As the fallout from the penalties leveled against Michael Waltrip Racing continues to rain down, more radio communication is now under scrutiny. NASCAR is now reviewing communications between the teams of David Gilliland and Joey Logano that seems to imply Penske Racing struck a deal with Front Row Motorsports in the final laps of the race at Richmond Saturday night to let Logano pass and gain a position.
By punishing Michael Waltrip for solely the Brian Vickers conversation that brought him down pit road under the green at the end of the race, NASCAR has opened Pandora’s box. Things like this are not new in racing. The realities of the multi-car team model make it all but certain that teams will allow others to pass in certain situations to gain points. It’s not exactly great for competition, but it happens.
So, what now? It appears that NASCAR won’t be taking action against Gilliland or Logano for their actions Saturday night,[ref]Although this isn’t confirmed yet.[/ref] but this now puts them into a hypocritical position. If the penalties they issued to Michael Waltrip Racing Saturday were because of the conversations they heard to force Vickers to sandbag at the end of the event and let Logano get by, why is asking Gilliland to do the same thing not a punishable offense? If the penalties are based on radio chatter, does the Gilliland conversation not qualify as the same thing?
There are multiple things at play in this story. First and foremost, NASCAR screwed up by making the penalties for Vickers and claiming that they couldn’t find enough evidence to say Bowyer spun intentionally, despite the odd discussions between Bowyer and his crew, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s belief (and remember, he’s done this before) that Bowyer did it on purpose. All of the runaround with Vickers wouldn’t even have happened had Bowyer not brought out the caution in the first place, so ignoring him in the penalties is a huge gaffe.
Had they leveled the penalties for Bowyer’s spin and then the intentional sandbagging by unnecessary pit stops, we could move forward with the knowledge that teams will let drivers pass during the course of a race from time to time. It doesn’t make it completely OK, but that’s something we know happens. Now, with the way they’ve chosen to issue the penalties, they’ll look like hypocrites if they don’t penalize Gilliland and/or Logano.
My fear is that all of this will result in scrambled radio communications moving forward from teams, which would prevent fans and officials from listening in. That would be a huge loss, but you have to assume NASCAR will make it illegal for teams to scramble radio chatter. However, president Mike Helton was asked in the press conference Monday if NASCAR would start monitoring all radio communications during races in order to make quicker decisions, and he said the technology doesn’t exist. That’s a shame, and something they better be looking into.
This is a time that NASCAR is looking to garner coverage from outlets that usually ignore them. By starting its “Chase across America” initiative, drivers in the Chase are visiting all of the markets of the tracks in the playoff schedule to do interviews and get extra attention placed on the sport. Unfortunately, all that extra attention obviously isn’t for the right reasons at the moment.
Whether or not NASCAR chooses to penalize Logano and Gilliland for these newly discovered radio communications, they’re now in a tough position. In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Jimmie Johnson called for NASCAR to increase its officiating staff to be able to make calls quicker during a race, and even suggested an NFL-style system that would red flag the race for instant replay reviews should questionable situations come up.
NASCAR was already in hot water earlier this week and only half rectified a situation. Now, they’ve got another call to make. The question is, will they make the right one?