Apr 21, 2014, 1:21 PM EDT
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.
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.
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.
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May 24, 2015, 6:45 AM EDT
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May 24, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno analyzes the chances of each of the 33 drivers for this year’s Indianapolis 500.
May 24, 2015, 5:08 AM EDT
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May 23, 2015, 6:04 PM EDT
Chip Ganassi Racing driver will make his 300th career start Sunday.
May 23, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
After taking the lead at the start, Stanaway goes wire-to-wire to take his first GP2 win in Monaco.
May 23, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
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May 23, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
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May 23, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
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May 23, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Red Bull driver matches his best qualifying result of the season, but feels a top three grid slot was within reach.
May 23, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
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May 23, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Lotus driver will start tomorrow’s race from 15th place on the grid.
May 23, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT
Townsend Bell recaps a busy week, and a particularly busy Carb Day.
May 23, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT
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May 23, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
Ferrari driver explains how the fall in temperature ahead of qualifying meant Ferrari could not challenge Mercedes in Monaco.
May 23, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Toro Rosso driver dropped to the back of the grid after failing to complete a weight check during qualifying on Saturday.
- WATCH LIVE: Monaco GP Race Day on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am, NBC from 7:30am 0
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- What to watch for: IndyCar, Indy Lights Carb Day (11 a.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra) 0