During the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, the sports world was rocked when eight White Sox players were discovered to have intentionally contributed to the White Sox's eventual loss to the Reds in order to receive money from gamblers. Those eight men, dubbed the "Black Sox," were made into pariahs of the sport and were accused of selling out following their lifetime ban from Major League Baseball.
It's a different era, a different sport, and different implications altogether, but Clint Bowyer is NASCAR's newest pariah all the same.
By spinning out late in the going during Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Richmond, Bowyer attempted to alter the Chase field in order to help teammate Martin Truex Jr. gain the second wild-card spot in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup field. During his interview, Bowyer claimed that a flat tire had caused the spin (in the video you could actually hear the tire popping at 1:00) and that the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. had assisted him in the spin.
Upon NASCAR's investigation of the spin, they determined that although they weren't able to gather enough evidence to prove the incident was intentional, they sensed something was so amiss that they proceeded to penalize Michael Waltrip Racing harshly by taking away 50 driver points and 50 owner points from all three teams, fining MWR $300,000, placing the crew chiefs of the No. 15, the No. 55 and the No. 56 on probation until December 31, indefinitely suspending MWR Executive Vice President and General Manager and spotter for the No. 55 Toyota, and taking Truex out of the Chase field and putting in Ryan Newman, the man who stood to possibly gain the second wild-card spot prior to Bowyer's spin.
Yet the main culprit of the scandal gets away relatively unscathed. He currently sits eighth in the Chase field, 15 points out of first. Given how the No. 15 is one of the stronger Toyota teams in the Sprint Cup Series, he could still be a threat for the title after finishing second in the 2012 Chase.
But is this fair? Sure, he's owned up, even calling Newman to apologize since Bowyer's spin cost him a wild-card spot in the Chase. In an interview on ESPN's SportsCenter, Bowyer explained why he made the call:
"I felt horrible that spinning out on the racetrack actually caused him to, you know, ended up losing the race and ultimately, uh, you know, missing the Chase. But obviously, like I said, anytime something happens on the race track it causes some sort of reaction and that was a reaction and I feel bad for him."
Newman expressed shock over the phone call, but commended Bowyer for making the call all the same. But when Bowyer was asked again if he spun intentionally, he attempted to avoid the question asking the interviewer not to "dig too much into this." However, not everyone is convinced of Bowyer's innocence:
This is our "Black Sox" scandal. This is one of the darkest times for our sport because we've gone from taking pride in the fact that we weren't like the stick-and-ball sports, that we weren't prima donnas, that we were down home Americana, to participants freely compromising the integrity of our sport. Yet the one person who is the center of the scandal walks freely. It isn't right.
But Bowyer just tries to worm his way around the questions and the allegations and it does nothing to help his image. Instead it only continues to diminish his credibility not only as a driver but as a person. Will we ever believe another apology or explanation of a mistake? Not likely. He may have "cleared" the air with Newman, but for all we know it could have just been an assurance that Newman wouldn't see that he had a "hunting accident" during their upcoming hunting trip.
Think about this. The fact that Bowyer is still in the Chase and still in contention to win the Sprint Cup title kind of waters down the penalties levied by NASCAR on the MWR organization. He was solidly enough in the Chase that the pre-Chase penalty of 50 points wasn't enough to knock him out of the Chase. If NASCAR really wanted to drop the hammer down instead of just tapping the gavel, they should have followed the general consensus of the NASCAR community by eliminating him from the Chase and giving his spot to Jeff Gordon, who also lost out on making the 2013 Chase field.
But then again, maybe the justice isn't in the penalty. Maybe it is in the knowledge that come Chicago, the biggest boos won't be for Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch. They will be for Bowyer—a man who claims to love the sport, but was freely willing to give it the black eye that he did. They will be for a driver that spit in the eye of every grassroots fan and young dreamer who wishes to work hard and climb the ranks to racing greatness.
Win or lose, it looks to be a long Chase for Bowyer.
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