Outsider’s perspective (by Kevin Trudgeon): Spin control

Posted: September 13, 2013

You know it’s been a strange week in NASCAR when you hear, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard since Ricky Bobby and the shake and bake.”

I don’t normally pay a lot of attention to the goings-on on the track.

Outside of the Daytona 500 and the occasional Chase for the Sprint Cup race, NASCAR isn’t really at the top of my list when it comes to sports fandom.

But who doesn’t like a little controversy?

In what has to be one of the biggest, and weirdest, stories of the year, multiple drivers either provided or received help in securing spots in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship field.

It started on Monday when reports surfaced that Clint Bowyer had intentionally spun out in order to give Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. a chance to edge out Ryan Newman for one of the final Chase spots.

The evidence?

A review of the in-car audio from Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Speedway revealed crew chief Brian Pattie telling Bowyer that Newman was going to win, asking him if his arm hurt and then telling him to itch it.

Next thing you knew Bowyer’s car was spinning, the caution flag was out and Newman was on his way to losing the race while Truex Jr. earned the final Chase berth.

Crazy right? It gets better.

In that same race (the final one before the start of the Chase this Sunday at the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway) David Gilliland and Front Row Motorsports are accused of essentially taking their foot off the gas to allow Penske Racing’s Joey Logano to move up.

Again victimized by their own radio communications (do these guys not realize that everyone can hear what they’re saying?), Gilliland’s spotter informs his crew that Logano’s team wants their spot on the track and someone believed to be Gilliland crew chief Frank Kerr responds with, “You tell that spotter up there it better pay big.”

A little later Logano passed Gilliland on a restart and ended up finishing one spot ahead of him, good enough for a berth in the Chase field.

Now obviously this isn’t the first, or last, time one driver has helped out another. It’s only natural.

They may all technically be competing against one another, but many of the drivers race for the same teams and have mutual interests when it comes to who finishes where.

There are major dollars to be made by making the Chase field, and when all it takes is a position change here or an extra pit stop there, teams are going to do what they can to help out their drivers.

So what’s the problem?

In the same way baseball players accept the stealing of signs as long as it’s not blatantly obvious, NASCAR and its fans are OK with teams helping each other out on the track — until it becomes a national story.

Nobody is naive enough to think it doesn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean they want to read story after story about it.

Suddenly a practice that can usually be chalked up to gamesmanship is being looked at as corruption in the court of public opinion and necessary measures have to be taken.

In the case of Bowyer, he was docked 50 points (although he’ll still be allowed to race in the Chase), Michael Waltrip Racing was fined $300,000 and Truex Jr. was replaced by Newman in the Chase field.

NASCAR has yet to find any wrongdoing on Logano’s part, but the incident is still being looked into.

But don’t think that’s going to stop it from happening in the future.

As long as the reward far outweighs the risk, drivers and teams will continue operate the same way they always have — although they might try to be a little more quiet about it in the future.

— Kevin Trudgeon is the sports editor at The Winchester Star