NASCAR still humming along after last fall’s Richmond scandal


This weekend, NASCAR returns to the scene of the crime.

The Easter break is over, and the Sprint Cup Series will get back to racing this coming Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway – its first visit to “The Action Track” since America’s most popular form of motorsport was turned upside down.

Last fall at RIR, and with a Chase bid for then-driver Martin Truex Jr. on the line, Michael Waltrip Racing attempted to ensure that he would be involved in the post-season.

With just a handful of laps remaining, MWR driver Clint Bowyer spun out to put the race under caution with seven laps to go. Another MWR driver, Brian Vickers, was then told to pit just prior to the final restart.

For a moment, it looked like the tactics had worked as Truex was able to improve his position enough to make the Chase. But two days later, NASCAR lowered the boom.

Truex was out of the Chase after he (along with Bowyer and Vickers) lost 50 points, enabling Ryan Newman to move into the post-season.

Later, Jeff Gordon – one of those affected by MWR’s maneuver – was also added to the Chase as a 13th driver.

Then loyal sponsor NAPA decided to leave MWR behind after the scandal, later resurfacing as a backer for Nationwide Series young gun Chase Elliott and JR Motorsports.

And so, MWR was forced to downsize to its current two-car form, a third car only appearing on occasion. Truex is now at Furniture Row Racing and crew chief Chad Johnston is now at Stewart-Haas Racing.

The scandal broke at the worst possible time for the sport, as it prepared to enter the 10th year of the Chase format. It wanted to promote but instead had to defend its very credibility.

But as Richmond looms once again, it appears NASCAR has weathered the storm.

Some of the reason for that comes down to Brian France’s swift decision on how to punish MWR after Richmond.

The NASCAR CEO may have been, at his own admission, “pissed off,” at the time, but he was clear-headed enough to know that a reaction from the sanctioning body post-Richmond could not wait.

“It was going to be really tough, especially for the teams that got penalized, losing sponsors; that was no fun for anybody,” he said of the situation in December. “But I knew that our credibility would be preserved if we did the right thing and we acted swiftly.”

NASCAR also caught a break in how the 2013 Chase ultimately played out. Two of the more non-controversial Cup drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth wound up dueling for the title while Bowyer – who kept his Chase spot despite his points penalty – was never really a factor.

Bullet…Make that big bullet…dodged.

With that, NASCAR took the off-season opportunity to unveil yet another revision to the Chase format, which virtually ensures drivers a place in the post-season if they can win in the regular season.

So far, it’s worked out pretty well. It took eight races before the first repeat winner of the 2014 season finally emerged with Kevin Harvick at Darlington.

The focus has been on the racing, just as France and his team in Daytona Beach had surely hoped for.

Even if the Richmond visit is sure to conjure memories of last fall’s incident for everyone, that focus likely won’t be supplanted.

Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon hasn’t won yet. Ditto for Johnson and Kenseth, the two main title rivals of one year ago.

Throw in the potential fireworks that always come with close-quarter short track racing, and we should have a good show on tap for Saturday night under the lights.

Life may have gotten a bit hairy for NASCAR, but things are humming along now.

IMSA: Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Update – 3 hours in

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The opening hours of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring have been action-packed, with the early hours highlighted by racing that we would not expect from an endurance race.

For example, Acura Team Penske’s No. 7 ARX-05, currently fourth with Graham Rahal at the wheel, has had a couple run-ins with traffic, both from the Prototype and GT classes, as shown below.

Reports on happenings in the first three hours from all three classes are below.


Turn 1, Lap 1 proved to be a disaster for one of the contenders in Prototype. Olivier Pla, starting on the outside of the front row in the No.2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi, tried to pass polesitter Tristan Vautier, in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac DPi-V.R, on the outside.

Vautier held his ground when Pla tried to pinch him against the inside wall, with the two making contact and sending Pla into a slide across the outside of the corner. Although he limped around back into the pits, the team ultimately uncovered a terminal gearbox issue, cause by the contact, and retired car, ending their race before it ever had a chance to get going.

The lone caution of the opening hours also came in the Prototype class. Sebastian Saavedra, in the No. 52 Ligier JS P217 Gibson for AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, spun exiting Turn 17. In trying to avoid, Frank Montecalvo, in the GT Daytona class No. 64 Ferrari 488 GT3 for Scuderia Corsa, drifted out wide, but made contact with the right-front of Saavedra, which launched Montecalvo airborne and into the tire barriers exiting the corner.

Montecalvo emerged unhurt from the spectacular incident, while Saavedra returned to the pits for a new front nose on the No. 52 Ligier, and continued on.

Vautier, meanwhile, continued on unscathed and led the opening stint.

Just over three hours in, Eric Curran leads in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac for Action Express. The No. 22 ESM Nissan sits second in the hands of Nicolas Lapierre, with Jordan Taylor third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

BMW Team RLL has dominated the opening hours of the 12 Hours of Sebring, with their No. 24 BMW M8 GTLM leading the way early on. Nicky Catsburg is currently behind the wheel.

Risi Competizion currently holds down second, with Alessandro Pier Guidi currently at the helm of their No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing holds third with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford GT, though they had a clumsy run-in with the sister No. 66 in the pits early on, with both cars bumping each other exiting the pits.

However, no damage was done and both carried on.

GT Daytona

The polesitting No. 51 Ferrari from Spirit of Race also had a messy start to their 12 Hours of Sebring, with Daniel Serra getting together with the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3, in the hands Jack Hawksworth at the time. The contact cut the right-rear tire of Serra, forcing an early pit stop. They now sit 16th in class.

Montaplast by Land Motorsport leads in the way in the No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3, with 17-year-old youngster Sheldon van der Linde at the helm. Running second is Corey Lewis in the Paul Miller Racing No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, with 3GT Racing sitting third with Kyle Marcelli in the No. 14 Lexus.