No Comparison When Comparing Newman and Bowyer
NASCAR handed down heavy penalties Tuesday to Ryan Newman's #31 Richard Childress Racing team after finding the team illegally modified their tires at Fontana. In the new scale of NASCAR punishment which started last season, this was deemed a P-5 penalty. As a result, crew chief Luke Lambert has been suspended for the next six races, placed on probation until the end of this year and fined $125,000. Newman lost 50 driver points, Childress lost 25 owners' points and two other crew members were suspended along with Lambert. Almost immediately, particularly on social media, the cry went up that what this team did was at least as bad if not worse than what Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing did at Richmond in the fall of 2013. That, however, is certainly not the case.
It's been well documented that Bowyer was found guilty by NASCAR for intentionally spinning out to bring out a caution flag at Richmond, with the hope of helping then-teammate Martin Truex, Jr. make the Chase field while knocking Ryan Newman out of contention. Prior to Tuesday's announcement about the #31's penalties, the punishment doled out by the sanctioning body for those actions had been the most severe we've seen in several years. What Bowyer and his team did was wrong. What Newman and his team did was also wrong. To compare the two however, is also wrong.
Stock car racing is no different than other sports in the fact that players and/or teams are always looking for a competitive advantage. In all sports, occasionally a team, coach or player crosses the line of legality in searching for that edge. More often than not, those who cross the line and try to play outside the rules, are caught and subsequently punished. There are different types of rule breaking and thus, there are different types of punishment. In no sport is there a "one size fits all" punishment given regardless of the severity of the infraction.
Cheating has existed in baseball since the game was invented and it continues today. I've used this example before but in the past, pitchers have been known to use illegal substances on the ball in hopes of altering its path toward the batters box. At the same time, hitters have drilled the ends of their bats and inserted cork in goal of being able to hit the ball farther. Both actions are against the rules and both are dealt with harshly by Major League Baseball. Are either of those actions as terrible as players or coaches conspiring to fix the result of a game? Fans that would view it logically would say now and they would have history on their side.
No sport can have its core integrity questioned. Notice I used the term core. In every sport, fans will howl and complain that officials have it in for certain teams or players. Racing is no exception. What I'm referring to, is the fact that sports leagues, officials and most importantly the fans, need to know that what they say play out on the field or track before them was legitimate, that there was no fix in the results. That is the greatest fear of any sanctioning body. If you don't believe that, I refer again to baseball.
Of all the rules in the Major League Baseball rule book, only one is posted predominately inside every major league clubhouse. It's known as "Rule 21." It's the rule that very implicitly deals with gambling, the one that snared Pete Rose. The reason that rule is advertised to players, coaches and managers is because baseball understands the importance of not having its participants illegally alter the outcomes of games through a conspiracy. That's the same reason the NCAA trembles whenever allegations of points shaving arise in college basketball.
Cheating at various levels of severity has gone on in racing for as long as people have raced. It's only natural to want to try to find a way to gain an advantage. At the same time, sanctioning bodies have tried to stay one step ahead of them. With today's technology, that battle is probably tougher than ever. Perhaps because of its rural, southern roots, NASCAR might have a more colorful history of rule bending than most other sports. The stories of Junior Johnson, Smokey Yunick and others are legendary. Although they might appeal, you'll notice the Childress camp has been pretty silent since they received their punishment. They issued a statement in which they basically accepted what's been handed to them. The Waltrip/Bowyer camp has either lied about, evaded or tried to ignore their misdeeds ever since that night Bowyer was told to "itch" his arm.
What Newman's team did was wrong and they were severely punished and rightfully so. What they did was akin to scuffing baseballs. They tried to gain an advantage in a way that they knew was against the rules. What Bowyer and his team did attacked that core integrity in trying to affect the outcome of the race by involving other teams. What they did (or attempted to do) was to basically conspire to alter the outcome of the event. Beyond scuffing baseballs, committing a personal foul, or doctoring footballs, that type of conspiracy is something that no sport can or will tolerate.