Yesterday, Michael Waltrip Racing was penalized by NASCAR for the actions of Clint Bowyer and his crew after they attempted to alter the outcome of a race. The result was that Martin Truex Jr. — Bowyer’s teammate and the man he was trying to help by spinning out to draw a caution late in the race — was removed from the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and Ryan Newman, the driver who was leading at the time of the spin, was awarded a wild card berth.
Not long after the news was released, I began thinking about this in an IndyCar context.
Granted, what you’re about to read is entirely speculation. (Hey, can you blame me? We’re smack in the middle of a month-long IndyCar drought. The mind tends to wander.)
But I can’t help but wonder whether, had IndyCar been the ones making that decision, the first question to be asked would have been, “What about Truex’s sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts?”
There’s precedent for the mentality. I’m thinking specifically of the time Ryan Hunter-Reay failed to make the field for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 and his team bought Bruno Junquiera’s properly qualified car out from under him, leaving poor Junquiera on the sidelines. The fan outrage that ensued was unforgettable. (That’s not the only example of such a situation, of course — it just happens to be the most recent.)
Once it became evident that Bowyer’s spin on Saturday was intentional, the fan uproar in response was of a similar ilk to the Junquiera situation. NASCAR saw the writing on the wall — they almost had no choice but to take action.
But what was different here is that if the question of whether sponsor interests should trump the integrity of their sport were ever raised, then they were dismissed — and rightly so.
Any sponsor that agrees to take part in a racing series should be informed up front that the nature of sport sometimes requires consequences for competitors such as penalties to drivers. Those penalties may at times be severe to be in line with the severity of the infraction. One has to hope that NAPA Auto Parts was duly informed of such before signing on to sponsor a NASCAR Sprint Cup team.
And does anyone think this situation reflects poorly on the sponsor involved? Would anyone choose not to spend money in a NAPA Auto Parts store because of its association with Martin Truex Jr. or Michael Waltrip Racing — particularly since the situation was not in any way Truex’s fault? Let’s certainly hope not.
Worldwide, sporting regulatory bodies are struggling to police competitors who seem bent on doing whatever it takes to get that almighty win, up to and including flagrant cheating. Any regulator that can take a stand and demonstrate a desire to operate fairly and put on competition that doesn’t put commercial interests or flamboyant entertainment values first will win the hearts and respect of its followers and will be in the best position possible to gain more.
In short, if integrity is evident and fans are on board, then money has a tendency to follow.
I don’t always agree with the decisions it makes, but there’s no doubt here that NASCAR did the right thing. Let’s hope that IndyCar would do the same in a similar situation.