control, find a sponsor, and concentrate on the rest of the season.
Most of the people have cycled through the MWR shop, but one person has remained constant throughout all of these scandals. Team owner Michael Waltrip.
You have to wonder how much of this pushing the envelope comes from him. Even if he has been clueless through both scandals, he is fostering an environment where these actions are happening. If MWR wants to prove to sponsors, NASCAR, and fans that it will be changing, there needs to be a total shift in the MWR environment.
NASCAR laid down the law Monday by penalizing Michael Waltrip Racing in what the sanctioning body considered manipulation of the outcome of last Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 race at the Richmond International Raceway. The actions in question was a late race spin by driver Clint Bowyer and directions from general manager/spotter Ty Norris to driver Brian Vickers to pit because they needed a point.
What I liked is how NASCAR responded and responded big. My gut feeling at first was nothing much would happen with this and it would be swept up under the rug. Since it gained steam as a national story, then it became possible for something bigger to be done. The penalties fit the crime with the exception of one of those.
The 50 point reduction for Clint Bowyer counts towards his pre-Chase point total. In essence, he is not affected at all by this. I believe that was done because they could never conclusively determine his spin with six laps to go was intentional. Even with audio of cryptic messages from his crew to Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s testimonial, that was not enough to decide 100% Bowyer took one for the team.
It is a bit disappointing on how Michael Waltrip Racing reacted to the penalties. Sure it’s nice they won’t appeal, because that would make it really messy, but in effect MWR and owner Michael Waltrip just piled the blame on Ty Norris and moved on.
Waltrip’s statement was “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.” I’m going to say it now; that is a bold face lie. In no way was that Norris just winging it on the spotter’s stand to get Vickers in.
There had to have been conversations earlier in the week that laid out what would happened late in a race if Truex was close, but needed help. Norris spent more than a split-second basically begging Vickers to pit. Add to that Bowyer’s crypt radio chatter that almost showed code words between he and crew chief Brian Pattie.
Which brings me to my next point another reason NASCAR had to act was how blatant this whole thing was by Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer spin aside, the Vickers pit talk. They had code words for Bowyer, why not Vickers? If Norris is as questionable as we’re led to believe, why not lie to Vickers and say “yeah, sure, you’re tire is going down” or something like that? Because there was a clear direction of do anything possible to get Truex into the Chase.
It sucks that Truex drove his butt off these past few weeks with a broken wrist just to be slapped in the face, but MWR should have known the consequences when they started trying to play God on the race track.
Brian Vickers comes to the Atlanta Motor Speedway coming off of a fourth place effort last weekend at Bristol. Instead of building off of that run, he’ll be starting fresh with a new crew chief. Scott Miller takes over for Rodney Childers, who is still with Michael Waltrip Racing, just not in a crew chief role.
Miller is no stranger to the pit box, having worked as recent as 2011 with Richard Childress Racing. Moving on with a new crew chief shouldn’t affect Vickers too much, as he’s dealt with that all season going between MWR and his Nationwide Series team.
General Manager Ty Norris feels that the openness of MWR and cooperation between the teams has led to the success they are seeing on the track. “Organizational depth is certainly a goal for every team. It is nice to see that across the board MWR teams and drivers are competitive. So much of that comes down to teamwork between the crew chiefs, engineering staff and the drivers. They hold the key to an organization’s success and culture. When you have open communication and cooperation, it creates the culture that with a high tide, all boats rise. MWR has firmly established itself among the elites, but we must refine ourselves every day because yesterday’s success doesn’t guarantee anything for the future. Focus is always forward.”
Vickers has not turned any laps on the Atlanta Motor Speedway since November of 2011. For his career he has a single top-5 and seven top-10 finishes in 15 starts. This year for MWR, Vickers has a win (New Hampshire), five top-5s, and eight top-10s.
His teammate Clint Bowyer has already clinch his spot in the Chase and his other teammate Martin Truex, Jr. sits in the wildcard position with having won at Sonoma earlier in the year. With two races in the Chase, it will be imperative that Vickers helps not only himself, but also his teammates.
The action gets underway for the AdvoCare 500 Sunday night at 7:30. All the action from the Atlanta Motor Speedway can be seen on ESPN.