Greasy knoll conspiracy theorists are having a field day in NASCAR today.
Did Clint or didn't Clint, that is the question?
With nine laps remaining in last night's final "regular season" race at Richmond, Clint Bowyer spun in turn four while Ryan Newman was leading and apparently en route to both the race win and a wild card slot in The Chase. The resulting pit stops by challengers forced Newman to pit for tires, giving up the lead. A slow pit stop brought Newman back out in -- place while Carl Edwards came out with the lead. Edwards went on to win the race since only two green flag laps remained and Newman wound up missing The Chase.
So did Bowyer spin on purpose to give his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr., a chance to make The Chase?
Truex said after the race that Bowyer was a "great teammate." Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was on Bowyer's bumper when #15 spun, brought up Bowyer's erratic throttle play and braking in the turn. Kyle Petty tweeted at the time, "If it walks like a duck and spins like a duck, it's a duck." Country music superstar Blake Shelton tweeted Bowyer was, "...the definition of team player."
Social media went wild. Twittersphere sited two-way radio comments by Bowyer's spotter, who asked if it was hot in the car and said Bowyer's arm must be tired immediately before the spin. Strange comments, granted.
But some of the social media "experts" suggested the sport somehow wasn't on the up-and-up, that cheaters are rewarded. One tweeted me his eight-year old nephew said Bowyer did it on purpose, so I guess that answers that. Many said they couldn't support a sport that allowed cheating.
Well, I don't know if Clint Bowyer spun his car inches in front of another car at 115 mph (Indy 500 champ Tony Kanaan scoffed at the idea), but I do know if that is your position you could never support any sport, yesterday or today. Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher last week said his team practiced faking injuries to get key "timeouts" without using up a precious "official" timeout. Ever watch an NBA game? I don't think they have called walking since George Mikan led the Minneapolis Lakers (that's right, Minneapolis) to the 1954 NBA title.
In competition, its a fact that people cheat. They hold on every play in the NFL. EVERY play. They foul every time down the court in the NBA and college basketball. Players on every Major League Baseball team...well, ever heard of Performance Enhancing Drugs? And Lance Armstrong, you know?
I'm not saying that makes it OK. I'm just saying don't fool yourself and point at those NASCAR boys. I don't know if Clint Bowyer spun on purpose or not. I do know all of this is circumstantial evidence and not enough to convict anyone given the rules of evidence in every U.S. court. NASCAR would punish Bowyer if they had hard-and-fast evidence. I guarantee you they are looking to find the truth. If they can, they will.
I hate it for Newman and his team. If Newman believes it to be true, justice will be served in some manner some day. That's the code of all sports.
Greasy knoll conspiracy theorists will soon be talking about a second spotter or the "patsy" pit crew member or ESPN's Zapruder film-like evidence.
Only Bowyer knows for sure and he ain't talking.
We constantly find ourselves in situations around here where we have to stop and think, "Did that just happen?"
A few of my favorites involve a grumpy tiger who, unfortunately, was quite hungry and did not want to wear a top hat. Riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle in Dallas traffic with a gorilla driving (and yes, I was dressed as a banana), watching Jeb Burton tear up in victory lane with his father after winning his first NASCAR Truck race last June - the list could go on and on...
Watching Pastrana, Stenhouse Jr., Hinchcliffe and Buescher make trick shots on turn 1 was one of those moments. Which now makes it a cherished, "Remember when?"
Cheers to Thursday (and whoever created Throwback Thursday.. cheers to you too.)
The slap heard through the sport the past Sunday has brought many opinions to light. I asked @TheOrangeCone to put his thoughts on it to blog as have I. (For the record, we don't agree!)
Will Kelly Haephy be punished for The Slap? Probably. Should she be? Probably. Should she go to jail for a her "vicious, premeditated attack" on Max Papis? No way!
Bumping and banging is part and parcel of NASCAR racing, particularly on the road courses, which, by the way, are now more full-contact than Bristol and Martinsville! When paint is traded and fenders dented, feelings get hurt and emotions sometimes get out of control.
When feelings get out of control, sometimes the line is crossed. I doubt Kelly woke up that morning thinking she couldn't wait to smack Max Papis across the mouth! But she did.
Undoubtedly there will be an "actions detrimental to the sport of stock car racing" penalty assessed. But undoubtedly video of those very detrimental actions will be used to promote the upcoming Truck Series race at Iowa and every other race on the schedule, probably for months to come.
So how detrimental can they be if they attract viewers? Race fans are begging for more drama, on and off the track, and this is it.
The last thing NASCAR, or any sports league/sanctioning body for that matter, needs is to lose control of its "locker room" to authorities. Imagine the police breaking up every hockey scrum or bench-clearing brawl...or the Clint Bowyer-Jeff Gordon donnybrook last fall at Phoenix.
We watch sports as a form of escapism and to live vicariously through our heroes on the playing fields and racetracks of the world. Let's be honest, who hasn't wanted to smack a driver in the face for something they've done to one of our favorites? It's not anything 99.9% of us would ever do, but's also something the vast majority have at least fantasized about in the heat of the battle.
Should girlfriends and wives be fighting? Maybe among themselves, but not with other drivers. Give her a public slap on the wrist and tell her where the line is and warn her not to cross it again. Then give her a private thank you for giving some much-needed attention and entertainment to the sport.
Put up a boxing ring to “settle” an on-track squabble? Guilty. Give a race winner a boxing robe in Victory Lane? Guilty. Build a race promotion around angry helmet tossing (or angry birds for that matter)? Guilty. Make a parody commercial out of the Allison v. Yarborough 1979 Daytona fight? Sure did! (shameless plug click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvZn50X2z3s&feature=c4-overview&list=UUHQFU9et72GcXT5weHey5pQ
We’ve done all of those things, so I guess it will be surprising to hear that I find Kelly Haephy slapping Max Papis this past Sunday, appalling. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, I find it so appalling that I won’t post it here. We did retweet the video right after it happened. Not very proud of that. It wasn’t meant to be any sort of celebration or promotion of the sport, because it shouldn’t be either of those.
There is a difference between two professional athletes getting caught up in the throes of competition and a fan claiming the same. I will refer to Kelly Haephy as a fan until such a time it is actually confirmed she is a girlfriend/significant other, but regardless, it won’t change my opinion of her actions.
Did she ‘wake up’ thinking about slapping Max Papis on Sunday morning? I have no idea. I don’t know her, but I seriously doubt it. Just because it wasn’t pre-meditated doesn’t make her any less culpable for her actions. Yes, I said “culpable”. If that had happened in any other professional sport, we wouldn’t be debating whether she was in the wrong or if she should face legal ramifications because the police would have resolved that for us… on the spot.
As far as that video/image/action being used to promote the sport or an upcoming race? I hope not and I can safely say, not for Texas Motor Speedway.
Now, if the drivers go after each other… you darn well better expect it and so will they.
This isn’t one of those grey areas, folks and Robin Pemberton didn’t say, “Boys, and your girlfriends, have at it!”.