Helton stands by NASCAR’s Richmond decisions

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HOMESTEAD, FLA. (AP) - NASCAR President Mike Helton believes the series took appropriate action against those involved in a cheating scandal before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

The penalties levied after the Sept. 7 race at Richmond, where NASCAR said Michael Waltrip Racing deliberately manipulated the race to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase, sent a clear message to the garage, he said: No more orders to benefit a teammate.

“It was a defining moment,” Helton said Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The 10-race Chase concludes with Sunday’s season finale and the Richmond mess almost forgotten.

“One of the tough things about our sport is the length of the season, but it’s also an asset at times, and so you move on fairly quickly,” Helton said. “In the case of Richmond this year in September, I suspect that that moment will be reflected on for many years to come, but the decisions that we made, the reaction in the industry that self polices itself is indicative of our environment, and we’ve kind of moved on from that.”

What began as a spin by Clint Bowyer with seven laps remaining in the race that set the Chase field turned into a full-blown scandal. It overshadowed the start of NASCAR’s most important stretch of the season, and forced series officials to demand drivers give 100 percent at all times going forward or risk severe penalties.

Bowyer’s spin set in motion a chain of events that cost Ryan Newman the race win, denied Newman and Jeff Gordon spots in the Chase and got MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr. into the field. NASCAR fined MWR, suspended general manager Ty Norris and replaced Truex in the Chase field with Newman.

The scandal widened to include a NASCAR investigation into two more teams and Gordon was ultimately added to the Chase as an unprecedented 13th driver. The ramifications continued for MWR as longtime sponsor Napa Auto Parts said it would leave at the end of the season because of the organization’s role in the scandal. MWR was forced to lay off about one third of its workforce, and Truex had to find a new job for 2014.

Helton said NASCAR’s penalties were appropriate.

“Certainly because of the uniqueness of having a 13th competitor in the Chase, it made a difference on the 2013 Chase format,” he said. “We made the decisions we made after Richmond before we even started the races in Chicago, which was the right thing for us to do. We did it with a lot of thought and engagement by a lot of people in the business to make sure we took the next step correctly to decide what we needed to do and then go on, but I think we’ve moved on.”

Helton said the rule changes that came out of the scandal have stopped team orders. But series officials will have to remain vigilant to ensure teams don’t take advantage or look for loopholes going forward.

“Certainly it’s an issue that we have to continue to monitor, as well as the industry,” Helton said. “For some time the incident itself and our reaction to it and the industry’s reaction to it, whether it’s through the fans or sponsors, creates such a huge awareness around it that I think teams will actually for some time be more careful, which is the purpose of penalties anyway, to eliminate it from happening again.

“We’re experienced enough to know that it’s on us to continue to monitor it and to find new ways through technology or steps that we may take to be sure that the garage area is reminded that someone is still concerned with this topic and we’ll continue to keep after it and watch.”

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