Ryan: NASCAR punishment won’t fix the problem

Ryan: NASCAR punishment won't fix the problem
NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner Michael Waltrip with drivers Martin Truex Jr.  and  Clint Bowyer at Richmond International Raceway.
  • Martin Truex%2C Jr. Is out of the Chase.
  • Waltrip Racing GM Ty Norris suspended.
  • NASCAR%2C teams credibility takes a hit.
  • CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR wanted to send a stern message to the Sprint Cup Series by dropping the hammer Monday on Michael Waltrip Racing.

    And it did: If you’re going to manipulate our races by ordering your drivers to lay down, be smarter than MWR’s ham-handed bungling of team orders next time.

    The major takeaway from NASCAR effectively wiping out that team’s results in Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400?

    There are no guarantees the regular-season cutoff race won’t unfold under exactly the same cloud of deceit the next time it is run at Richmond International Raceway.

    Even though it docked Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers 50 points apiece, the overarching lesson that teams learned wasn’t “don’t do this, or we’ll nail you.”.

    It was do a better job of disguising it until NASCAR figures out how to monitor its teams’ traffic well enough to determine when underhanded tactics are occurring.

    It took two days for the sanctioning body to rule Monday on what seemed obvious to anyone paying attention to a scanner Saturday night: MWR made Bowyer and Vickers take dives to put Truex in the final wild-card spot. It was a sinister plan superbly executed under major duress with the cunning of criminal masterminds. But the team co-owned by a man who revels in his court jester persona fumbled the post-race cover-up with a vaudeville act worthy of the Three Stooges.

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    So what steps is NASCAR taking to ensure that doesn’t happen in the future?

    President Mike Helton was asked that, and the answer wasn’t exactly reassuring.

    “One day, there’ll be a way to scan 43 teams times 3-4 person per team and keep up with all that but that’s not today,” Helton said. “I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to assume the responsibility without getting to that level of technology that can help us do that. There’ll be additional technologies to apply to get a more clear, quicker answers. We don’t have that today to reasonably expect us to react instantly to radio conversations. We don’t have the current technology to listen to every team member talking.”.

    Boys, have at it, and have a good time pretending that you are racing entirely above board in the future.

    There was only one winner in this decision: Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Newman, who gets into the Chase in the final wild card spot as Truex got booted.

    There are almost too many losers to count.

    — MWR, whose lingering reputation for unscrupulous practices and malfeasance (hey remember that jet fuel scandal six years ago?) Took another hit and resulted in a newfound patsy: General manager Ty Norris, who was suspended indefinitely for blatantly ordering Vickers to pit under false pretenses.

    — Hendrick Motorsports and its sponsors that stand to lose millions in exposure by not having Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet in the Chase.

    — NASCAR and its credibility among mainstream sports fans and media who might have been curious about how the sport would handle its own version of a Black Sox Scandal.

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    — And likely legions of fans who feel as if justice was, at best, half-served despite a virtually unprecedented display of discipline Monday night at NASCAR’s R&D Center.

    Gordon remains out of the Chase even though he was in it before the subterfuge began Saturday.

    Bowyer, who triggered the shenanigans with a spin that video and audio indicated was intentional, will begin the Chase without any penalty.

    NASCAR effectively gave MWR an out by declaring there was no conclusive evidence that Bowyer spun on purpose.

    Within 30 minutes of last night’s news conference, Michael Waltrip had taken it, tweeting “this wasn’t a master plan or about a spin, it’s about a split-decision made by Ty to try to help a teammate. I stand by my people.”.

    That turned Norris into a scapegoat who acted alone and left a sport already beset by conspiracy theories stinging with another blemish that raised questions about the integrity of its competition.

    This was mostly an intractable situation for NASCAR. Ask Formula One how easy it is to police a plethora of multicar teams with millions of dollars at stake (it gave up on outlawing team orders after a decade of futility). And between sponsors, teams, drivers and fans, there are too many constituencies to satisfy.

    But even though there might have been no recourse for a perfect administering of justice, there had to be a better way to reassure its fan base and industry that it wouldn’t happen again.

    As Gordon, a four-time champion with a lot of clout, tweeted after the decision, “At this point all that matters to me is if NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely!”.

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    The fix wasn’t enough Monday.

    Which means the fix will be in again in the future.

    Follow Nate Ryan on Twitter @nateryan.