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Racing to the Point: Revisiting Spingate, One Year Later For Michael Waltrip Racing
(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Racing to the Point: Revisiting Spingate, One Year Later For Michael Waltrip Racing

The spin, like an earthquake, lasted about five seconds. Its aftershock is still being felt.

This was no ordinary I-want-to-be-a-NASCAR-driver spin. When Clint Bowyer followed orders to itch his arm and went sideways off turn 4 in the final laps of the regular season finale at Richmond last season, he set his organization back three years, cost Michael Waltrip Racing millions of dollars, cost employees their jobs and altered the course of his teammate’s career.

“That’s the craziest thing I ever saw,” Dale Earnhardt, Jr. told ESPN in his postrace interview on Sept. 7, 2013.

Junior was just referring to the spin, of course, but that quote would’ve summed up the aftermath pretty well, too. Once the dominoes started falling, it just got crazier. Martin Truex, Jr., who the spin helped get in the Chase, was removed three days later and replaced with Ryan Newman. NASCAR fined MWR $300,000 — the largest fine ever — and handed out suspensions. On Sept. 19, NAPA Auto Parts announced it was pulling its huge primary sponsorship two years early. MWR, unable to replace NAPA, was forced to scale back. It cut 15 percent of its workforce at year’s end.

Truex has been living a nightmare ever since. He was a part of the foundation at MWR, coming over in 2010 when it was a one-car operation just trying to stay above water. He worked through the growing pains and in September 2013 was at the height of his career. He finally won a race earlier that summer at Sonoma and was on the verge of making the Chase for a second consecutive season. One could be a fluke, but two trips to a 12-man Chase proved he was a top-notch driver and belonged there. He needed a late caution, but somehow Truex raced his way in and stood on the Chase podium, smiling for photos with the best in the sport.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

The aftereffect of Martin Truex, Jr.’s 2013 Richmond fall race is still being felt a year later. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Then his world was tipped upside down like a snow globe. It started with questions after the race asking about his part in the scandal. It ended up with a seemingly innocent Truex searching for a ride late in the season when only a couple of subpar rides are available.

Now, he’s an afterthought. Truex has become nothing more than Kyle Busch’s punching bag; Busch has wrecked him in two of the last four races.

Kurt Busch’s monumental overachievement in the No. 78 in 2013 is just making matters worse. Busch somehow put Furniture Row Racing in the Chase last season and flung himself back into an elite ride at Stewart-Haas Racing. In other words, his performance last season is making Truex look bad. The top car owners aren’t lining up for a 34-year-old who’s 25th in a 25th-place car. The only way to escape mediocrity in Cup is to consistently overachieve and hope that someone takes notice. The truth is unless Truex does that, he’ll spend the rest of his Cup career clawing for top 15s. His chances of getting back to relevance are slim.

The team that Truex helped build has a much better of returning to prominence, but it isn’t going to happen overnight. MWR came out of nowhere and announced itself as NASCAR’s newest elite team in 2012. Bowyer (three wins) and Truex both made the Chase for an organization clearly on the upswing. MWR won two more times (Brian Vickers, Truex) in 2013 and again had itself positioned for two Chase bids.

In 2014, it’ll be lucky if it has one. Bowyer either needs to win or to wreck Greg Biffle to get in Saturday (don’t put it past him) and Vickers needs to win. Bowyer had eight top-5 finishes last season at this point and was second in the standings. This year, he has three and is 13th in the non-Chase standings. It’s fair to say there has been a significant drop off in performance. That tends to happen when your Chase-caliber teammate’s team folds.

MWR’s antics at Richmond in 2013 are the reason it is a mid-pack team again. Bowyer’s spin might as well have a spin on the roulette table. MWR got greedy and went for broke with millions on the line that night and lost big. It’s paying for it now and will for years to come. That cheater stigma is still attached to MWR, and until it leaves, bringing more sponsorship dollars to the team is going to be a tall task.

The MWR layoffs are the saddest part of all. Those employees didn’t orchestrate the plot, or play any part in it, but still lost their jobs.

The scandal was a black eye for the sport, the cause of a lot of embarrassment. Bowyer’s spin wasn’t the organization’s only tactic that night. It also pitted Vickers multiple times to intentionally lose positions and team orders were shouted in code written by kindergarteners over the Nos. 15 and 55 radios. MWR would’ve gotten away with the rest, though. The spin is what cost Truex and MWR employees their jobs and nearly sank an organization on the rise.

It’s amazing how a short spin has caused a long nightmare.

About Brett Poirier

Brett Poirier
Brett starts his fourth year with the Frontstretch in 2014, writing the popular Racing To The Point commentary on Tuesdays. An award-winning Connecticut Sportswriter and Editor, Brett resides in the Constitution State while working towards his dream of getting involved in racing full-time.

