Your Cheating Heart: Race Manipulation Nothing New in NASCAR

Christopher LeoneSenior Analyst ISeptember 12, 2013

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 07:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, spins in front of Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, spins on track during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 56th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

It's been a tough week for NASCAR, with accusations of unwelcome conduct flying left and right about the manipulation of spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

First, Michael Waltrip Racing earned itself a $300,000 fine and a 50-point penalty per driver after using drivers Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers to help teammate Martin Truex Jr. get into the Chase. The penalty, applied before Chase re-seeding, knocked Truex out in favor of Ryan Newman, but left Jeff Gordon with "an unprecedented level of anger" when the No. 24 car didn't make it in. Bowyer came out relatively unscathed points-wise. (An aside: Sure, Gordon has the right to be mad. But NASCAR can't pick and choose when to apply its penalties—namely, penalizing Truex and Vickers before the Chase re-seeding and Bowyer after. They had to be consistent.) 

Now, Gordon has to be seething over allegations of collusion between Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports to let Joey Logano pass David Gilliland for the decisive point that left four-time champion Gordon out of the Chase.

But let's be honest—does anybody seriously think that this doesn't follow that same old quality that has been celebrated in NASCAR lore for years?

I'm talking, of course, about cheating. "Team orders," as our motorsport-watching brethren from across the pond would call them, are just the latest method to catch our eye. 

Look at all of NASCAR's top crew chiefs, and chances are you'll see at least one significant fine or suspension on everybody's record. During Jimmie Johnson's five-year reign atop the Cup standings, Chad Knaus was accruing penalties left and right, to the point where Johnson's first Daytona 500 victory came with Darian Grubb, not Knaus, at the helm.

Defending champion crew chief Paul Wolfe earned six races' worth of seat time after using illegal parts at Texas this spring, though the suspension was later reduced to two on appeal. Steve Letarte, Todd Gordon, Jimmy Fennig, you name it—their wallets have all been affected by their actions in the garage.

And don't act like drivers are innocent either. In 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the same guy who called out Bowyer on his allegedly purposeful spin (Bowyer hasn't admitted it), did the same thing at Bristol to cause a caution, earning himself a $25,000 fine in the process.

Even NASCAR isn't completely without blame in its own history. In 1990, Mark Martin won the season's second race at Richmond, only to have a 46-point penalty assessed after carburetor spacer issues. The violation wasn't illegal based on enforcement at Daytona, didn't affect performance and more importantly passed inspection three times—leading some to perceive a NASCAR bias toward Dale Earnhardt after he finished second in the race and eventually won the championship by 26 points over Martin.

The question is, what makes team orders so much more unsavory in comparison to the previous examples? Cheating is cheating. It doesn't matter how a team or driver tries to manipulate the outcome of a race, it's the same thing.

Unless Dale Earnhardt is involved, apparently.

As Marty Smith tweeted yesterday, "Pondering why no one was made when Dave Marcis used to have 'handling problems' during Big E's championship years..." Or, even, when Richard Childress started an extra car for Neil Bonnett in Atlanta in 1993, then pulled it after three laps to ensure Earnhardt wouldn't finish last for any reason.

Fans, that's an example of the same team owner engaging in both of this week's controversies: collusion with another team in the case of Marcis and manipulating the finishing order in the case of Bonnett. If you were watching back then, and were okay with it then, you had better be okay with it now.

This kind of thing has been going on in NASCAR for years, and everybody who doesn't have blinders on knows it. Shame on the people who are getting on their philosophical high horse over this week's talking points, unless they're willing to go back and offer the same judgment on years and years of similar cases throughout NASCAR history.

If you want to be upset, you'd better be consistent.