Tag: Richmond International Raceway

Commentary: Good Intensions Fall Short

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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.

Schedule Madness

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Every year at this time we start to hear more rumors over what will happen with the next season’s schedule for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It’s hard sometimes to decifer what rumor has truth to it and which one is simply what people want.

This year’s rumors, from Mike Mulhern, include Homestead moving from the final race spot and Phoenix taking over the finale. Sonoma being moved into the 10 race Chase, and another road course in Road America taking one of Dover’s spots on the schedule. And the final idea is Darlington and Atlanta flipping dates, which would put the Southern 500 back on Labor Day weekend.

I like some of the moves, I disagree with some, so I thought about putting together my “dream” schedule. As someone who thinks about the teams and drivers I’d actual cut some races completely off the 36 race schedule with hopes to get it down to 30. The problem with that is NASCAR won’t do it and I was having a hard time figuring out how to cut and add new venues.

I’ve excluded the exhibition races, although I’d really like NASCAR to scrap them completely or move them to a Wednesday or Thursday before the main race (Daytona 500/Coca-Cola 600) and/or make it a special race. For the Shootout use the Daytona road course or small oval they used for the Battle at the Beach. For the All-Star race use the dirt track across the street from the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Obviously any schedule should start with Daytona and the Daytona 500. Next since it’s early March at this point you really need to either be in the South or the West, and I like the West Coast swing to start the year so let’s go to Phoenix and then Auto Club.

Next I’m a traditionalist and I love when the schedule had a block of short track races, really got the drivers’ blood boiling each week, so Bristol, Martinsville, and adding Iowa to the mix. Texas, Kansas, Richmond, Talladega all stay the same from this year. I’ll take their talked about twist of moving Atlanta to Mother’s day weekend, then Charlotte, Dover, Pocono, and Michigan.

I would have Road America take Sonoma’s June spot, then Kentucky, and Daytona for the fourth of July. New Hampshire would be next then I’d want to see Chicagoland moved out of the Chase. Indianapolis would move back before Watkins Glen, with Michigan, Bristol, and Darlington closing out August.

September would lead with Dover as your finale for the regular season to help boost attendance, then have the Chase open with Richmond, a much more exciting race. From Richmond let’s go back to our roots and go to Rockingham, as a Chase race it should help attendance questions there.

We’ll swing out West for Sonoma next, because a road course needs to be in the Chase, then back East for Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix, Homestead, and our new finale spot…Las Vegas. Having the finale in Las Vegas makes since if they’re going to keep the season ending awards show out there, just do it the week after.

My changes drop a race from New Hampshire, Pocono, and Kansas with Iowa, Rockingham, and Road America replacing them. Adding a road course and another short track to the Chase will help bolster the diversity a champion needs.

Those are my suggestions, what are yours?

Below is the full rundown, Chase races in bold:

  1. Daytona
  2. Phoenix
  3. Auto Club
  4. Bristol
  5. Martinsville
  6. Iowa
  7. Texas
  8. Kansas
  9. Richmond
  10. Talladega
  11. Atlanta
  12. Charlotte
  13. Dover
  14. Pocono
  15. Michigan
  16. Road America
  17. Kentucky
  18. Daytona
  19. New Hampshire
  20. Chicagoland
  21. Indianapolis
  22. Watkins Glen
  23. Michigan
  24. Bristol
  25. Darlington
  26. Dover
  27. Richmond
  28. Rockingham
  29. Sonoma
  30. Charlotte
  31. Talladega
  32. Martinsville
  33. Texas
  34. Phoenix
  35. Homestead
  36. Las Vegas

Did Bowyer Rig The Richmond Finish?

Photo- Getty Images
Photo- Getty Images

With the laps winding down and Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex, Jr. outside of the Chase picture, Clint Bowyer conveniently spun his car to bring out the caution. What happened afterwards was a series of dominos that knocked Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon out of the Chase and Truex and Joey Logano into the Chase.

At first it seemed Bowyer just lost it, it’s a racing deal. For Newman, his team didn’t execute on pit road, they simply were not good enough to get into the Chase. “The pit crew left me hanging on that last stop there is no doubt about that.”

Once the points fell that put Truex in, it was pretty interesting that Bowyer spun. Bowyer had a great car all night, never had a bit of issues with it being loose and seemed to be riding it out to finish the race. Bowyer blamed the spin on Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the car right behind him. “I got down in there and it kept getting tighter and tighter and tighter and then the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) got in there and by the time I got back in the gas, he got into me and I had so much wheel in it that it snapped around.”

When asked, Earnhardt had a completely different story. “He just spun right out.  That’s the craziest thing I ever saw.  He just came right around.  He got    we were going into, through 3 and 4, and I don’t know if they can put up his brakes and his gas.  We got all the technology.  But he was hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out.  It was crazy.  I don’t know what was going on. It was right there, I almost run into it, so I’m glad we were able to get out of there without any trouble.”

So did Bowyer rig the finish? Earnhardt is someone who should know about intentionally spinning for a caution. He was found guilty of such an act at Bristol in 2004.

Michael Waltrip Racing doesn’t necessarily have a clean slate when it comes to cheating allegations. Is it possible team orders were given to Bowyer to pull it off? Bowyer was solidly in the Chase and with rumored financial shortcomings for the team, getting Truex into the Chase would be good business.

NASCAR’s issued a statement Sunday afternoon saying “NASCAR is reviewing Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway per protocol and has no plans for further statement until that process is complete.”

The debate will continue, it will be interesting to see if NASCAR will investigate what happened and give out any punishments. Even if they do, it doesn’t matter to Newman or Gordon, who will now be out of the Chase.