The suspicious actions of Michael Waltrip Racing drivers Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers to aid teammate Martin Truex Jr. at Richmond and qualify for a spot in the Chase landed the team $350,000 in fines and NASCAR removing Truex from the Chase.
Bowyer appeared to deliberately spin out to aid Truex. Vickers, who inexplicably slowed down during the final laps to aid Truex, has issued a response via an editorial in USA Today defending his team against NASCAR's penalties, as well as, public and media outrage.
From USA Today:
To all interested parties, the easy thing to do when faced with situations such as these is to say nothing and do nothing. But the right thing to do is defend what you believe in. Unfortunately, the "right thing" and the "easy thing" are rarely one in the same. What I believe in is this team. The Michael Waltrip Racing organization is made up of the most honorable and quality group of people I have ever worked with in my life. It starts with Rob Kauffman and Michael Waltrip, the team owners. Those two guys have a passion for racing and NASCAR equal to or greater than anyone in that garage. Their level of appreciation and respect for this sport inspires me every day I work with them. And they have spent the last decade or more hiring and building a team of like-minded individuals who put their hearts and souls into making these cars and teams the very best they can be. I am proud to say I'm a driver at Michael Waltrip Racing.
Vickers explains the negative financial effects that his team and their families could experience:
People are saying a lot of things about this team right now without considering the consequences. This team is more than just the few people you see every weekend. This team is hundreds of hardworking men and women who strive every single day to win in the most honorable way possible. They are not cheaters. Few people these days take time to consider the effect the words they write can have on these hardworking families. If our amazing partners were pressured to the extent of pulling out, hundreds of families would lose their means of income. You should consider this next time you decide to rant on Twitter about something without having all the facts.
Vickers defends his team's "split-second decision" that led to the incident and penalties and says others would have done the same:
As Michael addressed in his statement, Ty Norris, MWR's general manager and my spotter, had a split-second decision to make that could help this team in a major way. He didn't have some grand strategy to manipulate the race. He was thinking about all the hardworking people on this team and what they put into making the Chase.
Every weekend, every team in that garage goes on the track to win and put on the very best race they possibly can to honor fans — past, present and future. And to honor this great sport, NASCAR. MWR is no exception, but sometimes your race doesn't evolve as you planned and you're not battling for the win or the Chase. But oftentimes, your teammate is and you try to help him, whether it's by giving him your setup or maybe it's letting him lead a lap during the race, or maybe it's even giving him that one spot he needs to win the championship. Do you think that if you were running in 21st position and your teammate needed that one spot to win the championship, you wouldn't give it to him? You think that doesn't happen every race, every year? You think that if Jimmie Johnson was in front of Jeff Gordon he wouldn't give it to him? You think Mark Martin wouldn't have given a spot to Ryan Newman or Brad Keselowski to Joey Logano? They would — and they have.
Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have acknowledged that teammates help each other all the time, but somehow, us pitting has crossed the line? Where is that line?
Vickers explains his interpretation of the rules and acknowledges competition can be "a very slippery slope."
My interpretation of the rules is as follows: I'm driving the car and can drive it how I like — pit when we like, pass whomever I want and let whomever I want to pass me, whenever I want to. If those are not the rules, and if my team and I are not in control of our car and our race, and if we have to race how we're told and pit when we are told, then someone needs to clarify that and define the rules as such, including who would tell us. There is currently no rule that states you can't help a teammate or give a teammate your position if you choose. If we as competitors and fans of this amazing sport would like to have that rule, then let's write it. Maybe something to the effect of: "No two or more cars of the same owner may take any action that supports or helps his teammate by any means." Now before the pendulum swings in that direction, it is important to acknowledge that this is a very slippery slope and would be extremely difficult to police.
This approach undoubtedly would come with unintended consequences, not to mention have what I believe to be a negative impact on the quality and excitement of each race. But until this rule is in place, don't condemn our team or any other team that takes the same actions every single weekend.
Vickers says he will always stand by his teammates because it's the right thing to do:
Every lap we take, every car we pass, every pit stop we make changes the outcome of the race. Are we free to choose what and when those moments are or not? You can't have it both ways.
If helping a teammate, friend and brother in arms is a crime, then I'm guilty. I didn't make that call to pit last Saturday nor did I even understand why we did it at the time. But if my teammate(s) needed me again and it was of no consequence to me, my team or our partners, I would make the same decision time and time again. So if death by a firing squad is what you want, then add me to the lineup. I stand by my team, not because it's easy but because it is right!