Michael Waltrip Racing has lost a lot in the last couple of weeks – $300,000 in fines from NASCAR, 50 driver and owner points per team, the chance at a championship for Martin Truex Jr. and his #56 team, their multi-million dollar NAPA sponsorship, and most importantly their integrity.
On September 9, prior to the first race of the Chase, NASCAR levied large punishments to the MWR team for their “manipulation” of the September 7 race, the final race of the regular season. On September 19 the fallout from the scandal continued as one of MWR’s major sponsors, NAPA, announced that they would leave the team at the end of the season due to the scandal.
You can’t buy back integrity, but if MWR wants to begin rebuilding the fan’s trust and respect, the organization should start with a sincere and complete apology.
In the original statement by MWR on September 9 after the penalties were announced there was an apology. “We regret the decision and its impact. We apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners, and fans who were disappointed by our actions.”
However, one of the biggest failures of MWR’s response to the controversy is their unwillingness to say what exactly they are sorry for.
They have admitted to calling Vickers to pit road to give up positions, but they have denied that Bowyer spun intentionally. Among fans the spin was the most egregious offense and the evidence is strong that the spin was pre-mediated by MWR. NASCAR admitted in offering their penalties there was no hard evidence; however, despite the lack of a smoking gun there is vast evidence that leaves little doubt that Bowyer’s spin was intentional. Some of the most convincing pieces of evidence are the statements by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was behind Bowyer when he spun, and who was skeptical of Bowyer’s actions as it happened and in his post-race television interview, before the cheating scandal fully broke. Telemetry and expert driver analysis of in-car cameras also supports the accusation that Bowyer spun intentionally.
Following NAPA’s announcement that they would end their relationship with MWR, Waltrip himself issued a statement, which included another attempt at apologizing. “To the fans and those who made their voice heard through social media, as the owner, I am responsible for all actions of MWR. I sincerely apologize for the role our team played and for the lines NASCAR has ruled were crossed by our actions at Richmond,” Waltrip said.
This is yet another incomplete apology. In this statement Waltrip implies that their actions weren’t wrong, only that their actions were deemed wrong by NASCAR. While NASCAR levied the penalties, fans, competitors, and members of the racing media have all voiced opinions and many agreed that MWR’s actions crossed the line.
On Friday, September 20 at a press appearance at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Waltrip continued to deny that Bowyer spun intentionally and also offered another apology. “We made some mistakes in those final laps that made that day a bit of a mess and we’re sorry for that and we apologize to the fans. We totally understand their concerns and we will race ahead with as much dignity and respect as humanly possible.”
In his Friday appearance Waltrip also wondered aloud what it will take to finally stop the criticism. “Do they want an arm? What are they looking for?” Waltrip said.
What “they” are looking for is a complete apology. Waltrip has offered words of apology, but neither he nor the team has offered a full apology. To offer a complete apology the team must admit what they did, say they are sorry, and ask for fans, team members, competitors, sponsors, and NASCAR to forgive them. Despite saying many of the right things, two weeks after the scandal began at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, MWR has still not admitted what they did wrong. With all that has been lost two weeks into the scandal, there seems to be little left to be lost by MWR to finally admit that Bowyer wrecked intentionally.
A proper apology would be the first step for MWR to rebuild their integrity. If Waltrip is looking for a statement here is an example of where he could start:
“We messed up. We got caught up in the thrill of putting Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase and we asked Clint Bowyer to spin and Brian Vickers to come down pit road. We know what we did was wrong. We are truly sorry for our actions. We know we violated the trust of NASCAR, our sponsors, team members, fellow competitors, and especially the NASCAR fans. We will continue on racing hard, doing our best to win races and championships in the future, and upholding the high standards that NASCAR Nation deserves. We hope that in time we will be able to regain your trust and support and that you will all be able to forgive us.”
An apology won’t erase what MWR did, but it may finally allow the team and the sport to move forward.