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.
Mar 28, 2015, 5:24 PM EDT
Power on pole as Team Penske goes 1-2-3-4 in St. Petersburg qualifying.
Mar 28, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
Indy Lights’ new era kicks off at St. Petersburg with a new driver and team on top in the series’ new car.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
More Will Power on top of IndyCar practice at St. Petersburg.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT
Franck Montagny receives two-year ban from FIA’s Anti-Doping Disciplinary Committee.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Swedish driver reaches both Q2 and Q3 for the first time in his F1 career, and will start tomorrow’s race from ninth place on the grid.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Ricciardo and Kvyat both get inside the top five thanks to the rain in Q3 in Malaysia, but Massa and Bottas struggle.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Monaco’s circuit for the FIA Formula E Championship is revealed.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:28 AM EDT
Incident involving Jann Mardenborough’s Nissan GT-R claims the life of one spectator at the Nordschleife.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Dutch youngster scores the best F1 qualifying result for a teenager in 54 years on Saturday in Malaysia.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
Spanish driver will make his second debut for McLaren from 18th position on the grid tomorrow.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
British driver explains the challenge of judging your qualifying lap in the wet after securing pole position in Malaysia on Saturday.
Mar 28, 2015, 7:49 AM EDT
Merhi and Stevens miss the 107% time required to qualify in Malaysia, but are granted dispensation by the FIA stewards.
Vettel hoping for more rain on Sunday after scoring Ferrari’s first front-row start in two years (VIDEO)
Mar 28, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
Felipe Massa was the last driver to start on the front row of the grid for Ferrari, lining up second for the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Mar 28, 2015, 7:10 AM EDT
German driver cannot improve with his final lap in Q3, leaving him third on the grid behind Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Mar 28, 2015, 4:45 AM EDT
Could a thunderstorm rain on Mercedes parade? Join us for qualifying from 5a ET today.
Mar 28, 2015, 3:06 AM EDT
German driver edges out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in final practice at Sepang.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:30 AM EDT
FP3 for the Malaysian Grand Prix rolls off at 2 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra.
Mar 27, 2015, 7:08 PM EDT
Rain washed out Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying for this weekend’s 6th annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
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