(AP) NASCAR seeks to restore credibility after scandal
By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
Facing the biggest credibility crisis in its long history, NASCAR issued a stern warning to its drivers and teams Saturday and said it won’t tolerate any more attempts to alter the outcome of races.
After a scandal-filled week spent investigating teams and undoing attempts to manipulate its championship field, NASCAR came forward with a series of rules that will change the way teams have called races for years.
NASCAR Chairman Brian France told teams he expects them “to give 100 percent” at all times, meeting with them for nearly 20 minutes at Chicagoland Speedway on the eve of the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
The warning came after an unprecedented week for NASCAR, which has been rocked by allegations of race-fixing since Clint Bowyer spun his car with seven laps remaining last Saturday night at Richmond, the race that completed the 12-driver field for the Chase.
NASCAR was forced to investigate when it became clear that Bowyer spun in an attempt to stop leader Ryan Newman from winning and give teammate Martin Truex Jr. one last chance to earn a Chase berth. The investigation uncovered at least three instances of race manipulations and led to severe sanctions against Michael Waltrip Racing and the removal of unwitting participant Truex from the Chase in favor of Newman.
The central piece of evidence was radio communications, and the penalties against MWR set off a chain of events NASCAR never anticipated.
Next came allegations of a scheme to sell track position and it triggered a new investigation involving deep-pocketed Penske Racing and tiny Front Row Motorsports.
It culminated Friday with France’s stunning decision to expand the Chase field to 13 drivers to accommodate Jeff Gordon, who had been bumped out of the Chase by the shenanigans of three drivers.
Gordon was pleased with the ruling, but uncomfortable with the way the week developed.
NASCAR ultimately decided it couldn’t prove Bowyer spun on purpose, but did find that MWR manipulated the race to help Truex by having Bowyer and Brian Vickers pit late in the race. The idea was that Joey Logano would bump Gordon out of a Chase spot, and Truex would get in through a wild card.
But in singling out the MWR cars for pitting to help Truex, NASCAR threw into question the long-accepted practice of deal-making between teams. That brought to light a late race conversation between Front Row team members, who were willing to have David Gilliland move aside for Logano in exchange for something it had previously asked for from Penske Racing.
When told to relay that information to Logano’s spotter, the crew chief is told the request for track position is coming from the “whole committee.”
NASCAR has tightened many of the areas that allowed the manipulations to occur in a series of new rules that were outlined for the teams and will begin Sunday. Among them:
_No more deals, no offering a position in exchange for a favor or material benefit, no altering the finish, no intentionally causing a caution, no intentionally pitting to gain advantage for another competitor or intentionally wrecking another competitor. The list of things not allowed is a work in progress, NASCAR President Mike Helton said. Penalties can include suspension.
_Only one spotter per team will be allowed on the spotter stand. It means Roger Penske can no longer watch the race from his preferred perch on the roof, and NASCAR will install a camera atop every roof to monitor things.
_Digital radios are now banned on the spotter stand, meaning spotters can no longer communicate on a private channel with a team. Spotters will also be limited to two analog radios, scanners and a handheld fan device. All communications from the spotter stand to the team can be monitored by the public.
_NASCAR said it will address new restart rules Sunday. Some drivers have complained about inconsistency on how restarts have been policed all season, and fans complained winner Carl Edwards jumped early last week past leader Paul Menard. It’s been overshadowed in the Chase controversy, and will apparently be addressed before Sunday’s race.
Gordon had hoped the meeting would lead to positive changes for the sport.
France said he didn’t speak to any drivers after the meeting, but sensed a redefining of the rules was overdue.
Paul Wolfe, crew chief for defending series champion Brad Keselowski, said NASCAR was clear in its meeting.
Seven-time champion and Hall of Famer Richard Petty believes none of the events at Richmond differed from what occurred a week earlier at Atlanta. But because of the stakes _ 10 drivers vying for five Chase berths _ he said the actions of a few were magnified and NASCAR had to act.
For NASCAR, the next step is getting back on track on Sunday and putting on a good, clean race.