15 comments

  1. it all you have good points and I don’t disagree with many of, I was just pointing out things that I have personally seen, there an awful lot like about racing and NASCAR, but when you get his old and worn out and I am your perspective changes, to a more understanding but the facts are still a facts and all of the things that I posted it happened and most of the stuff the rest of you posted happened why we just call it history and hope that becomes better soon, oh well it’s football season where do you think they can screw up,

  2. Good article, Brett. Unlike a few on here, I think it was total manipulation coming straight from the top (MW) and the penalties were just. MTJ losing his ride was a total disappointment and as you stated, could affect his career irreparably. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time because we’re both from NJ and he was a Wall Stadium champ. It’s sad to see where the whole deal has placed him. The real travesty is having the crooked car owner BROADCASTING RACES ON TV… but that’s another crime…

  3. Suggesting that the whole affair gave the sport a black eye is laughable. NASCAR is an organization with rules that change by the hour. Rules are enforced or not based more on perceived driver popularity than actual offense. Rules are often nonsensical. Rules are made by the third generation tyrant that never lets his lack of racing knowledge interfer with the rules making process. And finally, there are the obvious attempts to manipulate the outcome of races through fake cautions, wave arounds, lucky dogs and GWCs. But yeah, I suppose it was That Clint Boyer spin that brought the basic integrity of NASCAR into question.

  4. How about Nascar manipulating racing with those yellow flags? Is that fair?

    I now buy twice as much 5 hour energy drinks and have not been back to a NAPA store since they and nascar screwed Truex.

    “SPINGATE” is not new. Even Jr. has done it. Oh, and I like how Kyle made it in this article. It’s completely irrelevant to what happened but you had to put that in there anyway.

    • How can you be so blind to compare Jr’s intentional spin to Bowyer’s intentional spin? I won’t even waste my time explaining the difference or why one mattered and the other didn’t. You seem smart enough to know the difference.
      Keep playing dumb and comparing apples to airplanes.

      • My point being that “spingate” ain’t all the shit that the media and so many make it to be. I’ve seen a HELL of a lot more over the last 30+years. And Nascar’s hands are a LOT dirtier than MWR.

        And I’d like to remind everyone of a certain video of Chad telling Jimmie to hit the wall if he won the race. Cheating? Bad for the sport? Hmmm……

  5. Kinda unfair your comment about Truex being a afterthought and having Kyle wreck him as Truex being some sort of a nobody now. Kyle seems to wreck everyone when he is angry, to try and attach prophetic meaning to it, with Kyle of all people is absurd. MTJ deserves more respect than that. I find the whole thing of last year funny and sad at the same time. The social media crowd moved in, not knowing a wit of how Nascar works and has worked.. did their damage and soon left for the next great cause. The one’s who wanted Bowyer’s head are the same one’s cheering that Napa signed with a Snowball Derby winner, and due to cheating had his win taken away. And this wasn’t the first time some funny business found the next media darling. The recipient of Napa money is running on a HMS farm team. HMS who’s ethics stretch many a boundary as a company and with the owner. imo. Funny stuff if it wasn’t so sad. Napa made this impassioned statement about morals and ethic..lol. I suspect we will hear blah, blah, blah over and over about last year…rehashing the over reaction, but I don’t have to listen, I have a remote with a mute button and free will.

    • How can you call it cheating, Richard Petty motor to big The win loss for money. Dale Earnhardt bad pitstop lost wheels crew ran to car jacked it up put wheels on it back in the pits change wheels again and went on his merry way. Dale Earnhardt got put down a lap, NASCAR shortly decided it was their mistake stopped the field gave Dale Earnhardt back to lap, Junior for brand the new tires behind JJ could not pass him for the win, Jack Rauscher’s number six car Mark Martin driving ran the same intake manifold three or four times in a row, NASCAR decided was now illegal forgot what the penalty was but it was big, why is it when known cheats specifically Chad and company are fine repeatedly sat down repeatedly cars are in pounded and taken back to NASCAR’s center nothing is ever found, so if you do not thank that cheaters never prosper they just have a better chance six-time champion “JJ” I know it’s all about wins stupid and I just have no idea what I’m talking about I’ve owned cars I’ve race cars I’ve cheated I won cheating I’ve lost cheating, it’s not cheating if you don’t get caught so quick cry and about Michael he got caught.

    • kb, do you even like this sport? You post nothing but negativity about it. I also have some problems w/Brian and I hate some of things he’s done, but geez, take a chill pill already. And btw, I don[t know ANYONE who read that SI article that agreed w/that dimwit.

      • Give the guy a break. I suspect that he absolutely loves NASCAR but just can’t take the present state of the organization. Obviously he still cares enough to complain. Judging by attendance many have just quit caring. In your opinion, since about 2000 has the quality of the product improved or declined?

        • Thanks for giving this gal a break…She/he must be one of my “fans”..lol And you are correct, it is in hopes that somebody, anybody will see that not all fans are happy, the way the Nascar media purports us all to be. Maybe somebody in a position to afford change might look at these sites now and then. And I am sick of the one side of the lovefest being heard all the time, and if you don’t sing Kumbayah with Nascar then folks like my “fan” think you are the problem. But I tend to think people like that don’t look to deep or care enough.

      • Why thank you taking the time to critique my posts. They are not made for your approval or disapproval. I care very much about the sport, call it negativity or whatever, my eyes are open and I would like nothing better for it to be better than it is. As for the dimwit you
        refered to, the man made some valid points, crude as some of writing was. But then again you know what they say about opinions.