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Monday, September 9, 2013
Updated: September 12, 4:52 PM ET
NASCAR punishment falls short

By Ed Hinton
ESPN.com

Maybe NASCAR should have tossed the more active suspect in the Michael Waltrip Racing caper, Clint Bowyer, out of the Chase along with more passive teammate Martin Truex Jr. Monday night.

That would have made room, justly, for the second victim of Bowyer's team-ordered shenanigans at Richmond, Jeff Gordon, and not just the most blatant victim, Ryan Newman.

NASCAR took the 12th and final wild-card berth away from Truex via a points penalty and gave it to Newman, who likely would have won it fairly, along with the Richmond race Saturday night, without Bowyer's spin.

Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. celebrated a Chase berth on Saturday night. On Monday night, he was out of the playoffs.

Yet Bowyer's eighth seed in the Chase remains intact.

Gordon also lost enormously to the spin, lost a Chase berth via the point standings, to Joey Logano, by a single point. Now questions have arisen whether Logano's Penske team might have gotten help in track position from another Ford team, Front Row, and David Gilliland, at Gordon's expense. NASCAR continues to investigate.

So Gordon is due compensation, a Chase berth, in at least one way, as victim of Bowyer's spin, and it could turn out in a second way, depending on NASCAR's conclusions about the Logano-Gilliland matter.

Should Gordon wind up replacing Logano in the Chase, then at least Gordon would get in. But the most active suspect, Bowyer, would still be in. Should NASCAR do what I'm suggesting here, take MWR entirely out of the Chase, then Bowyer's berth could go to Gordon.

Then, should Logano wind up being bounced, that berth could go to the next driver in the final standings, Jamie McMurray.

Not that Bowyer wasn't following team orders -- or, hrrmph, strong team suggestions. And not that MWR didn't play other sleazy chess, bringing third teammate Brian Vickers in for a pit stop to Vickers' surprise, and even Bowyer himself for another stop, all apparently aimed at improving Truex's finish in the race and his Chase chances.

The mastermind, or at least the man responsible, if you go by NASCAR's indefinite suspension of him, might have been MWR general manager Ty Norris. But maybe Bowyer's unit of the team should have been a bigger part of the massive punitive damages NASCAR has announced so far, because evidence suggests Bowyer's unit was more active. Bowyer was the man whose spinout detonated all of this.

In retrospect, it appears Gordon earned a berth as Newman did, and then was robbed as Newman was.

NASCAR took a step back from the precipice on credibility Monday night. But it's all still teetering. Imagine allowing Bowyer to go through the Chase. Imagine the booing, the hooting, the necessary media rehashing and commentary, every moment that Bowyer's car turns a tire on every lap.

Just the presence of an MWR car in the playoffs could be an enormous embarrassment to NASCAR. Let alone the very idea of Bowyer winning the whole thing. Imagine … Imagine … Imagine …

All the mainstream public has ever looked down its nose at NASCAR about -- all the perceptions of sleaze, cheating, contrivance, manipulation, rigging, real or not -- looms here, now, in this singular issue.

Meticulous as NASCAR is over a few grams of weight of a connecting rod in an engine, or a couple of millimeters of body height in an inspection, it all could go for naught, all totaled, all penny-wise, all pound-foolish, under an avalanche like this.

Our Marty Smith has sources who say this isn't over -- that, for example, the fines against MWR might not be just $300,000, but $300,000 per car for three cars, totaling $900,000. But that's only money, which of course means little if anything to NASCAR teams nowadays.

I hope this isn't over. I hope it isn't even close to over.

I hope, come the Chase opener at Chicagoland on Sunday, we'll see not only Newman but Gordon in the playoffs, where they belong. I hope we'll see the only fair outcome of all this.

I hope, even for the sake of MWR and Bowyer, that not even they will have to endure the sheer mortification of going through these playoffs.