The week leading to the beginning of the Chase should be one of the best of the entire Sprint Cup season. It is the week where NASCAR sends those drivers that made the Chase to all of the national sport shows to be interviewed and to publicize the 10-race Chase that will eventually crown this season’s champion.
The week as it turned out, thanks to the events of the final race leading up to the Chase at Richmond, had NASCAR scrambling not to just publicize the Chase, but instead to defend the integrity of the sport. The outcome of the Richmond race was tainted as soon as the checkered flag waved, thanks to the actions of Michael Waltrip Racing. Adding to the sanctioning body’s woes was that later in the week questions were raised about the actions of Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports.
The series left Richmond with questions about whether or not the outcome of the race had been manipulated by the actions of a couple of teams. NASCAR wasted very little time in conducting a review of what went on during the closing laps of the race and quickly announced severe penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing. Later in the week, Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports were also penalized for actions that altered the outcome of the race.
The actions of these organizations forced NASCAR to replace MWR’s Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase with Ryan Newman as he was all set to race his way into the race before MWR’s Brian Vickers was ordered to pit and teammate Clint Bowyer mysteriously spun out without any contact, causing the caution flag to wave. Penske and Front Row worked out a deal where Joey Logano was able to pass David Gilliland in the closing laps to secure his spot in the Chase.
The actions of Penske and Front Row Motorsports cost Jeff Gordon a spot in the field as Logano moved into the top 10, thanks to Gilliland’s on-track hospitality. NASCAR didn’t agree with the pass and added Gordon to the Chase as the 13th driver.
The integrity of the sport was being questioned because of these actions and NASCAR wasted very little time once it got to Chicagoland Speedway in announcing to the drivers, teams and owners some changes that would immediately take place. It wasn’t a rule change. Instead it was clearly stated to everyone that NASCAR expected every driver and team to give 100 percent effort to finish as high up as possible in a race.
Anything less than a 100 percent from the drivers and teams could bring into question if the teams are trying to artificially alter the outcome of a race. That can be achieved by causing a caution, intentionally wrecking and pitting or directing your driver to give up a position. This will force NASCAR to look at how it officiates races and in many case the calls that will have to be made will be subjective on the part of the officials.
NASCAR also announced that it would more closely monitor the actions of the spotters by limiting each team to one spotter and also limit the number of radios that a spotter may have. In addition to these rule changes, there will also be a camera installed so that the actions that take place in the spotter’s stand can be monitored.
These changes should go a long way into making sure that no driver is given any spot on the racetrack and that the day of deal making between teams will no longer be tolerated.
TRACK SMACK: New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be the second stop of the Chase and it is a track that has been good to Jimmie Johnson in the past as he leads all Chase-eligible drivers with a 9.4 average finish. Denny Hamlin leads all drivers with an 8.8 average finish, but isn’t Chase eligible. Johnson also joins fellow Chase drivers Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman as three-time winners at the track.
Event: Sylvania 300
Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1.058 mile oval, 120 of banking in the turns)
Date: Sept. 22, 2 p.m.
Defending Champion: Denny Hamlin