Richmond Revisited: Who's Been Hurt Worst by NASCAR's 2013 Scandal at RIR?

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Richmond Revisited: Who's Been Hurt Worst by NASCAR's 2013 Scandal at RIR?
Peter Casey/USA Today

It was a night that shall live in infamy in NASCAR.

But now, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prepares to make its first return to Richmond International Raceway since last fall's shameful debacle aimed at manipulating race results, a look back at what has transpired since for the key figures involved is in order.

Who was left damaged the most by the incident that came to be known as SpinGate?

Was it Clint Bowyer, who allegedly played the central role in the elaborate controversy? Was it his then-teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing, Martin Truex Jr.? Was it MWR itself? Perhaps the 40 or more employees MWR was forced to lay off as a result? Or was it possibly NASCAR, which handled the matter in a highly unusual and unprecedented manner?

The answer, not so surprisingly, has to be Truex.

Who suffered the most damage from SpinGate at Richmond?

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To explain why, let's back up just a bit and review quickly what happened that night. In the 26th and final race of the regular season, drivers were jostling all night not only to determine who would win the race but also to finalize the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field that would establish the season's champion.

Being one of the chosen 12 to advance into the Chase literally is worth millions of dollars in exposure to the companies who fork out the big bucks to play primary sponsors on the race cars involved. So for the teams and organizations in contention for those spots, who must scrap over every last sponsorship dollar each and every offseason, it is arguably the most stressful and important night of a long season.

Qualify for the Chase, and for most drivers, the season can be judged a success, no matter what happens next. But failure to get into the Chase essentially means the entire season has been a bust.

All of which made for a combustible scenario when, with seven laps to go in last fall's race and Ryan Newman leading and seemingly in control not only for the victory but also for a place in the Chase, Bowyer took a call from his crew chief, Brian Pattie, on the team radio.

Pattie mentioned the poison oak that Bowyer had on his right arm after cutting down a tree at home the previous week. Then Pattie added, according to ESPN.com news services and others: "I'll bet it's hot in there. Itch it."

Next thing everyone knew, Bowyer was spinning. The caution flag came out—and Newman lost his grip on the race win and seemingly the Chase.

Earlier, MWR team president Ty Norris also had come on the team radio of MWR driver Brian Vickers and ordered a pit stop that seemed very mysterious. Like the Bowyer spin, the unnecessary pit stop also aided the advancement of then-teammate Truex into the Chase.

Truex was the unsuspecting beneficiary of all the alleged shenanigans, at least at first.

It wasn't until later that the anvil fell on Truex's head—and kept pounding on him like he was Wile E. Coyote until he not only was out of the Chase but also out of a job.

In the weird sort of way that only NASCAR can operate, no one ever really completely called Bowyer out for intentionally spinning, and the driver of the No. 15 Toyota never really completely admitted that he did.

But NASCAR obviously saw something awry, as it subsequently fined MWR a record $300,000, suspended Norris indefinitely, placed all three MWR crew chiefs on probation through the end of the year and docked Bowyer, Truex and Vickers all the same total of 50 rather meaningless points in the driver standings.

Oh, and NASCAR also ordered that Newman and another driver who was left screwed by the original proceedings, Jeff Gordon, would be placed in the Chase while Truex got the boot.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Martin Truex Jr. is struggling in his new ride.

The fallout didn't end there.

The primary sponsor on the No. 56 Toyota that Truex drove NAPA Auto Parts, soon announced it was terminating the final two years of its deal to continue in that role for MWR.

At the time, NAPA said it was getting out of the sport altogether—although it later agreed to serve as primary sponsor for Chase Elliott's car in the Nationwide Series for far fewer millions of dollars, in a move that so far has proven, for NAPA, to be very prudent.

Truex was left without a sponsor, and it was too late in the game, MWR's reputation too tarnished, for a replacement to be found.

So soon, the inevitable layoffs of shop personnel started at MWR. If anything, it could be argued that these folks lost the most—but in essence, Truex ended up being among them. At least Truex found another high-paying job as driver for the single-car Furniture Row Racing team, although his 2014 season, thus far, has been pretty miserable.

Bowyer has struggled this season, too, but he kept his spot in the 2013 Chase, and he kept his ride and his primary sponsor for 2014. He didn't have to leave MWR like Truex, who had been with the company two years longer.

Only time will tell if MWR ever recovers fully from SpinGate. It went from very briefly having two cars in the Chase immediately after the last Richmond race to having one, and then from big plans to build on that success by running three full-time cars in 2014 to cutting Truex loose and running only two.

Like MWR, NASCAR also emerged from the episode with a black eye. But at least the governing body acted swiftly and decisively in trying to do the right thing and never looked back, even though some thought certain aspects of the way the penalties were handed down were bungled from a public-relations standpoint.

All of which, in the end, leaves Truex as having paid the highest price when he had the least to do with what happened.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Joe Menzer has written two books about NASCAR and now writes about it as well as college basketball, golf and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.

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