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Michael Waltrip Racing altered a race, changed the Chase and undermined NASCAR’s credibility

By Tom Sorensen
tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

I like the old-school cheating in NASCAR. Junior Johnson’s car tricks were good for him and his sport.

But altering a car is one thing. Taking a dive to alter the field for the Chase is another.

There was nothing charming about what Michael Waltrip Racing did at Richmond Saturday night.

With seven laps to go, MWR’s Clint Bowyer spun his Toyota.

Look at the replay and tell me why. Bowyer was just cruising. Here he is, nice night for a drive, a spot in the Chase already assured and — oh, no! His car is twirling around.

It’s like the driver in front of you on I-485 drives calmly past the mall, past the slow guy who won’t vacate the left lane, past the cell phone tower designed to look like a giant tree and then, whoa, he’s spinning.

Why is he spinning? You can’t spin unless you have a reason. Here’s a possibility: Bowyer’s employers wanted him to raise smoke, create a restart and enable teammate Martin Truex Jr. make the Chase.

Ryan Newman, who was leading the Auto Parts 400, would clinch the final Chase spot with a victory. Listen to Bowyer’s radio before the spin.

Spotter Brett Griffin tells Bowyer that Newman is going to win.

Bowyer expresses displeasure.

Crew chief Brian Pattie: “Is your arm starting to hurt?”

Pattie adds: “I bet it’s getting hot in there. Itch it.”

Maybe Pattie is nothing more than a caring crew chief who is deeply concerned about Bowyer’s appendages as well as the temperature in the Toyota.

Or maybe it’s a tricky signal that only true racing professionals can decipher that means: “My man, you are already in the Chase. Be a good teammate and bring the cars back together for a restart so Truex, and not Newman, has a chance to join you.

Whatever the reason, Truex is in and Newman is not.

(Don’t you wish you could listen to team signals in other sports? “Cam: Throw short.”)

Even if Richmond International Raceway is banked 14 degrees in the turns, the playing field has to be level.

Spinning to spin is like taking a dive in a fight.

But boxing involves two athletes. Saturday’s Sprint Cup race involved 43.

The incident has generated considerable attention for a sport that annually is buried by the NFL’s opening games. The controversy has enticed people who otherwise wouldn’t have noticed to notice.

NASCAR should be embarrassed by what they see.

MWR comes off like some kind of twisted fraternity, the end of the race a twisted fraternity prank. Except instead of khakis the perpetrators wear shirts with the names of sponsors on them. Hey, sponsors. How do you like us now?

The third MWR driver, Brian Vickers, was told to pull into his pit, a command that surprised him. He didn’t even think MWR general manager Ty Norris was talking to him. Then came the explanation.

“We need that one point,” Norris said.

Truex needed it.

Drivers run all season to make the Chase. The hours they and their teams work are absurd. Their reward is the opportunity to win races and, perhaps, a championship.

At least one of them was cheated out of the opportunity.

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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